Introduction: Not Your Lunch Lady's Salisbury Steak

Salisbury steak is a classic disappointment of American easy cuisine, served on plastic lunchroom trays and from frozen food boxes from sea to shining sea. It's usually accompanied by a semi-clear sauce that pretends to have something to do with beef by being brown. The meat, according to wikipedia, must be 65% meat by USDA standards. The rest can be fat and vegetable or grain fillers and binders like egg. It drastically needs a makeover.

This recipe an evolved version of Alton Brown's Salisbury steak recipe in his book I'm Just Here For The Food. That version calls for cubed steak, but I never really cared the way the meat turned out in it. This recipe uses a more traditional hamburger (with nothing mixed in), but you could easily substitute your favorite steak or even your favorite meatloaf mix. Chicken breasts also work very well with this sauce.

Step 1: Chop Stuff

Medium Onion (sliced into strips -- lyonnaise cut)

Shiitake Mushrooms (about five large ones, sliced) you can use any other type, but shiitakes are super meaty tasting

Garlic (1 tablespoon minced)

That's it. That's all of the cutting you'll have to do in this recipe. Herbs added later can be omitted, added whole, or torn.

Step 2: Meat

1 lb of ground beef (cut the package in half and mash them down into "steaks")

I season with salt, pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder. Sprinkle it over until it looks well coated. I go a little heavier with the onion powder when making this. It's just nice.

Step 3: Cooking the Beef

Heat a nonstick skillet on the stove on high, then reduce to medium and add a little olive oil or whatever you have. You're cooking these just like a skillet hamburger, but I tend to just get a sear on both sides and not worry about doneness at this point. Once browned remove them to a plate and let them sit while you move on to the sauce. You can bring your beef to your desired doneness in the simmering sauce. Retain some of the rendered fat for the next step.

Step 4: Saute & Sauce

Add your mushroom and onions to the medium heated pan and hit it with some salt. Saute until the onions and mushrooms are softened.

Add the garlic and cook a minute.

Dump in 3/4 to 1 cup of wine and reduce it. Concentrate that stuff to the point of being nearly dry. Sauces are all about concentrating flavor by reduction.

Once at this point add 1 to 1.5 cup of stock (I usually only keep chicken stock on hand and use it for everything calling for stock---you'll never know it's chicken stock in the end).

Add a tablespoon of worchestershire sauce and 1 or 2 tsp of dijon mustard and mix in. You can mix it with the stock before adding to the pan if you like.

And of course, reduce this liquid. If you want it thicker you can add a little starch (corn, arrowroot, potato, flour).

Add in some thyme sprigs if you like.

Step 5: Reintroduce the Beef

Once you've gotten the sauce up to a simmer and reduced a bit, put the beef back in and cook until it's done to your liking and the sauce is thickened how you like it.

Step 6: Enhancements

You can add all kinds of herbs at the end and dress up the dish with other greens. I have some shallots growing very well so I've been using their "chives" in everything. I also have a load of arugula springing up. I like putting that on top or on the side of meat dishes. It's peppery good stuff. Watercress would be another fine peppery accent to add.

If when you've completed the dish and you find that the sauce is a bit flat, make sure it's got enough salt. If it's still lackluster add some acid. Lemon or lime juice, few drops of wine, or wine vinegar. I always reach for sherry vinegar. Its some excellent schtuff.

But lucky for us all this sauce doesn't usually need adjusting and this time was fine without any acid additions.

Step 7: Eat

What's Salisbury steak without some super buttery mashed potatoes? Throw a steak on top to let the juices and sauce flow into those potatoes and dress up with some herbs and whatever lettuce or green you have. A little extra sauce on the plate is mandatory. Eat up.

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