Long before the advent of McDonald's, Wendy's and Burger King, hamburgers served in Puerto Rico came replete with onions, lettuce and tomatoes. And on plain rolls, not the usual hamburger buns. This transferred over with the first great migration to the mainland in the 1950s. This was the essence of what of what we call "Creole Hamburgers."
Naturally, this all changed with the coming of the fast food joints. So that today on the island, just as in the mainland, wherever you go, it's the trendy fast food abomination that rules. Thank the gods that in my tribe we still prefer burgers the old fashioned way---large and spicy. The archetypal "hamburgesa criollo." And, yes, traditionally, we crush the spices in a mortar, a cooking instrument ubiquitous in our cuisine. For the newer foodies out there, a mortar and pestle, weather, stainless steel, aluminum, or wood, can be found in any Asian or Caribbean food market, or even in a good hardware store.
1 pound lean ground beef (can substitute ground chicken or turkey, if preferred)
10 whole black peppercorns
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fresh oregano, or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon vinegar
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1. Place meat in a bowl.
2. In a mortar, crush peppercorns, garlic, oregano and salt. Blend in one tablespoon of the olive oil and vinegar.
3. Add spices to the meat and mix thoroughly.
4. Shape into hamburger patties.
5. Heat remaining olive oil and butter in a heavy skillet. Add patties and cook over medium-high heat, about 3 minutes per side for rare and 5 minutes per side for medium-rare.
6. Serve on plain or seeded roll, or toasted English muffin. Top with tomato slices and lettuce, and go at it. What we kids did (which use to drive my mother nuts) was splatter gobs of mayonnaise on the bun rather than use ketchup or mustard. To each his own.
Yield: 4 servings.