November 13, 2016
Salisbury Steak: Hamburger patties in gravy
This was a fairly common meal for us, when I was a child. Easily made, relatively quick to prepare, and tasty. My mother would have had at least one more hot vegetable on each plate (or a salad), as well as a dish of pickles or radishes on the table. She was ahead of her time in making sure we got our vegetables in. Sometimes we'd have mashed potatoes, sometimes merely boiled and left whole (or chopped), sometimes baked.
While there are some ingredient differences between Salisbury steak per se and a simple hamburger patty in gravy (the Salisbury steak is named after Dr JH Salisbury, a proponent of low-carb diets), the method is essentially the same: create a meat patty and fry it up in a skillet, in which a gravy is then built after the patties have browned. There are of course similar dishes all over the world - everything from Japanese hambagu to Russian Koteleta to German Hacksteak, and doubtless many more. Salisbury Steak also holds the perhaps dubious honour of being one of the iconic meals available as a Swanson brand TV Dinner (although it was not the very first offering thereof).
At home in Canada I generally used all beef (or occasionally bison) for the patties, but here in Germany I use either beef or a combination of beef and pork (which is the standard most economical offering of the region). While a certain amount of filler material is apparently acceptable, mine are always just meat and seasoning spices. I make the gravy with either just onions or onions and mushrooms, depending on what I have in the house. The gravy is a bit variable in terms of thickness, because I don't tend to measure the amount of flour that I use. This one is a bit thinner than it often is, but it was equally delicious on the patties and on the mashed potatoes. I use lean meat for these - extra lean makes for a bit of a drier patty.
500 grams lean ground beef (or beef and pork)
1/4 teaspoon kosher or coarse sea salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Pinch of ground cumin
Pinch of ground cayenne
1 shake of Tabasco pepper sauce
a bit of all-purpose flour to dust the patties
1 teaspoon butter or oil for frying
For the gravy:
1 medium onion, either sliced pole-to pole or diced
6 button mushrooms, cleaned and sliced (or chopped) - optional
2 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
2 shakes Worcestershire sauce
pinch of whole mustard seed (optional)
1.5 cups beef broth (or stock from a prepared base, such as Better than Bouillon)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (shaken together with 60 mL water to make a slurry)
If you're making the family style of dinner above, put the potatoes on to boil first. Once they are going, mix together the meat and seasonings with your impeccably clean hands, and shape into four flat patties. Sprinkle the patties with flour on each side, and shake of any excess. Fry them in a large, hot skillet (in which you have melted the butter or heated the oil) over medium heat until well-browned on each side. Don't worry about cooking them through, they will finish cooking in the gravy.
Once the patties have been browned, stack half of them into twos and push them to the side. Add the onions and garlic, and stir through the fond. Add the mushrooms, Worcestershire sauce, and mustard seeds (if using), and stir and cook until the onions turn translucent and the mushrooms give up some of their liquid. If the pan is too dry, add a tablespoon of water or so at a time until there's no danger of scorching.
Add the beef broth and stir through. Make a slurry of the flour with just enough cold water to make a smooth, thick liquid, and add it to the skillet. Stir it through carefully until it is thoroughly combined with the onions, mushrooms, and stock. It will start to thicken the gravy immediately, but it will take about 20 minutes for the flour to cook through and lose its raw taste, so don't be impatient if it doesn't taste great right away. Spread the patties out in the sauce, lower the heat, and continue to stir periodically, until the gravy has a delicious meaty flavour. You can cover the pan if you like, but I don't usually find it necessary.
If your patties didn't brown very much, your gravy will be pale in colour. It should still taste good, though, but you can get a nicer colour by adding a few drops of dark soy sauce (not regular). This will make it a touch more salty, though, so be aware of that, especially if you're using a salty meat broth or stock.
At this point, the patties can be held for a while if necessary to let the potatoes finish cooking, or to wrangle any other vegetables that you want to include in your meal. Put the lid on if you like to keep to much liquid from evaporating.
Serve up the patties with a spoonful of the gravy over them. These reheat very nicely for lunches the next day, and also make very good sandwiches (I usually slice them horizontally for sandwiches, and add a slice of cheese).