What is Loco Moco
Born out of the plate-lunch culture that is a pillar of modern Hawaiian cuisine, Loco Moco is a dish that could only have been invented in the melting pot that is Hawaii. With a name that sounds more like a Mexican fast food joint or a rap artist, you'd hardly expect Loco Moco to be a dish that hails from a chain of volcanic islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
A mountain of rice topped with a hamburger patty and fried egg, all floating in a sea of brown gravy, Loco Moco is an eclectic mix of Asian and American comfort foods that symbolizes the Aloha State in more than one respect. As tasty as it sounds, once Loco Moco leaves its island home, much of the character of this dish can be lost in translation. Overcooked, under-seasoned pucks of hamburger and gravy that usually tastes like it came out of a package leave mainland diners puzzled as to the popularity of this dish back home.
I took my first stab at improving Loco Moco back in 2013, and I've been refining it since then. My Hawaiian Loco Moco recipe has come along to a point where I can comfortably say it's as good a version as any you'll find off the Islands.
Ingredients for Loco Moco
Loco Moco is simple comfort food, so I wanted to keep the recipe relatively uncomplicated, while looking for easy places to improve the texture and taste. Since there's not much to do with a fried egg and rice, I focused most of my efforts on the hamburger patty and the gravy.
Most Hawaiian Loco Moco recipes will have you fry up a plain burger patty, but I like making a Japanese-style Hamburg Steak for my Loco Moco. The Hamburg Steak patty includes ingredients that ensure it cooks up juicy and tender. Making it can be a bit of work, so I've stripped it down to the bare essentials to save time and effort.
At the core, three things happen with a Japanese Hamburg Steak that can elevate Loco Moco. The first is that there is panko in it; this not only tenderizes the burger, it also acts as a sponge, helping the burger hang onto its juices instead of spilling them out all over the pan.
The second thing is adding flavorful onions. Raw onions don't taste all that great, so I like to cook them first, but to save time, I cook them in the microwave, where they get nice and tender and a little caramelized. Finally, a Japanese Hamburg Steak mix is seasoned, and in this case, I've added some oyster sauce, which adds a boatload of umami to these patties.
Here's where I get a little loco with my Loco Moco recipe. The gravy is what ties the rice, hamburger, and egg together, and for me, it's the most important part. This isn't the traditional Hawaiian Plate Lunch way, but it makes for a more satisfying version of this Hawaiian comfort food. I like to make my gravy by building up layers of flavor, and it really doesn't take much more time than mixing up a packet.
Frying the burgers first in the skillet I'm going to make the gravy in leaves some nice brown fond, or caramelized beef juices, in the pan, which creates the perfect foundation for building your gravy. The next layer of flavor comes from browned mushrooms and onions.
Then I add even more flavor by adding a mixture of beef broth or stock, soy sauce, and Worcestershire sauce. To save time, I thicken this with potato starch instead of a roux. The only drawback of this approach is that the gravy isn't quite as rich, since there is no butter in it. To fix this, I like to add just a hint of cream, which gives you all of the richness of a roux-thickened gravy without all of the effort.
As a bonus, using potato starch yields a very glossy gravy that doesn't seize up or get gummy when chilled, which makes this Loco Moco suitable for packing into a bento box for lunch!
I love me some gravy, but what would gravy be without a mountain of carbs for it to compliment. In the case of Loco Moco, the carbs are white rice, which allows the gravy to seep down to the plate. I'm not one to count calories, but I love this dish so much, I sometimes add some chopped shirataki noodles into the short-grain rice so I can justify making it more often. Shirataki has almost no calories in it, and when chopped up and cooked with rice, it's hard to tell it's there, which makes it a great way to save half the calories of the rice. You can even find shirataki rice in some Asian grocery stores now, and it saves you the time of chopping up the noodles.
There's just something irresistibly seductive about the orange yolk of a sunny-side-up egg melding with the savory gravy and juicy hamburgers. I've included a quick stovetop method for making the fried eggs down below, but if you want to make the best sunny side up eggs, check out my tutorial.
One last tip I have is to top your Loco Moco with fried shallots or onions. They not only add an excellent crisp texture, but they also add oodles of flavor. Since I'm not going to be frying up a batch of shallots every time I make this, I like to pick them up at my local Thai grocery store, and then I keep them in a zipper bag in the freezer. You could also replace them with green onions if you can't find fried shallots.
- 60 grams onions (~ ½ onion minced)
- 225 grams ground beef
- 16 grams panko (⅓ cup)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 70 grams button mushrooms (7 small mushrooms)
- 70 grams onions (~½ onion, finely diced)
- ½ tablespoon dark rum (optional)
- ¾ cup low salt beef stock
- 1 ½ tablespoons soy sauce
- ½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons potato starch
- 1 tablespoon cream
For Loco Moco
- 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- cooked rice
- fried shallots or onions
- Put the onions in a microwave-safe bowl, cover the bowl and microwave at 800 watts for 4 minutes. You want them to be soft and just starting to brown. Leave the onions covered and let them cool enough to handle.
- In a separate bowl, add the panko, milk, oyster sauce, and black pepper and mix to combine.
- When the onions have cooled a bit, add them to the panko mixture along with the ground beef, and knead together until it's well combined.
- Split the mixture in half and form them into 2 patties that are about a ¾-inch (2cm) thick.
- Place them on a plate or tray and make an indentation in the center to keep them from puffing up.
- Prepare the gravy mixture by stirring the beef stock, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and potato starch together.
- Add the vegetable oil to a frying pan and heat over medium heat until hot. Break the eggs into the pan and then turn the heat down to low. Let the eggs fry until the white is cooked through and the yolk is done to your liking. Transfer the eggs to plate and set aside.
- Add the hamburger patties to the pan you fried the eggs in and turn up the stove to medium high heat. Fry the patties until they have a brown crust on one side and are cooked about a third of the way through (about 2 ½ minutes). Flip the patties and fry until they're almost cooked through.
- Transfer the patties to a plate and then add the mushrooms and onions to the pan. Sauté until they are well browned and caramelized.
- Add the rum and deglaze the pan.
- Add the beef stock mixture and return the hamburger patties to the pan. Turn up the heat and boil the gravy until it has thickened, turning the patties over to glaze them evenly.
- Finish the gravy by adding the cream and stirring to combine evenly.
- To plate the Loco Moco, put down a mound of hot rice. Top with a beef patty, and then cover everything with gravy. Garnish your Loco Moco with fried shallots, and then place an egg on top.