Have you ever been to Hamburg, Germany? It’s a lovely city! Why, though, is it the namesake of a meat patty between two halves of a bun, accompanied by all kinds of other toppings? And what makes it so different from a meatloaf/mock hare, meatballs/Klops, and Bouletten/Frikadellen when they are all made from ground meat? Or lately also from meatless meat?
In her bestselling cookbook from 1747, English author Hannah Glasse mentions a roasted Hamburg sausage on toasted bread. That is the first time, anything Hamburg is mentioned in the lines of ground meat. Something similar was obviously pretty popular in the Hamburg area in the mid-1800s. This would point to German immigrants to the US, who might have brought over the dish. The Hamburg America Line served Hamburg steak between two pieces of bread maybe as early as 1847. I feel it was like a melting pot of some hearty finger food that could be eaten without much of a mess. At least it sounds like a sensible sandwich that you could stuff into your face without condiments dripping all over you.
Whatever the Hamburger meat was back then, today it’s usually a ready-made thin, round patty that looks as if an iron had been run over it. More ambitious cooks shape their patties by hand, either relying on their finger skills or using a burger shaper. I got one of these implements, too, but I use mine for plating mostly, not for burgers. Therefore, my burgers look pretty much like a Frikadelle (pronounce free-kuh-‘dallah) or Boulette (pronounce boo-‘lattah), a flattened yet curved creation. Yet Frikadellen are entirely different. Every German family has its own recipe, and you will probably run into as many texture and flavor profiles as there are families. Some stretch the meat with soaked bread or bread crumbs. I usually spice mine with salt, pepper, garlic, and thyme, adding an egg and half a finely chopped onion per half a pound of ground meat. Also, I fry cubed smoked bacon first and then place the Frikadellen on top, so the bacon becomes part of them.
I pretty much use the same recipe for German “mock hare”. Mock hare or “Falscher Hase” (pronounce ‘fuh-l-shah ‘Hu-zah) is the German equivalent to what you may know as meatloaf. Only, it’s not baked in a square baking mold, but shaped into a round or oval loaf reminding of a hare’s back. Originally it might have been baked in hare-shaped copper molds in the 1700s and 1800s. It’s always served with a gravy made from the meat juice. You see the difference – no ketchup or barbecue sauce to top it. And the shape, of course.
And then there are the meatballs or Klops. They are obviously made in a similar way internationally – gently cooked to their ball-shaped perfection in one or the other kind of sauce or gravy. One of Germany’s most famous varieties are Koenigsberger Klopse (pronounce ‘kuh-nix-bear-gah ‘klop-sah). You add a tad of anchovy paste or finely chopped anchovy into the meat mix, and you simmer the meatballs in a white sauce with capers until done. My white sauce is a sweet & sour mustard sauce on the thicker side. Other Germans might use a slightly different flavor profile.
Isn’t it fun how pretty much the same ingredient ends up with such different names just because of its different shapes?
Here’s a dinner hack from my family that works without much ado and could even be a version of Hannah Glasse’s original one. We call it
“party bread”. Take a slice of unseeded bread (no matter what kind), spread your meat/meatless meat on top, top this with slices of seasoned tomatoes. I usually season my tomatoes with salt, pepper, garlic powder, and dried basil. Put the open sandwiches on the center rack in the oven at 375 F and let them bake until you see that the meat is pretty much done. Then top the sandwiches with cheese and broil them for approximately 4 minutes. Agreed – it’s something you can’t eat with your fingers. But, oh boy, I will have that rather than any burger any day!