Hamburger Steaks: A Japanese Cookout

What could be better on the first really warm day of spring than a cookout? That was certainly my thought, and luckily I had the perfect excuse as my sister's 30th birthday was on said day. As a rule, I am usually the one to steal any holiday and co-opt it to my purposes, and luckily this particular sister is pretty happy to eat anything, so long as she gets the mandatory lemon cake. So I took out The Japanese Grill, one of my favorite cookbooks by Tadashi Ono and Harris Salat, and flipped around until I found the perfect recipe. Burger steaks.

These are not your typical hamburgers, at least not as we know them in America, mostly because they are not served on a bun. Rather more like meatloaf in texture, most hamburger steaks are made with a combination of ground beef and ground pork, and are mixed with milk soaked panko, soy sauce, onions, and other spices. Combined with either a ketchup sauce or grated daikon and vinegar, this is a very popular homemade dish in Japan.

Typically in Japan it is eaten as any other meal would be, with rice and other side dishes. And instead of using your hands to pick it up, seeing as it has no bun, you would use your chopsticks (an easier task since a hamburger steak is pretty soft). However, in The Japanese Grill, they also suggest that you can use a yaki onigiri (grilled rice ball) sliced in half as a bun replacement. I happen to love yaki onigiri so I really liked this idea. I ran it past the birthday girl who gave it the all clear so long as I also served potato wedges. And so it was all set.

I've been working on my full Japanese meals, which as you might recall from an earlier post, involves rice, soup, two meat or vegetable side dishes, and a palate cleansing fresh or pickled dish. For this meal I made a cucumber and wakame sunomono, roasted asparagus, and the requested potato wedges (which I did as a mix of regular potatoes and Japanese sweet potatoes seasoned with sesame oil and nanami togarashi). These seemed like they would be a good balance for the hamburger steaks, and they certainly were.

Since we were running short on time I started both the burgers and the yaki onigiri on the stove top and finished them off on the grill, using apple wood which enhances the flavors. This worked perfectly and soon we had beautiful hamburger steaks on soy sauce glazed rice balls. I know a lot of people are gluten intolerant and I must say that yaki onigiri are a great alternative for a bun, and pretty easy. In the book they recommend mixing ketchup with wasabi, but I happened to be out. What I did have was red and green yuzu koshu, a very spicy Japanese condiment made from chilies and yuzu. I mixed the red with the ketchup (because they had to match, dammit) and the green with mayo. The flavor was perfect for the grilled meat, though it was pretty darn spicy, which I might have forgotten to mention to the guests.

As a meal though it was a wonderful combination and everyone felt pretty satisfied at the end of it. It even earned a snap chat from my sister's restaurant owning boy friend. And of course afterwards we all got to enjoy the lemon meringue cupcakes I made the day before (yes those are a thing, and yes they are amazing). Big success all around, and I even managed to juggle all those dishes without loosing my mind or getting super grumpy like I do every Thanksgiving, so another success!

If you're doing some grilling this warm season, which I imagine you will because it's awesome, then I recommend hamburger steaks. They're a great spin on the classic American dish. If you don't want to get The Japanese Grill, which you should because it is also awesome, here is another good recipe you could try. But whatever you're grilling this summer, just make sure you don't let the breeze catch the ashes and toss them all over your food, cause I had a whole onigiri ruined that way.

Until next time, fire up the grill!

Post Script: Kumamoto Earthquake

As many of you have probably heard, there were two really big earthquakes in Kumamoto, Japan, last week. So far there have been over forty confirmed deaths and well over three thousand wounded. If you're interested in learning more and donating to a relief fund, this is a good site for both.