What is Loco Moco
With a name that sounds more like a Mexican fast food joint or a designer drug, 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. 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.
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, Loco Moco in restaurants outside of Hawaii is often disappointing. The patties are overcooked, underseasoned pucks of hamburger, and the gravy usually tastes like it came out of a package.
I took my first stab at improving this dish back in 2013, and I’ve been refining it since then. My recipe has come along to a point where I can comfortably say it’s as good as it’s going to get.
Ingredients for Loco Moco
Loco Moco is simple comfort food, so I wanted to keep the recipe relatively simple 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.
Loco Moco Hamburger
Most recipes will have you fry up a plain hamburger patty, but I like making a Japanese-style Hamburg Steak for my Loco Moco. The Hamburg Steak alone 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 the flavor from adding 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 is seasoned, and in this case, I’ve added some oyster sauce, which adds a boatload of umami to these patties.
Loco Moco Gravy
Here’s where I get a little loco with Loco Moco. The gravy is what ties the rice, hamburger, and egg together and for me, it’s the most important part. I like to make my gravy by building up layers of flavor.
By frying the burgers first in the pan I’m going to make the gravy in, you get 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.
The next level of flavor is from a mixture of beef 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 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 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 halve the calories of the rice.
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.
- 60 grams onions (~ 1/2 onion minced)
- 225 grams ground beef
- 16 grams panko (1/3 cup)
- 2 tablespoons milk
- 2 teaspoons oyster sauce
- ¼ teaspoon black pepper
- 70 grams button mushrooms (7 small mushrooms)
- 70 grams onions (~1/2 onion, finely diced)
- ½ tablespoon dark rum (optional)
- ¾ cup low-sodium 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 3/4-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 heat to medium. Fry the patties until they have a brown crust on one side and are cooked about a third of the way through (about 2 1/2 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. Saute 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.