Sunday, December 15, 2013

Fantastic Meals. The Top 100 (Mostly Southern) Meals and Side Dishes of All Time. Number 92.

Number 92
Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger

            If you ever sit down and read a few pages of John T. Edge’s excellent book, Hamburgers & Fries, an American Story, I’m willing to bet that by the time you finish the preface, you’ll be on the prowl for a burger. I was. After reading about hamburgers stuffed with short ribs, or onions, or bacon, or smoked Gouda cheese—after he described burgers topped with caramelized onions and porcini mushrooms—I was more than a little burger crazy. I jumped in my car and drove until I came to the first hamburger joint I could find. I got out, and ordered whatever they were serving. I wasn’t going to be particular. I just needed a hamburger. Any hamburger—as long as it was a mound of ground beef—would do. After rewarding myself for reading the first seven pages of a book, I returned home.
            I believe I thought that if I stuffed myself with ground beef, the rest of the book would have no effect upon me. I was wrong. I do love hamburgers—there are several, for instance, in my top 100 meals—and the more I read, the more I wanted to try every recipe John put in his book. Little did I know what was coming. On page 47 Mr. Edge begins writing about cheese burgers. Well, I cannot eat a hamburger without cheese. Then he says, on the very next page: “. . . J.C. Reynolds, who operated the Dairy Bar in Columbia, South Carolina, from 1932 to 1984, is the man who popularized the pimiento burger.” A pimiento burger? I had lived some sixty years at that point, and never, ever, had I heard of a pimiento burger. How could such a thing have come to pass, and I hadn’t heard about it. I simply love pimiento cheese, and for years had made my own, eating home-made pimiento-cheese sandwiches three or four times a month. But when it came to hamburgers, I was still topping them with plain old medium cheddar cheese.
            Hell. By the time John T. Edge got to page 51, and mentioned all the joints in Columbia, South Carolina that served pimiento-cheese burgers—“Maurice’s Piggy Park. The Salty Nut. Edisto Market. Rockaway’s. Palmetto Sandwich Shop. Harper’s. The Mousetrap. What A Burger. And, of course, Eddie’s”—I was going insane. I had to have a genuine pimiento-cheese burger. I hopped in my car and drove straight through to Columbia, South Carolina, where I dragged my younger sister from her Internal Medicine doctor’s office, and accused her of treating me like a red-headed stepbrother all these years. “Why?” I asked. “Why have you never even mentioned getting a pimiento-cheese burger when I was in town?” Her answer was, “Because you never said you wanted one.”
Here's a shot of a Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger. Don't let the size of the large serving plate fool you. That's one big hamburger. 

            You might think I’m kidding about driving to Columbia just for a pimiento-cheese burger, and I am, but only partly. I did go visit my sister about a month later. She now lives outside Columbus, in Lexington, and I did speak those exact words to her. She and my brother-in-law apologized. They didn’t realize that I’d never had one of Columbia’s famous pimiento-cheese burgers. They were so ubiquitous, my sister and brother-in-law never considered the fact that the rest of us, we non-Columbians, might be living like savages, never having the good fortune of eating a pimiento-cheese burger. For lunch, the same day I arrived, we all packed in two cars and went to Rockaway's, where I ate my first pimiento-cheese burger. It was heavenly. Nowadays, every time my wife and I visit my sister and brother-in-law, we go to Rockaway's and we all have a pimiento-cheese burger. The problem is, I cannot live on one or two pimiento-cheese burgers a year. I require more. Many more.
            Thus, I have conjured up my own recipe for the tasty, calorie-laden sandwiches. Mr. Edge gives a recipe, too, on page 54. He calls them P C Burgers. I’ve tried his recipe, and it’s good. My own recipe, however, is spectacular. I call it the Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger because I wanted to make them one day and didn’t have any pimientos, usually a staple at my house. I did, however, have a jar of Mt. Olive Roasted Red Peppers. I tried them. Zowieee! Talk about making a great sandwich better—these peppers did the trick. Here’s the recipe. I advise you make one as soon as possible, or you might, like me, feel the urge to drive to South Carolina and order one already made. Not that there’s anything wrong with doing just that. But, c'mon—save yourself some money.

½ jar (12 oz.) roasted red peppers, sliced and chopped. I use about one and a-half peppers.

One handful—about a cup’s worth or more—of shredded, medium cheddar cheese (or mild, if that’s all you have.)

¼ cup good mayonnaise. (Hellmann’s).

½ teaspoon of Tony Chachere’s Original Creole Seasoning.

1/8 teaspoon of canned chilpotle peppers in adobo sauce (I keep a bag of these in the freezer and they last a year.) Don’t use too much, unless you really like hot-
flavored foods. I find that as I get older, I still yearn for the taste of hot foods, but
can’t take the heat, so I use less than I did as a young man.

Mix ingredients well—especially if you added chilpotle peppers. Refrigerate or, if you are as antsy as me and already have your burgers ready—begin the countdown. I no longer grill my burgers for this delicacy. I fry them slowly in sesame oil in a cast-iron frying pan on the stove top, with slices of onion where I can work them in the pan. I cook them eight minutes per side. I drain them well and toast a whole-wheat hamburger bun. On the top bun I add mayo, on the bottom bun I add a little mayo and Mister Mustard Original Hot mustard, place the burger on the bottom bun, add as many fried onions as you like, and pile the Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento Cheese on top. I microwave the cheese-topped burger for 20 seconds to melt the cheese, put the top bun on, and grab a good handful of napkins. Now I can start to slow down and enjoy my feast. I sit and dig in. It takes both hands, by the way. And several napkins. But, believe me, it’s worth it. Let me reiterate—zowieee!

Here are some shots of a recent construction of a Who-Needs-Pimientos? Pimiento-Cheese Burger. 

Here's the bowl of mixed ingredients, awaiting the burgers.

Here's the burger with fried onions piled on.

The cheese has been melted. Almost ready.

 Ta-da! Put the bun on top and dig in. Don't forget--two hands and lots of napkins. Enjoy!

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