Chicken teriyaki aside, Hamburg Steak or Hambāgu (ハンバーグ) as the Japanese like to call it, is probably the most popular entrée to stick in a bento lunch in Japan. Although it’s unclear exactly when this dish was introduced to Japan, it presumably comes from the American Salisbury steak, which is named after its inventor Dr. J. H. Salisbury.
The name “Hambāgu” (pronounced hahm-bah-goo) is a transliteration of the English term Hamburger, which in turn got its name from the German city of Hamburg. Confused yet? I’m not done:-) To add to the confusion, if you go to Japan, you’re just as likely to come across a Hambāgu (the topic of this post) as you are a Hambāgā (the sandwich that McDonald’s made famous)
Hamburg Steaks are thicker than a Salisbury steaks (think restaurant style burger), and they’re filled with onions and garlic and seasoned with soy sauce and ketchup. The sauce is made by reducing red wine with ketchup and tonkatsu sauce, giving each Hambāgu a luscious tangy-sweet coating that balances out the rich, melt-in-your-mouth patty.
I like the sweetness and flavor of adding caramelized onions but I’m also a fan of the crispy texture of lightly cooked onions, so I usually sauté half the onions with the garlic before adding it into the meat while adding half of them raw. That said, if you prefer your onions milder, caramelize all of them; if you like them strong, you can skip the sautéing and add them all in raw.
While it may sound strange, I like adding silken tofu (the really soft kind) to things like Meatloaf and Hamburg Steak because it adds richness and moisture to the mix without as much fat as using ricotta cheese. If you’re worried about it tasting like tofu, fear not, you could feed these to tofu haters all day long and as long as they don’t see the carton in the trash they’ll have no idea they were eating bean curd!
While they’re best freshly made, these are also great at room temperature, which is probably why Hamburg Steak is such a popular addition to bento boxes in Japan. Serve it with a bowl of rice if you want to do it Japanese-style or stick it in a hamburger bun if you want to have some fun with it!
- Add a tablespoon of vegetable oil to a frying pan and sauté half the onions and all of the garlic until medium brown and caramelized. Let these cool to room temperature.
- Combine the beef, tofu, sautéd onions, raw onions, panko, egg, 2 tablespoons of ketchup, oyster sauce, parsley, soy sauce and black pepper in a large bowl. Put some food-safe gloves on and knead the mixture together until it is uniform in color and texture.
- Add a little bit more oil to the frying pan that you fried the onions in and place over medium heat. Because the patties are on the soft side, you'll want to form them and add them directly to the pan. I usually make about 8 oval patties about 1" thick.
- Fry them until they've formed a dark brown crust on one side, then use a spatula to carefully flip them over and brown the other side. Unless you have a very large pan, you won't be able to do them all at once, so fry 4 at a time and transfer them to a plate when they're browned on both sides. Don't worry if they're not cooked all the way through as they will finish cooking in the sauce.
- After you've fried all the patties, drain off any excess oil (but don't wash the pan as the brown stuff is what will give your sauce flavor). Add the red wine and boil until it's reduced by about half in volume. Add the ketchup, water, tonkatsu sauce, and demi-glace and stir to combine.
- Place the patties back into the pan, cover, and cook for 7 minutes, flipping them over once in the middle. Cook uncovered for another 3 minutes to thicken the sauce a little. Serve with rice, pasta or boiled potatoes.