This simple, yet delicious Japanese style hamburg steak is made with 100% beef, onions and seasoned with salt, pepper and nutmeg, then drizzled with a rich and tangy homemade sauce.
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What is Japanese Hamburg Steak?
Hamburg (ハンバーグ hambaagu) is a popular meat dish made by mixing minced meat (usually beef or pork) with onions, breadcrumbs, eggs and seasonings and then shaping into a patty and frying.
The dish became widely popular in households during the period of rapid growth in the 1960s and has since become a favourite home cooked dish in Japan.
Burger without buns
Okay, some of you might think it's crazy, but if I explain Japanese hamburg steak in the simplest way, that would be a hamburger without a bun or salad.
Yeah I know you might think "Why would you do that!?"
Well, but actually it's slightly different from just "burger without buns".
Origin of Hamburg
As you might have guessed from the name, the origin of this dish is Hamburg, Germany.
In the 17th or 18th century, people started making small meatballs from ground meat mixed with breadcrumbs called "Frikadellen" and that's the earliest story of the most basic form of hamburg.
It is said that the Hamburg traveled to Japan in early 20th century.
It was around the 1960's that the Hamburg started to gain popularity amongst Japanese families. Ground meat was fairly cheap to get compared to other meats back then.
Then in true Japanese fashion, they started to arrange the dish to their tastes serving it with rice and drizzling it with a Japanese style sauce.
What Ingredients are used in Japanese Hamburg Steak?
Here, I will list a few ingredients that are commonly used for Japanese Hamburg and how to prepare them.
A lot of people use raw onion for hamburg, but I pre-cook onion and add it to the meat mixture as it adds sweetness, richness and a deeper flavour.
Finely chop the onions (the finer, the better!) then fry them in a pan with butter until golden, then mix them into the meat!
Just one other thing, make sure the cooked onion has cooled down before you add it to the mixture!
Breadcrumbs are actually essential as a binding agent for juicy hamburg. They not only soften the meat to the palate, but also absorb the flavour from the meat and onions during cooking and prevent it from escaping.
In my recipe, I soak breadcrumbs in milk beforehand as milk helps to reduce the odour of the meat.
There are many types of minced meat used for hamburg, including beef, chicken, pork or a mixture. The taste of the finished hamburger depends on the minced meat.
Beef mince is most commonly used for the dish. It has a strong meaty flavour, elasticity and relatively low moisture content.
If you use 100% beef mince, it's recommended to have fair amount of fat in it, otherwise the finished hamburg will be a too dry and crumbly.
A mixture of pork and beef can be considered as the best of both worlds, as it has the flavour of meaty beef and the mouth watering texture of pork.
As for the ratio, if you want a strong beefy / meaty flavour, go for 7:3 or 8:2 beef to pork ratio. If you want a richer flavour and smooth texture, you can use a higher ratio, 6:4 beef to pork.
Also, if you grind these meats by yourself, I recommend grinding beef coarsely, but pork finely. This allows a small amount of pork to be evenly distributed throughout the beef.
Minced pork is high in fat and rich in flavour. Fat melts at a lower temperature than beef fat so it has melt-in-mouth sensation.
However, hamburger with 100% pork mince can lack some meatiness.
So I still recommend using mixture of beef and pork for this dish.
Minced chicken has a light flavour so when made into hamburg, it has a light in taste and dry in texture. Simply, hamburg with chicken mince will be completely different to the rest.
I don't recommend using chicken mince with this recipe as chicken hamburg works better with a thicker, creamier sauce.
Japanese Hamburg steak goes with a whole range of different sides, here are a few ideas for you.
- Potato salad
- Fried egg
There are many different types of sauce for Hamburg steaks!
The most popular sauces are:
- Demi-glace sauce
- Soy sauce base wafu sauce
- Tomato base sauce
- Teriyaki sauce
- Cheese sauce
There are so many kinds, just like regular steaks.
Real demi-glace sauce takes a long time to make so I've created my own special shortcut Hamburg sauce. Using juices from the meat mixed with a mixture of condiments such as ketchup and Worcestershire sauce creates a rich, sweet and delicious sauce with a slight zing. It's seriously good!
Tips and tricks to make an amazing Japanese hamburg at home
Hamburg is a fairly easy dish, but there are so many tips and tricks in Japan to make it even better!
Here, I will list my favourite tips to make an amazing Japanese hamburg at home!
Mix while ingredients are cold
When kneading meat mixture, the fat in the meat can melt because of body or room temperature and it can eventually lead to a dry texture.
Make sure the ingredients are as cold as possible, and if the room temperature is high, such as in summer, knead the meat mixture over a bowl of iced water.
Also, freezing the breadcrumbs is a convenient way to cool the mixture quickly.
Keep the air out of the mixture
Misshaped and dry hamburg can also be caused by the fact that the mixture contains too much air inside. If air remains, the air expands and cracks the hamburg when it is cooked. As a result, hamburg loses its shape and the juice escapes through the cracks, which leads to a dry texture.
You can remove the air by throwing mixture from one hand to another, as if playing catch with the Hamburg patty (see full steps in my video or recipe card below).
Smooth the surface
A smooth surface helps to trap the juices when cooked, as they are less likely to crack and the heat is evenly distributed.
Rest the shaped mixture in fridge for 30 minutes
Once the ingredients are shaped, cover them and let them sit in the fridge for 30 minutes before cooking.
The mixture settles and is less likely to lose its shape. It also allows the meat to absorb the flavours of the seasonings and other ingredients, richening flavour.
Preheat the pan
If you place your Hamburg in a pan that isn't hot enough, the juices in the hamburger will leak out and result in a dry texture. So preheating the pan is important!
Also, making a dent in the centre of the hamburg is important so that it cooks all the way through! (see in video for full instruction)
High heat on one side, low heat on the other side
Start cooking one side with medium high heat until the side gets crispy. Then flip it over and turn down the heat to medium low with lid on.
This helps to lock in the juices, cook it thoroughly and improve the overall texture of the patty.
Watch our video for how to make Japanese Hamburger SteakPrint
Step by step recipe
Juicy Japanese Hamburg Steak (ハンバーグ)
- Total Time: 1 hour
- Yield: 2 Portions 1x
How to make juicy and delicious, Japanese Hamburg Steak (ハンバーグ) with a rich and tasty homemade sauce. (Serves 2)
For the Hamburg
- 300g Beef mince (10.5oz)
- ½ White onion
- 4 tbsp Panko breadcrumbs
- 3 tbsp Milk
- 1 pinch Nutmeg
- 10g Salted butter (2 tsp)
- ¼ tsp Black pepper
- ¼ tsp Salt
- 1 tbsp Vegetable oil
For the Sauce
- 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
- 4 tbsp Tomato ketchup
- ½ tbsp Dijon Mustard (smooth)
- 2 tsp Honey
Making the mince
- Finely dice ½ onion. (The finer the better.)
- Mix 3 tbsp of milk and 4 tbsp of panko in a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat a frying pan on medium-medium high and add the 10g of butter.
- Add the diced onion to the pan and fry in the butter until soft and slightly transparent. (Be careful not to brown or burn. Lower the heat if necessary.)
- Transfer the onion to a plate and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. (The wider the plate, the quicker it cools.)
- In a large mixing bowl, add 300g of minced meat, ¼ tsp salt, ½ tsp black pepper, the cooked onion and a pinch of nutmeg.
- Mix by hand until the seasonings and onions are distributed through the mince but try not to mix too much. Don't let the mince get warm or paste-like.
- Add the milk and panko mixture to the mince, mix by hand again.
- Divide the meat into two portions.
- Take out one half and press it roughly into a round shape.
- Toss the patty from one hand to the other to remove the air and thin it out, the patty should be about 2cm / 1 inch thick.
- Once you're happy with the shape, press a slight dent in the middle. (This will help it cook evenly.)
- Place the patty carefully on a plate and repeat the process with the other half.
- Rest the patties in the fridge for 20-30 minutes.
- Heat a frying pan on medium high and add 1 tbsp of vegetable oil.
- Once hot, place the patties into the frying pan with the dent side facing up. Fry for 2-3 minutes.
- Using a spatula, carefully lift the patties to check if the underneath is browned and slightly crisped up. If it's not, leave it to cook for longer. If it is, then flip it over.
- After you've flipped the patties, turn down the heat to medium low. Continue to cook in the frying pan for 3-4 minutes.
- Using a toothpick (or check with a meat thermometer, the centre should be at least 70°C or 160°F) pierce the patty. If no juice or red juice comes out then it's not cooked yet so reduce the heat to the lowest setting and add a lid to allow it to steam for an extra few minutes, this will stop it from burning.
- If the juice comes out clear, it's ready. Turn off the heat and transfer the hamburgs to the serving plates.
- Using the same pan with the meat juices, add 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce, 4 tbsp tomato ketchup, ½ tbsp mustard and 2 tsp honey.
- Mix and simmer for 2-3 minutes until slightly thickened.
- Drizzle the sauce over the hamburg and serve! Hamburg is often served with salad, potato salad, rice, fries... however you like!
I recommend running your hands under cold water before handling the patties and work quickly to prevent warming them up.
If you want to make the hamburgs ahead of time and cook later, you can prepare the mince and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to use it. Shape just before cooking.
- Prep Time: 10 mins
- Cooling / resting time: 30 mins
- Cook Time: 20 mins
- Category: Meat
- Method: Frying
- Cuisine: Japanese
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