Japanese Hamburgers with Curry

By Tim Wu on July 24, 2008 in Blog

Minasan! Sorry I missed the weekend post. I went to go see the Dark Knight in IMAX, which was more important than anything ever. If you haven’t seen it yet, then shame on you. If you’re in a foreign country, like I know some of you are, then… well… ha.

Anyway, I made a bunch of stuff at the head of this week, the first of which being Japanese hamburgers.

Along with a dish called “omurice,” which I suppose you can call a portmanteau of “omelet” and “rice,” Japanese hamburgers are long considered a staple of the branch of Japanese cuisine that has been inspired by the West.

Unlike American burgers, Japanese hamburgers and a lot thicker and a lot softer, and are meant to be eaten with rice and served with a sauce instead of between two buns. It’s closer to Salisbury steak than it is to hamburgers, actually, but taste a whole lot better. I’ve yet to come across an enjoyable Salisbury steak.

So let’s begin. Just a heads up, this dish makes 8 quarter-pound burgers. Have one for lunch, or two for dinner, however hungry you are. I cook for the week, so scale down accordingly if you only want to make a little… but why would you? muahaha.

Our vegetables from left to right: A medium onion, about 1 cup of mushrooms (not 3 single mushrooms), one egg (sure, let’s call it a vegetable), and one head of broccoli. You can get just the broccoli crown at supermarkets, but they’re more expensive per pound, and when it’s in a stew, the stem is just as tender as the crown, so why not.

Oh, and for the mushrooms, they’re usually sold in 8 oz. containers, so we’ll be using half the container, if that’s an easier measure.

Our meat~ 1 and a half pounds of lean ground beef and a half pound of ground pork. The ratio you want here is 3 to 1, so this is where you can scale accordingly to however many hamburgers you want to make. I know it doesn’t look like 3 to 1 in the picture; there was another half pound of beef that wouldn’t fit on the board.

I’m not cooking it yet, it’s just that I don’t have any large mixing bowls here, and my large sauce pan was the only thing big enough, so… yeah.

Anyway, before you add any of the other ingredients, start by mixing the beef and pork together.

Then beat in one egg.

Then our binders and seasoning to help hold the ground meat together:

A sprinkle of nutmeg, about 2 teaspoons. It doesn’t add too much flavor wise, but it does give the hamburgers a very nice aroma. It’s one of those things you can’t point out when eating it, but you’ll definitely notice it if it’s not there. And yes, pre-ground nutmeg works just fine in my opinion. Why? Because that bottle was 99 cents. That’s why.

A cup or so of Panko. Panko, as so boldly stated with two layers of drop shadow on the packaging above, is Japanese bread crumbs. It’s a lot lighter than American bread crumbs.

They’re almost like coarsely ground bread crumbs whereas American bread crumbs are finely ground. Panko is great for topping gratins and other similar dishes where a nice crust that’s finished under the broiler is called for.

This is dashi, which I have mentioned before in my post on nikujaga. It’s made from dried fish, and it’s what makes Japanese things taste Japanese. It just does. If you don’t have this because you’re in, say, Germany, or Ireland, then it’s not too big of a deal. I’ve made this plenty of times before without it and it tastes just fine.

Here’s half the medium onion, minced finely. It’s important to dice this as small as possible, as large chunks of onion will prevent your burgers from holding together very well, and when they cook, they might fall apart.

Other things to add that weren’t pictured: salt and soy sauce to taste. I usually go with about a couple teaspoons of salt and around two tablespoons of soy sauce (Note, this depends on your particular soy sauce. Some are made a LOT stronger than others, so add accordingly)

Divide it eighths, like a pie.

And form each one into ovals about an inch thick. Japanese hamburgers are rarely circular. And sure, add a sprig of parsley to make it look egregious. Now, wrap this plate in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for a day. This will allow all the ingredients to meld and to let the seasonings settle into the meat.

If you’re in a hurry, or if you didn’t know this was a two-day recipe because I never told you at the beginning of this post, then it’s not a big deal. They’ll still have time to settle while we make the curry sauce.

So, slice the mushrooms and the remaining half of the onion, and throw them in a medium sauce pot with about a tablespoon of butter. Season with salt and pepper.

About 10 minutes later they’ll start to pick up a nice brown on the edges.

Alas, I use store-bought curry mixes. Why? Because it’s easy, and, oddly enough, if you make this with actual curry powder, for some weird reason it just doesn’t taste like Japanese curry, it’ll taste like Indian curry.

Japanese curry is a lot more mellow. I don’t know what they do with the mixes, but whatever it is, they’ve managed to harness all the Japanese-ness of Japanese curry into a single set of 8 one inch by one inch concentrated cubes of flavor.

Anyway, the above picture I didn’t take, I found it on Google. I forgot to take a picture of the mix I use before I threw it away. Vermont is good, but I also like House. They’re all good though, and the instructions are essentially the same. Add water, and when it comes to a boil, break in the cubes, and stir to make sure they dissolve.

It’s really that simple. What’s great about it being cubes is you can make as much or as little as you want. For this, I used the entire box. But you could easily make a single serving by adding about a cup of water to two of the cubes. Good stuff.

Broccoli cooks quickly, and since we’re going to be heating this sauce up again later when we make our burgers, add them in towards the end.

Simmer for about 5 minutes, and let it cool, then park it in the refrigerator. Or, if you’re going straight into making the hamburgers, then put it on the back burner on low heat with the cover on.

So now we can start making our burgers. The key here, like with cooking many meats, is to start on medium to medium high. A common mistake (and one that I made for a long, long time before I finally realized it), is to crank the pan all the way to high because you think that’ll make things cook faster. While that’s true, it means only the outside will cook faster, meaning the outside will burn faster, all the while the center stays raw.

SO, start on medium heat, and be patient. 3 minutes on each side. Of course, this depends on your range. Medium on some ranges is hotter than medium on other ranges. If after 2 minutes you see your burgers have already taken on a nice crust (as seen in later pictures), then flip it, and lower the heat, and go for longer on other side. Cover the pan during this time to let it sort of quasi-steam the burger too.

In the meantime, our sauce is on the back, heating. Be sure to stir it every once in a while to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom.

3 minutes later and we can flip. It’s also important not to crowd the pan. Even though we have 8 burgers to cook, I’m making them in 2 batches. You want to give the burgers enough room so that they don’t touch each other.

If you crowd the pan all at once, the juices from the burgers will fill the pan faster than they can evaporate, and this pool of juice at the bottom will thus prevent your burgers from generating a nice crust. If your pan will only allot 2 comfortably, then do it in 4 batches. It’s worth it.

While you can’t tell from the angle of this photo, try to flip your burgers to a new part of the pan. So instead of flipping them over onto the same spot, scooch it over just a little bit. The part of the pan where your burgers were before you flipped are actually a bit cooler than the rest of pan, so introducing the raw side of these burgers to the hottest parts of the pan will help you attain the same sear on the other side.

After another 3 minutes covered, remove them from the pan. Let the pan heat back up (to medium, medium high), and cook your second batch.

After the second batch finishes, introduce your first batch back into the pan.

Then pour the entire pot of curry into the pan. At this point, the burgers are still rare in the center. So we need to stew them in the sauce for about 20 minutes.

This way, the burgers also pick up the flavor from the curry, so it’s not just burgers with curry sauce, IT’S CURRY BURGERS. Holy crap.

Because they look done from the outside, a good way to test the done-ness of your burgers is by poking it with a toothpick, and seeing what color the juice is that comes out of it.

If you look closely, you should be able to see that the juices coming out of this burger have a reddish hue to it. What you want for well-done burgers is clear juices. And because of the onions, egg, and panko, a well-done Japanese burger is still very tender.

Serve with white rice, a couple slices of French baguette, and EXACTLY two broccoli florets and EXACTLY two slices of mushroom. No more, no less, or you’ll be dishonoring the entirety of Japanese cuisine.

Here’s the classic top view, for whatever reason it is that makes top view photos cool.

I lie, you can serve as many broccoli florets and mushrooms as you like, but I find this whole pairs deal makes this presentation doubly egregious, which is always a plus. Especially the sprig of parsley.



GOLDEN BROWN BREAD, and I guess some hamburger too.

See? This is a lot less egregious, but it’s really damn delicious. Slide a sunny-side up egg on top, and break into it, letting the yolk run down into the burger.


So, here’s an ingredient list. I realized I should have done this for all the past recipes, but… whatever. Alas!

// Japanese Hamburgers with Curry Sauce

1 & 1/2 lbs. – Ground Beef
1/2 lb. – Ground Pork
1 – Head of Broccoli
1 – Medium Onion 4 oz. – Mushrooms
2 tsp – Nutmeg
1 tbsp – Dashi
2 tsp – Salt
2 tbsp – Soy Sauce
1 cup – Panko
1 – Egg (2 if you want an egg on top later on)
1 box – Curry Mix

The dashi, salt, nutmeg, soy sauce, and Panko are all estimates. Flavor to your liking~ If you’re unsure, then under-flavor for now. You can always sprinkle on more salt or soy sauce in the end, but you can’t take away if you’ve added too much.

As for the Panko, what you’re looking to do is sop up some of the moisture from the mix. Enough for the burgers to still be moist to the touch, but dry enough to hold their shape.

Here’s a tip. To check your seasoning, make an uber-mini burger. Pick off a small bit of your mix, and fry that up. See how it tastes. Then you can season the rest of your mix accordingly. And if you’ve realized you added too much seasoning, then you can curse the heavens.

Enjoy! This dish is one of my favorites.


  1. smo July 24, 2008 Reply

    I just drooled on myself.

  2. Johnny July 24, 2008 Reply

    can you be my chef?

  3. nommm

    omgosh timbbb this looks freaking AMAZINGGGG! i’ve been meaning to make hamburger curry for a while but i didnt realize it was this complicated hahaha well not complicated but I seriously thought I would just take the ground beef and mold it into hamburger patty shapes and drizzle the curry over it KEKE! good thing you did this blog post before I made it!! yayy i’ll probably make it sometime this week or next week!! :D

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