Marc Matsumoto’s recipe for the Japanese family favourite hambāgu is pretty much foolproof, but here are some tips to make it even foolproofer.
Get your mince from the butcher rather than the supermarket. It’ll be fresher and due to the higher fat content, taste better. Beef mince will do the job, but I find that a combination of 60 per cent beef with 40 per cent pork produces deeper and more complex flavours.
Don’t skip the tofu, even if you’re not a tofu person; it’s what gives these their wonderful juiciness. As Marc says —
If you’re worried about it tasting like tofu, fear not, you could feed these to tofu haters all day long and as long as they don’t see the carton in the trash they’ll have no idea they were eating bean curd!
What you want to do, though, is mix it really thoroughly into the mince so that it becomes almost like a paste. Keep mixing until nothing white remains. Do this before you add the onions, otherwise you’ll end up pulverising them into nothingness along with the tofu.
The one aspect of making these that I slightly dread is the cold that runs up my arms into my brain after a couple of minutes of having my hands deep in 5 ℃ mince. I usually have to stop a couple of times to madly grimace (much to my kids’ amusement) and run my hands under some hot water. You, however, may be made of sterner stuff.
I’ve made the sauce a couple of times and it’s pretty good as these things go but the taste of the hambagu, as long as you haven’t skimped on the garlic, soy sauce or oyster sauce it easily stands on its own.