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Eric Akis: Hold the bun, add the ginger for Japanese hambagu

Inspired by the hamburger steak, this version is served with a Japanese-style barbecue sauce and wasabi-mashed potatoes.
Onion-and ginger-flavoured hamburger steaks are topped with an umami-rich sauce. ERIC AKIS

If you’ve followed my column for a long while, you’ll know I’m a fan of the humble hamburger steak.

Over the years, I’ve cooked up various recipes for them, such as Salisbury steak, Latvian-style hamburger steak and French-style hamburger steak topped with wine sauce and blue cheese.

Today, I’m keeping that trend going by offering a recipe for hambagu, a Japanese-style hamburger steak.

In North America, Japanese-style dishes from soups to sushi have been adapted to please local palates. In Japan, the same holds true with Western-style dishes.

Hambagu, according to the Japan National Tourism Organization, is a Japanese take on the traditional beef hamburger.

But it’s not a fast-food imitation that requires a bun, pickles and condiments. Instead, they describe hambagu as an oval-shaped patty made with ground beef, breadcrumbs, onions and egg cooked in a frying pan to taste. In other words, it’s a hamburger steak.

When you read recipes for hambagu, you’ll see that sometimes other ground meats, such as pork, are mixed with the beef, which is what I did.

The breadcrumbs I used were panko, coarse Japanese-style breadcrumbs sold in boxes or bags in the Asian-foods aisle of grocery stores. I also added grated fresh ginger to my hambagu and a bit of milk, which helps to make hamburger steaks more tender when cooked.

According to the Japan National Tourism Organization, hambagu is usually served with rice and salad and you can certainly do that with my recipe.

But I decided to switch things up by serving it with a steamed green vegetable and mashed potatoes flavoured with wasabi.

The organization also says hambagu is served with a flavourful sauce, such as ponzu, demi-glace or pepper sauce.

In my version, and others I’ve seen, it’s also served with what you could be called a kicked-up, umami-rich version of tonkatsu sauce, sometimes describe as a kind of Japanese-style barbecue sauce.

It’s made with such things as ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, red wine and, for added richness, butter, which is whisked into the sauce just before it’s served.

My recipes for Japanese-style hamburger steak and wasabi-mashed potatoes yield four servings. If that’s too many for you, you could cook, cool and package the hamburger steaks, sauce and potatoes you don’t need in single servings and freeze them.

When needed, thaw and reheat in the microwave.

Japanese-Style Hamburger Steak (Hambagu)

Tender, onion- and ginger-flavoured hamburger steaks topped with a beguiling umami-rich sauce.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes

Makes: four servings

1/2 medium onion, finely diced

2 tsp + 2 Tbsp vegetable oil (divided)

3/4 pound (about 340 grams) lean ground beef

1/2 pound (about 226 grams) ground pork (see Eric’s options)

1/3 cup panko

1 large egg, beaten

2 Tbsp milk

1 tsp finely grated fresh ginger

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup red wine (see Eric’s options)

1/3 cup ketchup

1/4 cup beef stock

3 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp soy sauce

1 tsp granulated sugar or honey

1/8 cup (2 Tbsp) cold butter, cut into small cubes

Place 2 tsp of the oil in a small pot set over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until tender, about four minutes. Remove onions from heat and cool to temperature.

Place those onions, the ground meats, panko, egg, milk, ginger, salt and black pepper in a bowl and gently mix to combine. With cold water-dampened hands, form meat mixture into four large, 3/4-inch thick, oval patties (steaks).

Preheat oven to 200 F. Place the 2 Tbsp oil in a very large skillet set over medium, medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the steaks and cook four to five minutes per side, or until entirely cooked through. (When cooked, the centre of each hamburger steak when tested with an instant-read meat thermometer should be 160 F (71 C) or above.)

Set hamburger steaks on a baking pan and keep warm in the oven. Meanwhile, drain excess fat from the skillet and set back over medium, medium-high heat. Pour in the wine and simmer and reduce by half. Add the ketchup, stock, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce and sugar (or honey), whisk to combine and bring back to a simmer. Remove skillet from the heat and whisk in the pieces of butter until melted and blended into the sauce.

Set a hamburger steak on each of four dinner plates. Top each steak with some of the sauce and serve.

Eric’s options: If you don’t want to buy ground pork, simply replace it with another 1/2 pound of ground beef. If you don’t want to use wine, replace it with 1/4 cup more beef stock. Reduce that 1/4 cup of stock as described for the wine.

Wasabi-Mashed Potatoes

Mashed potatoes flavoured Japanese-style with wasabi paste.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 18 to 20 minutes

Makes: four servings

2 1/2 pounds yellow fleshed potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 Tbsp butter, melted

1/2 cup warm beef stock or broth (see Note 1)

2 tsp wasabi paste, or to taste (Note 2)

2 green onions, halved lengthwise, and then thinly sliced

• salt, to taste

Place potatoes in a medium pot and cover with a generous amount of cold water. Set the pot over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Now lower the heat until water is just simmering. Simmer potatoes until very tender, about 18 to 20 minutes.

Drain potatoes well, then use a potato masher to thoroughly mash them. Vigorously beat in the butter, stock, wasabi paste and green onion. Season the potatoes with salt and they are ready to serve.

Note 1: You can melt the butter and warm the stock together in a bowl in the microwave, or in a small pot on the stove.

Note 2: Wasabi paste is sold in small tubes at most supermarkets and at Asian food stores. These potatoes are mildly spicy. If you want a spicier taste, simply mix in more wasabi paste.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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