The origin story behind the Hawaiian classic loco moco involves a handful of teenagers...
asking for a cheap lunch at a snack shop on Hilo just after WWII. The cook put a hamburger patty on a bowl of rice, topped it with gravy, and the kids named it after one of their friends who liked to do “crazy” stuff.
But the original loco moco - without the fried egg, which, by most accounts, came later - is strikingly similar to Japanese hambagu, a classic dish in the yoshoku tradition of western foods adapted to Japanese palates. Yoshoku dishes date back to the late 1800s, but became more popular in the 1920s and ‘30s.
No matter where it comes from, a well-seasoned burger on a bowl of rice topped with a tasty gravy is delicious. This version, inspired by loco moco, gets even more flavor with a sauce using an inauthentic mix of traditional Japanese ingredients.
What You'll Need
For the shopping list
- Approximately 3 quarts water
- 3/4 cup of naked barley
- 2 cups of dashi*
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 tablespoon of curry powder
- 2 tablespoons of All Purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon of ketchup
- 1 tablespoon of tamari
- 1/4 cup of milk
- 1/2 cup of bread crumbs or panko
- 1/2 pound of ground beef*
- togarashi, to serve
- toasted sesame seeds, to serve (optional)
- *making dashi from scratch is easy and there’s a recipe on Serious Eats, but instant dashi is fine, too.
Use ground beef that’s at least 20% fat because it tastes better. You can also combine ground beef and pork
From the kitchen
- 1 Large Sauce Pan
- 1 Small Sauce Pan
- 2 Skillets
- 1 Large Mixing Bowl
- 1 Small Mixing Bowl
- Measuring Cups
- Measuring Spoons
While most hambagu comes on a mound of rice, we like to acknowledge another Japanese tradition by adding barley.
The combination, called mugi gohan (barley rice in English), dates to an earlier era when rice was expensive, and cheaper barley stretched the pot to feed more people. Our version uses Oregon-grown naked barley and our favorite brown rice from Koda Farms.
What you'll have to do
Brown Rice and Naked Barley Mugi Gohan Step 1
Bring approximately 3 quarts of water to a boil, stir in 1 teaspoon of salt, and add 3/4 cup of barley.
Cook uncovered at an active boil for 10 minutes, then add 3/4 cup of rice. Continue to cook uncovered at an active boil for another 35 minutes. Drain by slowly pouring off the water (or use a colander), fluff with a fork, cover, and rest for at least 10 minutes.
Miso Curry Onion Gravy Step 1
Cook the onion in 1 tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of sea salt until soft and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside half for the Hambagu.
After cooking the onions and removing half, add an additional tablespoon of oil to make the roux. Stir in 1 tablespoon of curry powder. Cook for a minute or so, then add 2 tablespoons of flour and cook for a few minutes.
Add 1 tablespoon of miso, 1 tablespoon of ketchup, and 1 tablespoon of tamari, stir to combine, then add 2 cups of prepared dashi. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes or until thick. Taste and add salt if needed.
Hambagu Step 1
Preheat the oven to warm.
Soak 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs in 1/4 cup of milk for 10 minutes.
Combine the cooked onion, soaked breadcrumbs, ground beef, and 1 egg. Add a few pinches of sea salt and mix well.
Form into 4 patties about 3 inches in diameter. Heat a skillet, add a tablespoon or so of olive oil, and cook the patties over medium heat until lightly browned on both sides. Remove from the skillet, put them on a plate, and keep them warm in the oven.
Deglaze the skillet used for the burgers with a quarter cup or so of water, scraping up any bits stuck to the pan. Stir in the gravy and cook until heated through.
To serve, spread about a cup of the rice-barley mix on a plate. Place the meat patty on top, add some gravy, and if desired, top it all with fried egg. Sprinkle a pinch or two of togarashi or salty black sesame (or both) over everything.
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