While it might not be haute cuisine, chopped meat is surely economical, flavorful, and versatile. From meatballs to croquettes to tacos, it can do it all and can do it with ease. It is an uncomplicated ingredient, often interchangeable, and more often than not is a beacon signaling out comfort food to anyone within range.
Take for example chopped steak: it is nothing new. Salisbury steak for instance has been around since 1897. Named after a doctor, Dr. Salisbury, who created it. Salisbury was also a believer in a low-carb diet, fancy that.
While Salisbury steak is truly American, every culture around the world seems to have a minced steak dish. There is the Hamburg steak in Germany, which is the precursor to the American hamburger, sans bun, and was even considered by Escoffier to be haute cuisine. And of course there are others — Swiss steak, frikadelle, rissole, and my two favorites: the Japanese hanbāgu and the Hawaiian loco moco.
If you are like me, when you come across the occasional mom and pop joint that has a Salisbury steak listed on the pressed letter board menu mounted above the flat top griddle full of caramelizing onions and the hot stove with steaming pots of gravy, you order it. Not always are they great — they often use beef base for their gravy and some sort of prepared meat patty — but when they are done right, from scratch, they are amazingly good.
Sadly, we all know many of these dishes have been institutionalized — who doesn’t have a school cafeteria story? — but that doesn’t mean at one time before they were made into vacuum-packed TV dinners that they weren’t delicious. More than likely, their only fault is they became too popular, thus banishing them to the freezer section by the industrial food industry. Somehow the cook was relegated to an alternate role when it came to preparing this kind of food, one of reheating, combining, and serving. I think it’s time to change that.
Japanese Chopped Steak with Caramelized Onion Curry Gravy (Hanbāgu)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided into 4 tablespoons
2 1/2 cups yellow onions, small dice
1/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup bread crumbs, gluten-free or otherwise
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground sirloin
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons flour or 3 tablespoons brown rice flour
1 tablespoon Madras curry powder
1 1/2 to 2 cups water
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoons sake mixed with 1 teaspoon of sugar
2 to 3 tablespoons tamari soy sauce
- In a large sauté pan, heat the oil with 1 tablespoon of butter. When the butter has melted, add the onions and caramelize them slowly over medium heat. As always, just like unloading the dishwasher, it seems like it takes hours to caramelize the onions, but be patient.
- While the onions are gently sizzling away combine the milk and bread crumbs in a large mixing bowl. All your ground meats are going into this bowl, so make sure it is large. Let the bread crumbs absorb the milk.
- Add the ground meats to the bowl along with a teaspoon of salt, black pepper to taste, and the eggs. Mix it well with your just washed hands, making sure to really work everything together so you get a nice blend.
- Once the onions are French onion soup brown, remove them from the pan to a plate. Clean the pan and place it back onto the stove but not on the heat. Let the onions cool a minute, then add 3/4 of the onions to the steak mix and knead them in. Form six 6-ounce patties.
- Place the pan back onto the heat and turn it to medium high. Add the remaining butter and let it melt and bubble. Once the bubbles begin to subside, add the burgers (if your sauté pan isn’t big enough, do this in batches.) Brown them on both sides, cook them to your desired temperature and then gently remove them to a plate while you make the pan gravy.
- If your butter is burnt, start over by pouring it out and adding more, but if it is a nice brown butter you did good. Add the remaining onions and your flour of choice and let them cook for a minute or two while you are stirring it around. Add the curry powder, stir once or twice to break out the spice flavors, and then add the water, ketchup, sake, and soy, stirring the entire time until the sauce comes to a boil and thickens. Make sure to use your wooden spoon to scrape up all the goodies from the bottom of the pan. Taste and adjust the seasoning by either adding more soy or salt depending on what you think it needs. If it is too thick, add water a 1/4 cup at a time, stirring between additions. Taste and adjust the seasonings if needed.
- Place the chop steaks back into the pan to rewarm them. Serve with steamed white rice and vegetables (traditionally broccoli, potatoes, and sliced tomatoes).