Japanese Hamburger Steak with Teriyaki Sauce
Hamburg Steak, also known as Hambāgu, is the Japanese version of Hamburger Steak. Although it’s named after the German port city of Hamburg, the dish originated in New York as a Hamburg-style steak. It’s based on German Frikadelle, and although it’s unclear how it ended in Japan, the first written references of a similar dish appeared in the 1870s.
Hamburg Steak is considered yōshoku, or Western food in Japan, but it’s become one of the most popular home-cooked meals over the past 70 years. It’s typically served with a sweet and sour sauce made from ketchup, wine, and chunou sauce, but Teriyaki Sauce is another popular condiment.
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Why This Recipe Works?
- Microwaving the onions not only softens them up, but it also makes them sweeter without having to saute them.
- Adding a bit of cream cheese to the patty adds richness and umami.
- By dusting the surface of the hamburger steaks with a light coat of potato starch, it helps the sauce form a thick, even glaze around each patty.
Ingredients for Hamburger Steak with Teriyaki
- Ground beef – It’s pretty common in Japan to use a mixture of beef and pork for Hamburg Steak. The main reason is that ground beef is very expensive here. Pork also has a more umami-rich taste that many Japanese people enjoy. That being said, I generally prefer an all-beef patty because the added pork tends to dilute the flavor of the beef, and for me, a hamburger is first and foremost about the beef.
- Onion – Onions are the second most important ingredient for Hamburger Steak after beef. They add loads of flavor and give the patties a mild sweetness that helps balance out the savory beef.
- Cream cheese – Many Hamburg Steak recipes call for adding milk or cream, but I prefer using cream cheese. This gives you a ton of umami from the milk solids while providing a little extra fat, which helps keep the patties moist.
- Panko – Adding panko, or Japanese breadcrumbs does a couple of things. First, breadcrumbs are much less dense than meat, so the hamburger steaks become more light and fluffy. The second benefit is that the panko won’t harden like ground beef when cooked, giving the patties a more tender texture. Finally, the dried breadcrumbs absorb liquid, so as the meat cooks, the juices get soaked up by the panko instead of leaking out into the pan.
- Egg – Adding an egg helps bind the mixture together.
- Seasonings – Although the teriyaki sauce is very flavorful, it’s still a good idea to season the meat itself as the sauce won’t penetrate into the patties. I’ve kept the seasonings pretty simple with just soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and black pepper. The soy sauce brings the salt and umami. The Worcestershire sauce adds a mix of spices while providing just a hint of acidity. I held back in the recipe to keep this kid-friendly, but black pepper is such a great complement to beef, I like to add a lot more.
- Potato starch – I like to coat the patties with a thin dusting of potato starch, which helps create a thick glaze around the patties. Potato starch won’t cloud the sauce, which is why it’s my preferred choice, but other starches or even flour will serve the same purpose.
- Teriyaki sauce – Japanese teriyaki sauce is straightforward and includes just sake, soy sauce, and sugar (and sometimes mirin). The name literally means “shiny grilled,” so the sauce should end up clear and glossy, achieving its thickness through the sugar’s caramelization rather than by adding thickeners. Sake is added to impart flavor as well as umami. The alcohol is burned off as the sauce boils, so the finished sauce should not contain any alcohol. Unfortunately, there are no good substitutes for sake (rice vinegar and fruit juice are NOT good substitutes), so if you can’t find it, you’ll just have to omit it.
How to Make Hamburger Steak with Teriyaki
The first thing you want to do is cook the minced onions. You can saute them in a pan, but to save time, I like to add them to a microwave-safe bowl, cover them with a lid, and microwave them for four minutes twenty seconds at 600 watts. This should get them translucent and tender, and some of them will just be starting to brown. Let these cool off enough so you can handle them without burning yourself.
In a separate bowl, add the ground beef, cream cheese, panko, egg, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and then add in the cooled onions. Put some gloves on and use your hand to knead the mixture until the ingredients are evenly distributed, and the mixture is uniform in color.
Prepare a parchment paper-lined tray, and shape the hamburger mixture into patties. If you plan to pack these into a bento box, you might want to make 8-10 smaller patties, or you can go with 4-6 larger patties if you plan to serve these on a plate. The key here is to make them all roughly the same size and thickness to cook through in a similar amount of time.
You also want to force out any air and seal up any cracks, or your patties will split open when you cook them. You can do this by throwing the patty from one hand and smacking it against the other.
Next, you want to dust the patties with a thin, even coating of potato starch. Put some starch into a tea strainer and tap the side of it to give each patty a light dusting. You can toss the patties between your hands again to remove any excess starch and fix any indentations.
To fry up the Hamburg Steak, heat a frying pan over medium heat and add two teaspoons of oil. Unless you have a large pan, you will probably need to fry the patties in two batches, so make the first batch without overcrowding the pan.
When the patties are cooked about a quarter of the way through, flip them over. You should only have a little browning at this point, but if they’re already looking golden brown, turn down the heat a bit.
Fry the second side until it’s golden brown, and flip them back over to continue browning the first side. Since they will cook some more in the teriyaki sauce, transfer the patties to a plate when they reach an internal temperature of 140F (60C). Repeat with any remaining patties.
Once all of the hamburger steaks are cooked, turn off the heat and wipe out all of the oil and particulate matter from the pan. I know some of you are wondering why we’d want to get rid of the fond on the pan, but teriyaki sauce needs to be clear and glossy as “teri” literally means shiny.
When the pan is clean, add the soy sauce, sugar, and sake and bring the mixture to a boil over high heat. Once the teriyaki sauce starts to thicken, return the patties back into the pan.
Roll the Hamburg Steaks around the pan until the teriyaki sauce has started to caramelize, and the patties are coated with a thick, shiny glaze.
Other Hamburger Recipes
Hambāgu (ハンバーグ) is the Japanese version of Hamburger Steak. It’s a meat patty generally made of beef, onions, breadcrumbs, and seasonings that’s pan-fried and served with a sweet and savory sauce.
Hamburger without “steak” at the end of the name refers to both ground beef and a meat patty made with it. It’s most commonly associated with American-style hamburgers, which are a sandwich with a pure beef patty. Hambāgu, Hamburg Steak, and Hamburger Steak can be used interchangeably and refers to a category of dishes made by mixing ground beef with other ingredients and serving it with a sauce, instead of a bun.
In Japan, Hamburger Steak is typically called Hamburg Steak, which transliterates to Hambāgu Sutéki (ハンバーグステーキ). It is pronounced as follows:
han like honk
ba like barb
gu like good
su like soup
te like take
ki like key
Japanese Hamburger Steak is considered a Western-style dish in Japan, so it’s most commonly served with potatoes or pasta. This holds true when paired with a tomato or demi-glace sauce, but I tend to prefer it with rice when it’s glazed with teriyaki sauce. As for vegetables, I recommend something simple and colorful, like broccoli and carrots that have been boiled in well-salted water.
Potato starch (for dusting)
Vegetable oil (for pan)
For teriyaki sauce
Add the onions to a microwave-safe bowl, cover it with lid or plastic wrap, and microwave at 600 watts for about four minutes twenty seconds. The goal is to get them soft and just starting to brown. Let these cool off a bit.
Add the ground beef, cream cheese, panko, egg, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and cooled onions to a bowl and use your hands to knead the mixture together until it’s uniform in color.
Shape the mixture into 6-8 patties. Smack the patties between your hands to force out any air and seal up any cracks.
Put a spoonful of potato starch into a fine-mesh sieve and dust both sides of the patties with a thin, even coating. You can pat them between your hands again to remove any excess starch.
Heat a frying pan over medium heat and add a splash of oil. Add as many patties as you can get into the pan without overcrowding it.
Fry the Hamburg Steaks until they're cooked about 1/4 of the way through and flip them over. Turn down the heat to medium-low and brown the second side.
Flip the patties periodically to evenly brown both sides, and the internal temperature reads 140F (60C) on an instant-read thermometer.
Transfer the Hamburger Steaks onto a plate. If your pan didn’t fit all the patties, fry the remaining patties now.
Once all of the patties have been cooked, turn off the heat and use paper towels to wipe out all of the pan’s grease and particulate matter.
Add the ingredients for the teriyaki sauce to the clean pan and turn the stove on to high heat. Boil the sauce until it starts to thicken.
Return the Hamburg patties to the pan and roll them around in the sauce until they are coated in a thick, shiny layer of sauce, and the glaze has started to caramelize.