My fiancée was texting one of her best friends the other night, who told her she’d recently made salisbury steak for dinner. Huh. Salisbury steak. I hadn’t thought of Salisbury steak in years, and the only time I’d really had it was from a frozen microwaveable tray when I was a kid. It didn’t even occur to me that people made Salisbury steak from scratch. But when you think about it, Salisbury steak is essentially just hamburger patties in brown gravy, sometimes with mushrooms. I thought, “Wait. Why am I not making this too?”
A few nights later I went to the store, grabbed some ground beef, some mushrooms, and a jar (yes, a jar) of brown gravy and slapped dinner together in under an hour. And guess what? It was freakin’ delicious.
Just what is Salisbury steak, anyway?
Salisbury steak isn’t a cut of beef, it’s more like a chopped steak, aka a hamburger patty, but done in the style of meatloaf. The ground meat is mixed with breadcrumbs, an egg, and some seasoning elements, shaped into patties, and cooked pretty much like a burger. Then it’s doused with brown gravy (to which you can add mushrooms or onions, be free and live your life), and bam, you’re done.
The name actually comes from the man who invented it, Dr. James Salisbury, who wrote a book called The Relation of Alimentation and Disease, which was published in 1888. Smithsonian Magazine says Dr. Salisbury was a big proponent of treating gut ailments through proper diet. But apparently his idea of a proper diet involved a lot of meat, as he used chopped meat to treat cases of chronic diarrhea.
While I’m not sure most modern doctors would treat diarrhea with beef (though never say never), his culinary legacy will apparently live on in freezer aisles forever. Fun fact: Dr. Salisbury used to refer to the dish as “muscle pulp of beef,” before it was eventually named after him. Steak, muscle pulp, and diarrhea. Who knew Salisbury steak was such a storied dish?
Don’t think too hard about Salisbury steak
A lot of people like to rag on me when I cut corners, like when I buy a jar of gravy instead of making it myself. But honestly, any extra effort you put into homemade Salisbury steak will elevate the dishes for miles. I secretly like pre-made gravy for Salisbury steak because it reminds me of the frozen dish, in a good way.
But, by all means, mess with it. If you want to make gravy from scratch, it’s as simple as mixing a tablespoon or two of flour into the pan drippings, stirring until the flour is cooked, then whisking in a cup or two of beef stock. It’s also easy to doctor up your sauce of choice (pre-made or not) by adding a ton of supplemental ingredients like onions, mushrooms, garlic, and whatever your heart desires. I boosted the flavor of the jarred gravy with a tiny splash of fish sauce. Sherry or vermouth would also have also done wonders.
Suddenly this humble burger patty becomes a really comforting home-cooked meal, which is why you too, should be making it. If you miss that frozen TV dinner vibe, then feel free to turn on the television while you’re eating it.