ハンバーガー (Hamburger)

Let me say first that this is by far the prettiest Japanese food recipe I’ve made. All my other dishes were very tasty (if I do say so myself – and others have agreed with me), but either the dish itself was rather unattractive or my photos were just shoddy. Finally, I can share with you some delicious 食べ物 that looks as good as it tastes! I hope you’re hungry…

I should explain a bit here about 洋食 (youshoku) or Western Food. Having been influenced by good eats from France, Italy, and China as well as the Americas, Japanese cooks began adapting foreign recipes and making them their own in the early 1900’s. Such foreign adaptations were called youshoku as apposed to 和食 (washoku) which refers to traditional Japanese cuisine. The かぼちゃコロッケ (kabocha korokke) I made is an example of youshoku and was inspired by French croquettes. Gyoza (dumplings) and ramen noodles are Japanese-style Chinese food. Western culinary influence has penetrated so deeply that even in the small town of Uchiko where I lived you could find some rather hilarious – yet surprisingly delicious – spins on fast-food like the spaghetti-dog, mochi and peanut butter sandwiches, and potato salad and sausage pizza. I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried, I only wish I had photos. I DID snap a photo of some rather disgusting (to us) string cheese my friends and I discovered at Matsuyama Airport:

"Fish Cheese" is basically the English translation.

Anyway, since youshoku is a relatively easy form of Japanese food for those outside of Japan to make I find that I’ve been making it more often than other, more complicated washoku. As I gain more confidence in my Japanese cooking – or my culinary abilities in general for that matter – I promise I’ll be able to share more traditional style recipes with you. Until then, I recommend Just Hungry: a blog written by self-described nomad Makiko chronicling her Japanese home cooking. Now, ready for some delicious “hanbaga” in a special sauce? 料理をしましょう!

ハンバーガー (Hamburger) (from Let’s Cook Japanese Food! by Amy Kaneko)


For the Hamburgers…

1/3   C   panko

¼   C   milk

3   T   canola or other neutral oil, separated, if needed*

1 small yellow onion, minced

¾   lb.   ground beef

¼   lb.   ground pork

1   medium egg, lightly beaten

½   t   salt

¼   t   fresh ground pepper

For the Sauce…

2   T   sake

1   C   tonkatsu sauce**

¼   C   red wine

¼   C   water

2   T   ketchup

* Note: I used a non-stick pan just to be safe, although the source recipe doesn’t specify, and found the oil for the patties to be completely unnecessary. The natural moisture in the beef and pork was more than enough to keep the patties from sticking.

** Note: It took a year before I was able to find bottled tonkatsu sauce in my area (see Beezer’s Notes below) so don’t feel discouraged if you’re unable to find it on shelves. I’ve been told Bulldog brand makes a great sauce, so if any stores around you carry Bulldog products you might be in luck. If not, you can either buy tonkatsu sauce online or make a substitute version of Japanese hamburger sauce as follows: in a small saucepan combine 1 Cup ketchup, ¼ Cup Worcestershire sauce, ¼ Cup red wine, ¼ Cup water, and 1 teaspoon sugar and mix well. Cook over Medium heat for about 3 minutes and pour over fully-cooked hamburger patties and coat well before serving. (Also, yes, I suppose you can make the tonkatsu sauce from scratch as well but I have yet to try so I can’t recommend a recipe; if anyone has a good one, please share!)


  1. To prep for the hamburger patties mix together panko and milk in a small bowl and set aside. In a frying pan, heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil over Medium heat and add onions. Cook, stirring often, until lightly browned – about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  2. As the onions cool, prepare your Hamburger Sauce by combining tonkatsu sauce, wine, water, and ketchup in a small saucepan over medium heat (or follow the instructions in the Notes above for a substitution if no tonkatsu sauce can be found). Adjust the temperature as needed to allow sauce to simmer for at least 3 minutes and then set aside. My sauce was quite thin so I kept it at a low heat the entire time I cooked the patties and it reduced beautifully.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the beef, pork, soaked panko, cooled onion, egg, salt, and pepper. Using your hands (or a potato masher if you’re feeling less adventurous), mix to distribute all ingredients evenly. Gather the patty base into a large mass and slap it back into the bowl a few times to release any air bubbles. This will help ensure patties that are dense and helps them hold together. Divide the patty mix into 4 equal portions and form each patty into a disk about 1½ inches thick.
  4. In a frying pan large enough to accommodate the patties without crowding, heat the remaining oil (if using) over Medium-high heat. If you don’t have a pan large enough, cook the patties in 2 batches. When the oil is hot, carefully add the patties and cook until a brown crust starts to form on the bottom – 3 to 5 minutes depending on the size of your pan. Carefully flip the patties once and cook until a brown crust forms on the second side – 3 to 5 minutes more.
  5. Add 1 Tablespoon of the sake to the pan, cover, and continue cooking for 2 minutes. Uncover and carefully turn the patties over, adding the remaining 1 Tablespoon sake, cover, and cook until the patties become very brown on the outside and cooked through – about 2 minutes longer. As soon as the patties are done, pour in the Hamburger Sauce, flip the patties once to coat them well, and heat for a few minutes to bring the sauce up to temperature. Serve immediately.

Beezer’s Notes:

Mmmm… you know, I don’t cook meat very often (both from expense and from choice) but a recipe like this really makes me want to! These Japanese hamburgers are super moist, very flavorful all by themselves, and especially delicious with the sauce. The sake adds a subtle sweetness while the wine brings a complexity and the tonkatsu gives it a punch.  I haven’t tried the sauce substitute, but I’m sure it has very similar flavors if only lacking a bit in authenticity. I shouldn’t be speaking to strongly of authenticity though, since the tonkatsu sauce I was so happy to find is actually made by a local company which took some real liberties with the ingredients: anise seeds, cinnamon, fennel, and cloves being some. Still, it’s a better bottle of tonkatsu sauce than I could make, I’m sure, and a little extra spice never hurt anyone. Going back to the burgers themselves, you might find that they remind you more of meatloaf than an American quarter-pounder the panko and onions making the mix lighter. Either way, the beef/pork ratio is a real winner in my book and I’ll have to remember it in the future for hamburgers in general.

Overall Enjoyment:   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥   ♥

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1 Comment

  1. that looks so good!!


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