Sear and Shave or Pink with a Wink: The Great Burger Debacle

I’ve spent a great deal of the past four years of my life either in Edinburgh or sat on the godforsaken 5hr train to and from Edinburgh. Whilst I’d like to claim that I make the trip solely for research purposes – because I am just that devoted to good food – it would be a deeply unconvincing lie. I may have ulterior motives (i.e. visiting the previously mentioned man-friend), but the food in Edinburgh has been consistently impressive and is probably what I talk about most on my return to London. This is partly because I am greedy and unashamedly food-oriented, but also because you can get an amazing, seasonal three-course meal for £17 at Field – a tiny (20 covers) restaurant on Nicholson Street: more on Field in a future blog.

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For now, I’m taking the opportunity for a good old whinge. The cause of this week’s grief is the FSS (Food Standards Scotland) regulation on cooking a burger to medium-rare. Normally such regulations are merely suggestions, but it appears that burgers must now be served well-done, despite much customer protest. It seemed for a while that Scotland might again prove itself the most sensible country in the UK…but alas. The regulation was rolled out in London in 2015 – long enough ago that everyone has since decided to forget about, or bypass any regulation of our beloved burgers. We can now enjoy them served – as it’s charmingly termed – “pink with a wink”.

The basic argument for these regulations is that the process of mincing mingles all the outer-surfaces of a piece of meat. Any pathogens on the outside are now nicely spread throughout the burger, and so never have any contact with the pan. The “sear and shave” technique has been proposed to combat this – it does precisely what you imagine, you sear the outer layer and then remove it prior to mincing. However, this obviously doesn’t suit the fast pace of casual dining too well, then again neither does cooking everyone’s burger to order.

Edinburgh reached peak burger sometime last year; the city is saturated with modern renditions of American classics, and of course the token Kimchi appearance – the must-have of 2016. (I hear that 2017 will be the year of sauerkraut).  It became clear that everyone had run out of creativity when within one week I saw ‘Bread Meats Bread’, ‘Burger Meats Bun’ and the more minimalist ‘BURGER’ and ‘BRGR’. They all had decent individual offerings, however, from a poutine covered in what can only be described as a dangerous amount of cheese, to another topped with an amazingly smoky and sticky pulled pork. Failing any special trimmings such as these, at least they weren’t another Byron.

The Great Western Wolf 🐺 #bestburgerinscotland #eatlocal #eatfresh #originalandproud

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But now everything has changed. We, the people, have been had. As if Brexit and Trump weren’t enough, the powers that be have now decided that our meat should be tossed into the fire too.

On receiving this news, the unsuspecting, and clearly all too reasonable, waitress was met with several sharp inhales and a tortured wail from one member of the party. Nearly everyone changed their order to a chicken burger instead. A well-done burger is not one worth eating. The once tender beef becomes merely an obstacle to the consumption of cheese, pickles (which we all know are the highlight here) and bread.

The main problem with a well-done burger is that it is never ‘just well-done’, it is decimated. Even those cooking it have lost the will to try and salvage the poor beast. Luckily, for restaurant managers and less-fussy customers alike (yes I do realise I’m being particularly difficult about the whole thing), pulled pork, fried eggs and glazed donut buns will mask the hockey puck that currently resides within. I imagine many will just selectively forget the stress that the whole process of paying £13 for a distinctly average burger entails. But not I!

I personally would be more than happy to sign a waiver at the beginning of my meal so that I can eat my burger rare like an adult. This should be the minimum responsibility I am permitted as a semi-functioning 22 year old human. If a written waiver seems a bit weighty then I’m sure a verbal communication would suffice, after all, this is England. We’re not quite as trigger happy on the law suits as some; the most you’re going to get is an angry tweet or perhaps a vigorously shaken fist.

I’m hoping the enthusiasm in the application of these guidelines might trail off over time, but in the meantime the once burger-inundated Edinburgh is looking a little on the dry side for anything more than ‘meh’. Here is a dog with a knowing look to soften the blow.

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