If hamburgers, meatloaf, and smothered steak had a baby, it would be something like Hambagu. Way more exciting than plain old hamburgers, and a little more sophisticated than meatloaf, Hambagu is rich and savory with a luscious umami packed sauce. In Japan, there are entire restaurants devoted to the glories of Hambagu, and it is a very popular family meal as well.
When we visit during the summers, my mom always hunts down new places to eat, and a hambagu restaurant in Shinjuku made the list a couple years ago. The faux German setting, which included staff in full costumes, made a definite impression. And then coupled with a full room of chattering Japanese diners enjoying Yoshoku (Western- influenced cooking which has inspired Japanized forms of European dishes), it was a delicious and memorable experience. Luckily, Hambagu has defied food trends and remained popular in Japan for generations. So let’s get going!
The rich wine sauce really makes Hambagu special. I’ve seen recipes that call for a very lengthy reduction process, with hard to get ingredients. But I like to make Hambagu on weeknights, so I’ve streamlined the recipe with easy pantry ingredients and a simple technique. By cooking the patties and the sauce in the same pan, the sauce is every bit as complex and delicious as one that would take twice as long to cook. First I just mix all the sauce ingredients and set it aside until I’m ready for it.
One of the things that’s so fun about this meal is that everyone gets their own individual piece, so the sauce covers each bite and everyone gets plenty of the craggy crust. Before shaping the patties, the onions need to be cooked until softened, and then put aside until they are cool enough to handle. (I usually spread them on a plate and chill them in the fridge).
Freshly grated nutmeg is best. The difference between whole nutmeg and the powdered stuff is astounding.
Once the meat is divided into four sections, I form each section into a ball. Then I toss it back and forth between my hands, like a baseball, to push out the air and compress the meat. Do this 4-5 times. If you skip this step, the trapped air in the meat patty will look to escape as you cook it, and you will either get a split or the patty will burst.
Then I divide each ball in half and shape them into oval patties.
Then I refrigerate the patties for a half hour so the fat solidifies. This helps them stay intact while cooking. Then when you’re ready to cook them, use a large enough pan to brown them in one layer. I use a 12″ skillet. (If you don’t have a large pan, you can do it in 2 steps. When it’s time to simmer the patties in the sauce, it’s best to split the patties and the sauce in half and simmer twice. The patties are delicate so you don’t want to be moving them around too much.)
Once you’ve browned on both sides, remove the patties from the pan. The patties won’t be cooked all the way through at this point, which is what you want. They will gently simmer in the pan, absorbing the sauce.
It’s time to get going on the sauce, which I do in the same pan. Don’t wipe it out! All those yummy meat juices will add richness to our sauce. First, prep the mushrooms. I use shemiji, which are frequently used in Asian cooking. And they look so cute! You can sub baby bellas or shiitakes if you can’t find them.
As the meat cooks, the sauce thickens and glazes it. It creates incredibly flavorful and moist meat, drenched with the rich sauce. Japanese Hambagu is such a crowd pleaser. It’s traditionally served with rice to soak up the yummy sauce. Serve with Matcha Cake for dessert and you’ll have a festive and decadent family meal. Let us know what you think, rate the recipe or comment below, and tag us in your pics @funkyasiankitchen.
- 2 ½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- ½ large onion, finely minced
- ½ lb ground beef
- ½ lb ground pork
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- ¼ cup panko breadcrumbs
- 3 Tablespoons half and half or milk
- 1 egg
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1 Tablespoon neutral oil
- ¼ large onion, thinly sliced
- 1 package shimeji mushrooms
- 8 ounces beef stock
- ¼ cup red wine
- ¼ cup ketchup
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- Make the sauce: Put the beef stock, red wine, ketchup, worcestershire sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar together in a large cup and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
- Place a pan over medium high heat. Let it heat up for a couple minutes and then add 1 ½ tablespoons of butter and the onion. Sauté for about 4-5 minutes until translucent. Set aside to cool down (I usually spread the onions out in a bowl and then stick the bowl in the fridge to speed things up).
- In a mixing bowl, add the ground beef and pork, cooked cooled onion, garlic, panko, half and half, egg, salt, nutmeg, and fresh ground black pepper. Mix thoroughly and then knead for 1-2 minutes with clean hands until the mixture is well combined and sticky.
- Divide the mixture into quarters and scoop out one section. Make a ball with the meat.
- Throw the ball from one hand to the other 4-5 times so that the air inside the ground meat mixture is removed. (Doing this releases the air trapped inside the meat and will keep the patties from cracking or bursting.)
- Then split the ball in half and shape the balls into flat oval shapes about 1 inch thick. Repeat with the remaining meat mixture so you have 8 patties.
- Refrigerate the patties for 30 minutes so the meat rests and the fat solidifies.
- Heat a large 12″ skillet over medium high heat for several minutes. Add the oil and swirl the skillet around to spread the oil.
- Place the 8 patties in the skillet. Press the center of the oval gently with 2 fingers to make an indentation (the center bulges up while cooking and the indentation will help keep the patty shape attractive).
- Cook for about 2-3 minutes until the bottom of the hambagu steak is browned. Then turn it over using a spatula, and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
- Trim the bottom 1/2 inch of the shimeji mushrooms and break apart into small little bunches.
- Using the same skillet (do not wipe or wash it out), melt the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter in the frying pan over medium high heat. Add the sliced onions and sauté for a couple of minutes until the onions become transparent.
- Add the shimeji mushrooms and sauté for another 2 minutes until the mushrooms are softened.
- Add the sauce to the skillet, scrape and mix well using a wooden spoon or spatula and bring the sauce to a simmer over high heat.
- Reduce the heat to medium and place the hambagu steaks back into the skillet with any juices that have collected on the plate.
- Cook for 10-12 minutes, turning the hambagu steaks over gently a couple of times through the cooking time. Transfer the patties to a serving platter, then raise the heat to medium high, and continue cooking the sauce until it is reduced and thickened with a gravy consistency, about 3-5 minutes.
- Pour the sauce over the steaks and serve with your choice of vegetables, rice, salad, or miso soup. Serve immediately.