Not to be confused with hambāgā- the French fry accompanied, grilled beef burger served in a bun the world over- hambāgu is a much lighter, juicier confection; a blend of pork and beef mince, caramelised onions and spices, shaped into an oval patty before being fried and simmered in one of a variety of different sauces. It could be described as Japan’s take on the Salisbury steak and depending on which type of hambāgu you order in a restaurant, your patty could be smothered in a rich, thick Worcestershire style sauce, a French-inspired red wine reduction, a beef and mushroom ‘loco moco’ gravy (nearly always partnered with a runny fried egg) or dressed in the wafu oroshi style with a zesty, tangy ponzu sauce and a heap of spicy grated daikon. This final version is about as refreshing and light a burger as you’ll ever find; juicy from the addition of fatty pork mince, tender from the milk-soaked panko breadcrumbs and packed with bright summery flavours courtesy of the citrus dressing and the herbal notes that the shiso leaves bring. Serve the hambāgu with a steaming bowl of rice and some light vegetable side dishes to make the perfect home-style dish for a late dinner on a sunny evening, or use cooled cooked patties with the sauce and daikon oroshi on the side as the feature components in an obento lunch.
- 250g minced beef
- 200g minced pork (it’s best to use mince with around 20% fat content for both meats)
- 1/2 a large onion
- 20g panko breadcrumbs
- 40ml milk
- 1 large egg
- 1 clove garlic
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 60ml soy sauce
- 60ml yuzu juice (or you could substitute sour orange juice)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 6cm piece of daikon (use the top, greener part of the radish if possible)
- 4 whole large shiso leaves
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (plus extra for oiling your hands)
- Peel and finely chop the onion, then add to a frying pan with one tablespoon of oil and gently fry over a medium heat until it is translucent and lightly caramelised. Transfer the onion to a large mixing bowl and allow it to cool down completely. In a separate bowl pour the milk over the panko breadcrumbs and leave them to rehydrate fully.
- When the sautéed onion has reached room temperature add the two types of mince and roughly mix together. Crush or finely chop the clove of garlic, then add this to the meat along with the egg, nutmeg, salt, pepper and the softened panko. Use your hands to mix and knead all of the ingredients together until everything is thoroughly distributed and the meat has a smooth, sticky consistency.
- Divide the mixture into four even pieces, lightly oil your hands and pick up the first piece. Shape the hambāgu mixture into a ball then throw it from one hand to the other with some force, repeat this eight to ten times- unlike Western hamburgers, the goal here is to completely eliminate any internal air pockets which could make the hambāgu fall apart during cooking. Once you’ve worked the meat like this, form it into an oval shape, thicker than a typical hamburger and with a domed top. Place the hambāgu on a plate and repeat with the other three quarters of the mixture, then cover with cling film and allow the patties to rest for thirty minutes in the fridge.
- Remove the rested patties from the fridge and let them come back to room temperature while you prepare the toppings. Peel the daikon and grate it on either a large oroshigane or the rasped side of a box grater, then squeeze out and discard the juice to leave you with a snowy white mound of radish. Mix together the soy sauce, yuzu juice and sugar in a bowl until the sugar has dissolved.
- Warm up the remaining tablespoon of oil in a frying pan over a medium heat and gently place the patties into the pan, carefully indenting the centre of each hambāgu with your fingers as you go- as the burgers cook they will expand and return to their original shape, filling in the dent. Cook the patties for four to five minutes on this side until they are nicely browned, then flip them over carefully, cover with a lid and cook for another four to five minutes. Remove the lid at this point and pour over the sauce mixture, baste each hambāgu a few times while the sauce comes to a simmer and then remove from the heat.
- To serve, place the patties on plates, garnish each with a whole shiso leaf and a generous mound of the daikon oroshi and serve the sauce in a jug on the side to allow people to add extra while they’re eating.
Serves 4 people.