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~ The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak: Hambagu ~

IMG_6411Japanese hamburger steak.  If it doesn't sound very Japanese, it's because its origin is not.  It's an all-American-inspired dish that's been culinarily Japanized and popularized by Japanese home cooks and yoshoku chefs (restaurants that serve Japanese versions of American- and European-style food).  It's a spin-off of our American bunless hamburger steak (aka the plump mini-meatloaf-esque knife-and-fork salisbury steak smothered in savory gravy).  It's so popular with both children and adults, it has earned a spot in classic bento-boxed lunches throughout Japan. 

Make no mistake though, hambagu is Japanese cuisine, so, substitutions like American Worcestershire in place of Japanese Worcestershire, or American pepper in place of Japanese pepper, are simply not going to render an authentic hambagu experience.  Mind your "ga's" and "gu's" too -- a "hambaga" (hahm-bah-gah) is what you order at a Japanese McDonald's. "Hambagu" (hahm-bah-goo) is a get-out-your-chopsticks and pull-up-a-chair, family-friendly, melt-in-your-mouth-tender, juicy meat patty drizzled with a tangy sweet sauce and served over rice. 

IMG_6442Japanese hambagu patties = a 1:1 ratio of beef to pork.

IMG_6322The secret to the traditional, juicy, flavorful Japanese hamburger steak patties is a 1:1 ratio of beef to pork. I grind my own (which only takes a few seconds in the food processor), and, I use a combination of 1 pound well-marbled Delmonico (rib-eye) steak and 1 pound pork tenderloin.  

Note:  If you skip the pork and use only beef, the patties will be good, but noticeably different.  All-beef patties will be dryer and less flavorful  -- more like a hambaga than true hambagu.

"ソース" = "sauce" in Japanese. "とんかつソース" = Tonkatsu.

Tonkatsu = the Japanese take on American steak sauce.

IMG_6369If you've ever gone into a Japanese market (which I have), and said, “I'd like a bottle of sauce”, you'd be handed a bottle of dark sauce that you think you're familiar with.  This "ソース" ("sauce") is what's referred to as Worcestershire in Japan. Unlike “sauce” in English, in Japan ソース refers to a dark, semi-thick line of sauces, such as: ウスターソース (Worcestershire Sauce), 中濃ソース (Vegetable & Fruit Sauce Semi-Sweet), and, とんかつソース(Vegetable & Fruit Sauce/Tonkatsu Sauce.  Other sauces, like soy, teriyaki, tomato or mayonnaise, etc., are called by their names -- not referred to generically as "sauce".

IMG_6407Note:  The sauce popularly used on hambagu is store-bought tonkatsu. It's a 100% vegetarian, uniquely-flavored, dark-colored, tangy, sweet-and-savory thick-and-drizzly sauce containing water, corn syrup, sugar, distilled vinegar, tomato paste, salt, rice-starch, apple purée, soy, prune paste, carrot, onion, spices and lemon juice.  While there are many recipes for mimicking tonkatsu in the home kitchen,  I liken the task of attempting to do that: like trying to duplicate your favorite A-1-type steak sauce at home.  

That said, in the Japanese home kitchen and in Japanese restaurants, tonkatsu (the sauce) is also the traditional condiment for tonkatsu (the meal), which is a breaded and fried pork cutlet.

My 5-minute food processor method for mixing the meat:

IMG_6336For the hambagu pattie mixture:

3/4  cup Japanese panko bread crumbs

6  tablespoons whole milk

1  pound well-marbled steak, cut into 1" cubes

1  pound pork tenderloin, cut into 1" cubes

4  ounces small-diced yellow or sweet onion (about 1 cup)

1  large egg

1  tablespoon Bull-Dog brand Japanese Worcestershire sauce (Note:  American Worcestershire sauce is onion-, anchovy-, garlic- and tamarind-flavored.  Japanese Worcestershire, while the same thin consistency and dark color as American Worcestershire, is flavored using the same ingredients as  tonkatsu.  Japanese Worcestershire sauce and tonkatsu sauce are 100% vegetarian, American Worcestershire is not.)

3/4  teaspoon sea salt

3/4  teaspoon Japanese green pepper

3-4  tablespoons vegetable oil, for frying hambagu patties

3/4-cup Bull Dog brand tonkatsu sauce, for drizzling on patties

steamed white rice, to accompany hambagu patties

choice of garnishes:  crispy Asian-style fried onions (my favorite), sautéed onions &/or shiitake mushrooms, grated daikon

IMG_6343 IMG_6343~ Step 1.  In a 1-cup measuring container, stir together the panko breadcrumbs and milk.  Set aside, until the breadcrumbs absorb the milk, soften, and become pasty, about 5 minutes.  While the breadcrumbs are softening:

IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324 IMG_6324~Step 2.  Cube the delmonico steak and the pork tenderloin, placing the cubes in the work bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade as you work. Dice the onion and add it to the work bowl along with the beef and pork cubes too.

IMG_6353 IMG_6353 IMG_6353~ Step 3.  Using a series of 40 on-off pulses, grind the meat and mince the onion. Add the pasty panko, whole egg, Japanese Worcestersauce, salt and Japanese pepper.  Using a second series of 30 on-off pulses, incorporate the wet ingredients and spices into the meat mixture.  Transfer meat mixture to a 1-gallon food storage bag and refrigerate 1 hour and up to overnight, to allow flavors to marry.

IMG_6372 IMG_6372~Step 4.  There will be 2 3/4 pounds meat mixture. Using a kitchen scale as a measure, divide the mixture into 8, 5 1/2-ounce, 3 1/2"-round, plump, smooth* discs.  Place a thin-coating of oil in a 12" nonstick skillet and add the patties.

*Hambagu patties are thicker than American Salisbury steak, and, they're more refined looking too. Generally speaking, their smooth, almost manufactured appearance, comes from the addition of the pork -- mixing the meat in the food processor adds to an even more-perfect presentation.

IMG_6387~ Step 5.  Fry the patties over medium-, medium-high heat, until lightly-browned on the first side, about 6-7 minutes, flip burgers over, place a lid on the skillet and cook until lightly-browned on the second side, about 6-7 minutes.  

Note:  Placing the lid on the skillet during the cooking of the second side is the Japanese secret to keeping the patties plump and juicy.

IMG_6390 IMG_6390 IMG_6390 IMG_6390~Step 6.  Using a spatula, transfer the patties to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain.  Add and stir the tonkatsu sauce into the pan drippings in the skillet.  Adjust heat to simmer for about 30-45 seconds, then transfer/pour the sauce into a small bowl.  Serve over steamed white rice with steamed or blanched vegetables of choice and tonkatsu sauce for dipping or drizzling.

Serve atop white rice & vegetables w/a drizzle of tonkatsu:

IMG_6428The Japanese Take on Salisbury Steak:  Hambagu:  Recipe yields 8, hearty servings (if served over rice with vegetables) and 1 cup sauce for dipping and drizzling.

Special Equipment List:  1-cup measuring container; cutting board; chef's knife; food processor; 1-gallon food storage bag; kitchen scale (optional); 12" skillet, preferably nonstick, w/lid; spatula; paper towels

6a0120a8551282970b01bb08c2da5c970dCook's Note:  Once a week, when mom or dad went grocery shopping, my brother and I were allowed to pick one TV Dinner, which we would eat on Thursday.  To this day, I associate Thursdays with TV Dinners.  Happy Thursday,  my recipe for: ~ Upscale TV-Dinner-Style Salisbury Steak & Gravy ~. Some things can't be changed.

"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti

(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/Copyright 2018)


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