The Christof Manheim Burger

Grilled, Meat, Pork, Sandwiches, Sauces & Spreads

Christof Manheim Burger

Makes 4 burgers

I have been fretting lately about my city’s inexcusable lack of interesting food inspired by German cuisine.  For those German bars that serve up pretzels with eight separate mustards, ich libe dich, but sometimes I need to swoon over more than your flat palettes of yellows and browns.  I’m not expecting anything like The Generator (although, Philadelphia, you’re not doing so badly, yourself), but, come on, Germans were some of the earliest immigrants to the Pacific Northwest, and yet we struggle to incorporate their food traditions into our own, insisting on keeping them separate from the others, like some black sheep we don’t want mingling with our prized flock.  We hide them in stained-wood bars, below the sidewalk, or at the bottom of menus.

Well, not today.  It’s sunny today, so I decided to barbecue.  In the fridge are jars of curried sauerkraut I made back in December when the green cabbage was sweet and crisp.  But, since January, I’ve hardly touched the stuff.  You see, I too have been struggling to incorporate the German food into my diet, even that one that’s insanely good for you.  I guess that fermented cabbage never sounds good with black beans or salad or pizza.

Then it hit me: I was making the same excuses as my city.  Well, guess what? Sauerkraut is not meant for only sausages and potatoes!  And, if you give me a chance, I’ll show you why…

Caldo Gallego (Galician Stew)

Beans, Meat, Pork, Soups & Stews

Caldo Gallego 01

Caldo Gallego is a tradition. It was born in the rural, northwestern Spanish province of Galicia. Bringing together dried white beans, potatoes, fatty bits of cured pork, and hearty greens, it is a beautiful arrangement of the area’s harvest and the farmer’s prescient attitude of using as much as that harvest as possible.

Each autumn, I prepare Caldo Gallego and freeze it through the winter. While I have thawed and eaten it in the spring or summer, it is never as satisfying as eating it on a cold night next to a fire’s flame. It is heavy, warming and full of flavor.

Pork Sirloin with Brussels Sprouts, Chestnuts & Farro in Pomegranate Sauce

Meat, Pork

Pork Sirloin 02

This pork roast is quintessential Pacific Northwest, comprising three seasonal ingredients: farro, chestnuts, and Brussels sprouts.

Washington, it turns out, is a huge producer of the nation’s farro, an ancient relative of the wheat berry. Meanwhile, chestnuts continue to gain popularity, as they too are suited to our weather. And Brussels sprouts? Another delicious green product of our abundant, year-round Brassica farming.

Speck & Eggplant Bruschetta

Bread, Meat, Pork, Sandwiches, Tapas

Speck & Eggplant Bruschetta 01

What a warm summer night will make me crave: crunchy, crusty artisanal toast; crispy, pillowy roasted eggplant; salty, smokey cured pork; and sweet, succulent caramelized onions. This isn’t your typical garlic- and tomato-topped bruschetta. Don’t go skipping to the wine cellar just yet. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to be oozing with all kinds of bold flavors and textures. Stacked and finished with some stinky cheese and an unsympathetic drizzle of balsamic syrup, this wild and earthy bruschetta is comforting and unabashed by whatever dirty secret you might squeal.

Torta de Queso de Puerco (Mexican Sandwich with Head Cheese)

Meat, Pork, Sandwiches

Impress your friends and buy a pig’s head. Invite them over when you turn it into cheese. Share beers and eat cured ham.

At the markets here in Seattle, head cheese can run you about $25/lb. So, if you prefer to buy yours already made, please do it. The torta will still be delicious and filling. But it will lack the wholesome tanginess, with such incredible and rich flavors, of this one.

For the adventurous or interested cook, making head cheese is a simple and rewarding endeavor. Plus, pound for pound, it is very cheap. I bought a 14-lb. head for $25. It makes about 6-7 lbs. Plus you get the bones leftover for soup or stock and pounds of fat you can render into lard. Compared to the markets, you’re getting an incredible deal.

Pig’s Head: Days 3 & 4

Meat, Pork

photo by Steve Roberts,

As the head cheese rests in my fridge, I, in the meantime, to forget about all the coagulation in my kitchen, distract myself learning a few things.


First I turn to Harold McGee.  In his book, On Food and Cooking, he makes a brief mention of collagen, a protein responsible for connecting tissues, comprising “about a third of all the protein in the animal body” (130).  Because it’s mostly concentrated in the skin, tendons, cartilage and bones, it makes sense that Diana Kennedy emphasized the importance of using the skin from the cheeks.  According to McGee, the word for collagen, etymologically Greek, means “glue-producing.”  When heated in water, it can dissolve into gelatin.  In other words, when cooked, it softens.  (As it turns out, we and other animals are born with more collagen, and as we age it disappears; hence why veal is more gelatinous and tender.)

While I was picking apart the head, tugging at the jaw and digging my fingers through the eye sockets and other cavities, I discovered all types of different fat compositions.  The snout was purely skin and fat.

Collagen, according to Wikipedia, is the most abundant protein found in mammals, making up a quarter to a third of whole-body protein content.  Its structure is long and fibrous, and its repeating sequence of amino acids, and its composition of glycine, proline and uncommon derivative amino acids, make it both unusual and a source of interest among microbiologists.  But, what’s important to know is that its whole raison d’être is to connect tissues together: fat to skin, muscles to tendons; and, when collagen is hydrolyzed–that is, irreversibly isolated and cleared of any debris–it becomes gelatin.  It is the gelatin that will hold all the meat and flavor together in the head cheese.  Not incidentally, pig head is a major source of commercial gelatin.

Pig’s Head: Day 2

Meat, Pork

Since the original intention was to take advantage of the connective power of the pig’s head, I decided that head cheese was the best choice.  I have been giving mucho amor to my Mexican cookbooks, so I began there.  Immediately I discovered in Diana Kennedy’s The Art of Mexican Cooking a recipe that seemed simple enough, that highlighted the natural flavors of the head–she calls for water rather than a stock–by creating a broth, then reducing it down into a sort of impatient demi-glace on high heat, thus concentrating the rich and deep properties of the flavors.  It was a recipe designed for a smaller head, about half the weight of ours, so we merely doubled everything.

Pig’s Head: Day 1

Meat, Pork

When my grandfather told me that he was going to make scrapple, I had the immediate and reasonable urge to acquire a pig’s head.  Traditionally, he uses the head because of its beautiful fat content and industrial-strength gelatinous collagen.  But the lamentable fact is some parts of the animal are simply undesirable.  So he has accustomed himself to using the far-more-accessible feet, instead.  I recall several moments of him speaking about the enchanting properties of the pig’s head.  So, naturally, when I ordered the head from my butcher, I envisioned a gasp and a huge smile.  In return, however, I received a plain response of, “Please don’t.”  As it turned out, he had already purchased the feet and was not interested in keeping them or the head in the freezer.  That was understandable.  But now I have a 13.5-lb. pig’s head.  What to do?

Well, first, I and my fellow cooks removed it from the box.


Notice the blue seal from the farmer. It says something about being inspected. Will it rinse off? Do we have to shave it?