The Hamburg Steak And American Hamburger Heritage
Before mechanized meat grinders became a commonplace item in the late 1800's, tough cuts of meat had to be minced or pulverized the old fashioned way. Tough pieces of meat were pounded and pulverized with a mallet or the the back of a cleaver. When making sausage, meat scraps were minced by hand or pressed through a wire mesh screen like forcemeat.
The Hamburg Steak originated before the age of mechanical meat grinders began. Pounding tough cuts of meat with a mallet till the meat was pulverized was common practice in Europe. European immigrants in America did the same thing.
More than likely, a German American immigrant that was pounding the heck out of a tough piece of beef, probably mentioned to an inquisitive American bystander something about how this was the way that tough beef cuts were prepared back home in Hamburg. One of the two people probably thought that the name Hamburg Steak sounded good and the name stuck. Of course, it is possible that Germans had been using the term Hamburg Steak long before this time.
The Hamburg Steak became a popular item in America a few years before the Civil War. By the 1860's Hamburg Steaks were commonplace in American restaurants, taverns and home kitchens.
The perfected Hamburg Steak recipe of the 1860's involved pounding a tough thin cut of beef steak till it was about 75% pulverized. Then grilled onions were placed on the steak. The steak was folded over the onions. Then the steak and grilled onions were pounded together, till the meat and onions were 100% tenderized and combined. The Hamburg Steak was seasoned, then cooked on a cast iron griddle. The Hamburg Steak was served on sliced bread as a sandwich. The Hamburg Steak actually was the very first version of the American Hamburger!
When meat grinders finally came around in the late 1800's, butchers really stepped up production of ground meats and sausages. Ground beef replaced the Hamburg Steak in the 1890's. The original Ground Beef Hamburg Steaks were first marketed at local level, then eventually they were sold at state fairs and the World's Fair. Right about this time, the Hamburg Steak name was shortened to Hamburger.
The original Hamburgers retained elements of the Hamburg Steak. German sausage making heritage was also an influence. The original 1890's Hamburger Patty Mixture was made with ground beef, grilled onions, raw egg, bread crumbs and German sausage spices.
The original Hamburgers were cooked on a griddle and served on sliced bread. Only mustard was offered with the original Hamburgers and the sandwich was not garnished at all. Sometime around 1914, sliced bread was abandoned and Hamburgers started to be served on large round rolls. Soon after, Hamburgers were garnished with everything but the kitchen sink.
Today's recipe features an 1860's style Hamburg Steak on a large Desert Wildflower Honey White Wheat Burger Roll, instead of sliced bread. Both Russian Mustard and Limburger Cheese were popular in the mid to late 1800's, so these items are period correct. Amish Country Limburger Cheese adds a nice nostalgic touch to this Hamburg Steak recipe. Mustard is the original Hamburger spread and Russian Mustard adds an old fashioned zesty mustard flavor.
Desert Wildflower Honey White Wheat Bread Burger Roll:
If a burger bun like the one in the photos is preferred, follow the link to the bread recipe in the Southwestern Cuisine website:
1860's Style Hamburg Steak:
This recipe yields 1 Hamburg Steak Sandwich!
Step 1: Heat a cast iron griddle over medium/medium low heat.
Place 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter on the griddle.
Add 1/3 cup of chopped onion.
Sauté the onions till they become tender.
Set the grilled onions aside.
Wipe the griddle clean and keep it hot.
Step 2: Select a slice of tough cut of lean beef steak that is about 3/8" thick and weighs 8 to 10 ounces. A thin sliced of Bottom Round, Top Round or Chuck Steak are good choices.
Use a meat mallet to flatten and pulverize the steak, till it is about 75% tenderized.
Step 3: Place the grilled onions on one half of the flattened steak.
Fold the steak in half.
Gently pound the steak till it is fully tenderized and the grilled onions are mashed between the two layers of steak.
Season the Hamburg Steak with sea salt and black pepper.
Step 4: Place about 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter on the griddle.
Set the Hamburg Steak on the griddle.
Grill the Hamburg Steak on both sides, till it is fully cooked and browned.
1860's Style Hamburg Steak with Russian Mustard and Amish Country Limburger Cheese:
A warmed burger roll is a modern option. Original Hamburg Steaks were served on 2 slices of white bread, like a sandwich.
Spread a thin layer of Russian Mustard on the bottom half of the burger roll or 2 slices of bread.
Place the Hamburg Steak on the roll and set it on a plate.
Spread some Amish Country Limburger Cheese on the top half of the roll or the slice of bread and set it on the plate.
Garnish the plate with pickles and parsley sprigs.
A historic Hamburg Steak, with good old stinky Limburger Cheese and zesty Russian Mustard. It simply does not get any better than this!