Hambaagu: Japanese hamburger steak

hambaagaa1_500.jpg

As promised, here is my recipe for making Japanese style hamburgers or hamburger steaks, one of the quintessential yohshoku or Japanese Western-style dishes. They are called hanbaagu (though they are sometimes called hambaagaa, but that variation usually refers to the kind that comes sandwiched inside a bun) in Japan, and are very popular for lunch or dinner, and are eaten as a side dish to rice (okazu) in Japanese homes. In fancier restaurants that specialize in yohshoku, they might be eaten with a knife and fork, but at home they’re eaten with chopsticks. Whenever Japanese food magazines have a poll about popular okazu, hamburgers are always in the top three, especially amongst kids.

They don’t have much in common with the American style of hamburger, except for the fact that they both start off with ground meat. A Japanese hamburger has more in common with meatloaf, and a rather similar texture. They are similar to the old TV dinner standby, Salisbury steak, but I think a lot better.

Recipe: Japanese style hamburger steak (Hambaagu)

This makes 4 small hamburgers, serving 2 to 4 people depending on what else you are serving.

  • 200g/ about 7 oz. ground beef (from a cut that has a fair amount of fat in it - very lean beef will not work because it will be too dry.)
  • 100g / about 3 1/2 oz. ground pork
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • About 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • About 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup soft white breadcrumbs (Make the breadcrumbs from regular white bread slices with the crusts off. The crumb of a baguette is really good for this.)
  • 2-3 Tbs. milk
  • 1 egg
  • Oil for cooking

For the sauce:

  • 1/2 cup dry red wine
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/3 cup Japanese tonkatsu sauce such as Bulldog brand

Chop the onion very finely. Sauté the onion in a little oil until translucent. Let cool.

Moisten the breadcrumbs with the milk. Combine the meat, cooled onions, moistened milk, egg, salt, ground pepper and nutmeg. Your hands are the best tools for this. Combine well until everything is amalgamated.

Divide into 4 portions. Form into patties, slapping each with your palms until the surface is smooth. Indent the middle with your thumb - this makes sure the middle gets cooked evenly. It should look like this:

hamb_step1.jpg

Notice that the texture is not crumbly.

From the side:

hamb_step2.jpg

Heat up a large frying pan with some oil over high heat. Place the hamburgers well apart in the hot pan, and fry until browned. Turn over and turn the heat down to low. Put a tight fitting lid on the pan and steam-cook the hamburgers for about 10 minutes until the middle bounces back if you press down on it. Take out and keep warm.

Pour out any excess oil from the pan and turn the heat up to high again. Add the red wine and deglaze the pan with it (scrape off the brown bits and blend). Add the ketchup and the Bulldog sauce and blend. Pour over the hamburgers.

hambaagaa3_500.jpg

They are best served piping hot, but they are also very popular for bento boxes.

What to serve with hambaagu

As I’ve noted above, hamburgers in Japan are eaten with plain white rice. So it’s fine to serve them just so on their own plate, maybe with a garnish. A popular side to them is glazed carrots (boiled carrots which are glazed with butter and a little bit of sugar). Another popular side is kofukiimo, boiled pototoes that are dried out in a hot pan, and tossed with a little butter, salt and pepper and chopped parsley.

kofukiimo.jpg

You could also serve some plain boiled broccoli and so on with them too. As part of a typical Japanese meal, you’d serve some soup, salad and/or pickle, and perhaps one more side dish besides the hamburgers. (See Anatomy of a Japanese meal.)

Sauce variations

The sauce I’ve used here is very easy to make and fits perfectly with the hamburgers. Other sauces that are often used include demiglace (most often seen at yohshoku restaurants, though home cooks can buy canned demiglace), teriyaki-style sauce, or just a little soy sauce and grated daikon radish.

Somewhat lower fat variation suitable for bento

See the tofu-meat mix variation for hambaagu that are not as juicy, but still good, and which arguably hold up better taste-wise when cooled (as in bento boxes). But really, once in a while you just have to have a real juicy hambaagu.

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Ok but where's the hambagoo? ;)

These look like a lot of fun to make and eat. I bet they’d go well with your mini pitas as an alternate starch (I make those all the time, these days).
But as you noted yesterday the NYT mentioned hambagoo… a misspelling, but it could be a WHOLE NEW DISH! I imagine bits of ground beef in beef, ketchup and tonkatsu flavored aspic… or perhaps a beef’n’onion milkshake swirled with yellow mustard and a pickle to garnish… or even a thick, savory spread for toast a la marmite. Clearly the molecular gastronomists need to get on this…

Nico | 28 March, 2008 - 21:02

Hambagoooooooo!

My girlfriend and I envision something like Go-gurt, only with ground meat.

Mmm.

Dina | 5 April, 2008 - 09:30

Welcome Back.

Maki,

It’s nice to see that you are recovering well and back to blogging.

Thanks for sharing this recipe. Gotta try it. It looks delish!

Wakkun | 29 March, 2008 - 01:36

Delicious staple...

Hamburger steak is pretty much a staple lunch “plate lunch” menu here along with beef stew and laulau plate. True, the Japanese version is somewhat more delicate and more like a meatloaf as you stated, I find that true also. As soon as I saw that delightful picture I was sure it was tonkatsu sauce crowning the patty, and indeed as I read further it is. Delicious. There are many okazuyas here, and we each have our own favorite. Mine here is probably Ebisu okazuya. My breakfast would consist of a musubi and a slice of local-style Japanese-inspired omelette, kamaboko included, delicious. Lunch might be hambaagaa local style, cooked in more of a teriyaki sauce, kinpira gobo (one of my favorite foods) and a musubi, maybe little namasu to balance the palette. Interesting how the humble hamburger patty is prevalent as a staple in many if not all cultures. Its your basic black, with a technicolor coat.

Mitch. | 29 March, 2008 - 02:25

Your hambaagu look really

Your hambaagu look really tasty!

Kevin | 31 March, 2008 - 21:52

Would kimpira make a good

Would kimpira make a good side dish?

Pam | 1 April, 2008 - 19:38

To eat with rice,

To eat with rice, absolutely!

maki | 2 April, 2008 - 01:58

‘1 cup soft white

‘1 cup soft white breadcrumbs’
Would standard prepackaged panko work here?

ryou | 29 April, 2008 - 00:05

If you use dried panko, be

If you use dried panko, be sure to moisten them with milk or water to make them soft before adding to the mixture. (the breadcrumbs here make the texture soft and bouncy.)

maki | 29 April, 2008 - 06:37

Thanksgiving!!

I made this for Thanksgiving and, geez, I’ll be throwing out the turkeys from now on… not that I was ever inclined to make one outside of my imagination. :)

Pancake Baker! | 30 November, 2008 - 05:26

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

I like to translate this as 'Hamburg steak,' because saying 'hamburger' gets confusing for us westerners who want to stick it between a bun!

sarah | 6 January, 2009 - 05:46

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

When I was in Japan two years ago, I had a yummy, yummy dish of hamburger steak with brown sauce, cheese, and an egg in the center. Is this essentially the same base? I've been hoping to recreate that dish, but I haven't found anything in internet searches that resembles what I had in Japan.

Jessica M. | 28 February, 2009 - 23:41

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

Was it a boiled egg inside? If so, you probably had a Japanese version of Scotch Egg I think. You can make it with the hamburger mixture base here, wrapping it around a soft boiled egg (a 3-minute egg). You could add cheese to the filling too though this is not that standard. Then you'd coat it with panko and deep fry it, like menchi katsu.

Of course there's no way for me to say with certainty that's what you had :)

maki | 1 March, 2009 - 01:42

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

Thanks for the reply! What I had wasn't deep fried... The egg was either soft-boiled and placed into the little indentation, or it was plunked in there and allowed to cook through the residual heat. When you ate it, you broke the yolk so it'd ooze all over the meat as a second sauce.

Now that I've managed to get to an Asian store and obtain some tonkatsu sauce, I'm planning to experiment and see if I can recreate the dish somehow.

Jessica M. | 23 March, 2009 - 17:57

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

That sounds a classic loco moco! It's actually a Hawaiian dish, but there's a big Japanese influence in Hawaiian dishes, so I don't see why they wouldn't do well in Japan as well. I guess you won't be back to see this, but for others who are curious, look up loco moco - it's really delicious!

Biev | 25 October, 2013 - 03:48

refrigerate the patties?

I'm thinking of making hamburgers with this recipe, but can the raw patties be refrigerated for later? Just a day or so because I can't finish that many servings at once but it's troublesome to make it in small portions.

Cocoa | 12 March, 2009 - 14:38

Re: refrigerate the patties?

I would not refrigerate any ground meat dish that has been handled and is still uncooked for more than a few hours, for safety's sake. You could freeze it though.

maki | 12 March, 2009 - 21:26

Thank you!!

Feeling nostalgic for foods I tried in Japan, I made these tonight. They turned out great and were a big hit with my family! I could not have imagined that the sauce of simply red wine, Bulldog sauce, and ketchup would be so sublime. Will absolutely make this again. Thank you!

Alison | 14 January, 2010 - 04:02

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

Hello. I came across these on the web and I had them when I was browsing your steamed buns (I had steamed buns when I lived in Thailand.) I have a ? here--I don't drink alcohol and never will..and the recipe calls for dry red wine. Can I subsitute that? Also, what exactly kind of soy sauce do you suggest? I have the healthy boy brand here.

With the steamed buns, I actually hate shiitake mushrooms. Can I subsitute that with a different mushroom?

Thanks for any help!
Sophia

Sophia | 15 January, 2010 - 17:03

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

I just wanted to mention that there is a difference between hambaagu or hambaagaa. Hambaagu is hamburger steak and hambaagaa is a hamburger sandwich. The Japanese have separate words for them.

kazuya | 3 August, 2010 - 19:51

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

And you're telling Maki, a native Japanese speaker, that because.....?

Besides, if you were to actually read the article she mentioned it at the very top.

Kevin | 5 August, 2010 - 10:52

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

Hi Maki,

I have been reading your blog for quite a while now and made different dishes (kamu ro-su, negimiso & the radish pickle justbento being one of my favourites)
but this recipe was just WOW... excellent!

Cheers!

(p.s. the Tagawa supermarket in Brussels changed it's name & owner. It's now called Nagomi)

tom | 24 January, 2011 - 23:37

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

I just made this with ground turkey and it's fantastic. I added some worcestershire sauce to the mix and fried it in olive oil. I also had to add a bit more bread crumbs since turkey is more moist than hamburger. It tastes great! Thanks for all the great bento recipes!

Maja | 11 July, 2011 - 02:12

Re: Hambaagu or hambaagaa: Japanese hamburgers

Thanks Maki for the recipe! Made this yesterday with ours stuffed with mozzarella cheese and mushrooms, it was really good!

xuan | 10 February, 2013 - 20:15

Re: Hambaagu: Japanese hamburger steak

I'm going to try to make this -- I hope I find the tonkatsu sauce, bulldog brand. Is there a substitute I could use if I can't find it? Thanks!

inktwig | 15 October, 2014 - 03:52

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