Monday, March 12, 2012

I Say It’s Hamburger, and I Say the Hell With It

When I was about ten, I was taken to a fancy restaurant, perhaps for my birthday, and allowed to order anything I wanted (within reason, of course).  I scanned the elegant menu, and my eyes lighted on a dish that was new to me, having subsisted during my early years mainly on Spam, peanut butter, tuna fish, and bologna sandwiches. The entrée I craved had a name that rang with a Lucullan aura in my callow ears, and I conjured images of a delectable feast for an epicurean of noble lineage in a baronial English banquet hall. Even though I mispronounced it, I ordered it with anticipatory gusto: Salisbury Steak.

Imagine my dismay when the waiter brought me a thin hamburger patty topped by some gooey brown gravy.

In The Girl Who Kicked A Hornet’s Nest, Lisbeth Salander, the computer-hacking Swedish bohemian supergirl, is served Salisbury Steak while she is in the hospital.  That should be a dead giveaway to this concoction’s medicinal origins.

It was invented, if that is the word, by an upstate New York doctor named James H. Salisbury as a cure for diarrhea among Union soldiers in the American Civil War.  Salisbury, whose low-carb, high-protein ideas preceded the Atkins diet by a century, believed that a steady diet of coffee and lean chopped beefsteak was just what the doctor ordered for the intestinally challenged men in blue.  He believed vegetables produced poisonous substances that caused heart disease, tumors, mental illness, and tuberculosis.

Dr. Salisbury—alas, the steak’s name has nothing to do with the historic English town and its lofty cathedral—added onion, egg, mushrooms, and milk to minced beef and served it to the soldiers.   The dish became popular as “Hamburger” steak, but during World War I, when German names were anathema, it became known by its inventor’s friendly English name of Salisbury.

Next time I think I’ll order Chicken à la King.  That sounds pretty regal, doesn’t it?

The Bard of Buffalo Bayou swore off Salisbury Steak years ago, as his tastes are somewhat more exotic.
                      A Salisbury Steak
                      I take for a fake,
                      It might even be laced with pink slime.
                      As for SPAM,
                      It ain’t ham, it’s a sham
                      From a pig that was not in its prime.
                      And a Chicken McNugget?
                      I won’t hug it or plug it,
                      For the meat has been flaked and then formed,
                      And the stuff in a wiener
                      Could be cleaner and leaner,
                      And through it who knows what has swarmed?                                         
                      For a good wholesome treat
                      I just eat Potted Meat—
                      So what if it’s ground to a paste?
                      It uses all of the cow,
                      And obscure bits of sow,
                      And not one part is going to waste!

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