Editor’s note: The theme of Gohan Lab is to help people make simple, tasty “gohan” (meals).

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Hamburg steak, a home-cooked staple with Western roots that seems to have earned a place among Japanese dishes, is featured in the second installment of our series on ground meat.

The aim here is for a flavor that's a notch above by focusing on the key points of “kneading the meat,” “forming the patties” and “frying.”

Ideally, by retaining the fat and water content of meat, the steak should turn out fluffy and juicy.

It should be moderately springy but soft enough so young children and elderly people can chew them easily.

First, knead the ground meat only with salt.

Gradually, the meat will become sticky and able to hold the water content.

Keep the thickness of the patties between 1 and 1.5 cm. That may sound thin, but the patties will thicken when fried. If the patties are thick from the start, the centers won't cook well.

When cooking, take your time by choosing lower medium heat and then low heat. Some people may have learned to “brown (the patty) over high heat,” but if cooked over high heat from the beginning, the surface will burn and the heat may not reach inside sufficiently.

Beef to pork ratio key

Labels on packages of ground beef and pork list the larger in quantity first.

If the label says, “ground beef and pork,” the mixture contains more beef. The producers aren't required to indicate the ratio.

Supermarket chains Summit, which has outlets in and around Tokyo, and Izumi, based in Hiroshima, said their ratio of beef and pork for mixed ground meat is 7 to 3.

The companies said they chose that ratio assuming that consumers would use the mixture to make hamburg steaks. They said the balance produces “tasty” steaks.

Some supermarket chains change their ratios to cater to local preferences.

Some restaurants boast that their hamburg steaks are “100 percent beef,” but Bikkuri Donkey, a hamburg steak restaurant chain, uses mixed ground meat.

According to a company representative, they made the choice after “pursuing the best ratio to get the softness that can be enjoyed with chopsticks.” The company said their beef and pork ratio is a “trade secret.”

BASIC COOKING METHOD

(Supervised by Akiko Watanabe in the cooking aspect and Midori Kasai in the cookery science aspect)

* Ingredients and cooking utensils (Serves two)

200-gram mixture of ground beef and pork (aibikiniku), 60 grams onion, 5 grams butter, 1/3 of a slice of bread (8-slice pack), 2 Tbsp milk, 1/2 beaten egg, 1/4 tsp salt, bit of pepper, bit of nutmeg if available, 1/2 tsp oil, 1 and 1/2 Tbsp ketchup, 1 and 1/2 Tbsp medium-thick Worcester sauce (chuno-sosu)

1. Finely chop onion (PHOTO A). Place butter in frying pan and heat. Add onion and cook over low heat until transparent. Cool. Cut off bread crust, place bread in milk and squash with spoon. 2 Tbsp breadcrumbs may be used instead of bread.

2. Place ground meat, salt, pepper and nutmeg in bowl and mix until sticky. Mix in egg, bread and milk, onion in this order (PHOTO B). Add 1 Tbsp water to soften further, divide mass in half. Toss meat mixture back and forth between hands and form into an oval with thickness of 1 to 1.5 cm.

3. Pour oil in frying pan and heat over medium heat. Lay patties in pan. Turn down to lower medium heat and cook for about 2 minutes until brown. Turn patties over, turn down heat to low, cover pan with lid and cook for 4 to 5 minutes (PHOTO C). Remove hamburg steaks from pan.

4. To make sauce, add 3 Tbsp water, ketchup and chuno sauce in same pan and while mixing, reduce until sauce thickens.

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Akiko Watanabe is a cooking expert specializing in Japanese cuisine.

Midori Kasai is a professor at Ochanomizu University and chairwoman of the Japan Society of Cookery Science.

ARRANGED VERSION

<Hamburger>

Hamburg steak turns into a sumptuous lunch when sandwiched between slices of bread. To serve two people, prepare 2 hamburg steaks, 4 slices of bread (8-slice pack), 20 grams finely sliced onion, 1/2 tomato (round slices 8-mm thick), 2 slices cheese (cheddar), 1 leaf red leaf lettuce (sani retasu), some butter. Tear lettuce to match the size of the bread. Toast bread and butter one side. Sandwich the ingredients and slice in half.

COOKERY SCIENCE

Ground meat becomes viscous when kneaded thoroughly with salt. This happens when parts of the meat protein dissolve in salt or become entangled with each other. When heated, they form a stable mesh pattern that holds the meat's juices, producing a juicy hamburg steak.

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From The Asahi Shimbun’s Gohan Lab column