This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (2024)

Why It Works

  • A panade made from fresh white bread soaked in milk adds tenderness and juiciness to the patties.
  • Diced onion in the patties adds pleasant pops of crunch, while cooked onion in the pan sauce layers on sweet, complex flavor.
  • Chicken stock is a better choice than beef stock if you're using store-bought.

My parents never fed me much junk food. Soda was rarely in the fridge, Golden Grahams were about as sweet as cereal was allowed to get, and meals were homemade from basic ingredients. But there were a few glorious months when my dad was renovating his kitchen and all we could eat were microwave TV dinners—which we did with full authenticity, in front of the TV. I always got a Swanson's Hungry-Man, and my favorite by far was the tray of Salisbury steak.

What is Salisbury Steak?

For those who aren't familiar, Salisbury steak is not a steak at all, and I'm fairly confident it's not from Salisbury, either. If thisWikipedia articleis to be believed, it's named after its inventor, Dr. James Salisbury, a Civil War physician who was convinced that a diet high in beef protein would be good for health. Really, though, Salisbury steak is just one of many iterations of a classic Hamburg steak—a steak-shaped patty of seasoned ground meat. In the end, it's not much different from a meatball or meatloaf, except for its shape and the exact ingredients used to make it.

The USDA calls such a steak-shaped creation a "fabricated" steak, and it hasstandardsfor what kinds of fabricated steak can be labeled "Salisbury." Specifically, the portion of the mixture that is meat must be mostly beef, but can include up to 25% ground pork. That works for me, because I put pork in mine. Pork, you see, improves the texture of ground-meat mixtures, due to its higher fat content and softer, more tender texture. Beef brings the flavor, though, which is why it's prominent here. Plus, this thing is called a "steak," which is a term we tend to reserve for beef, not pork. (You can read more on the science behind the proportions of beef, pork, and veal in ground-meat mixtures inKenji's meatloaf article here.)

Picking the Right Add-Ins

The USDA also says that the steak mixture can include a small portion of "extenders," which is just another word for fillers, like bread, bread crumbs, soy protein, and the like. Calling something an "extender" or a "filler" implies that you're prioritizing economy over quality—you know, a way to stretch expensive ingredients, like meat, by mixing in cheap ones, like grain. There's truth to that, but it's not the whole story. Fillers can actuallyimprovethe texture of ground-meat mixtures, making them juicier and more tender than meat alone would.

The key, though, is to choose the right kind of filler. When I did my testing to make what I think is thegreatest meatball on the planet, I found that I vastly preferred meatballs made with apanade—a wet-bread mixture—to ones made with dry bread crumbs. While a bread crumb filler leads to denser, drier meatballs, milk-soaked bread pulp makes them lighter and more tender. So, a panade made from fresh, crustless white sandwich bread is what I use here.

The remaining ingredients in the meat mixture are fairly standard-issue. I add minced onions—raw in this case, since I like the texture they add to the steak. (Plus, there are cooked onions in the pan sauce, so you get the best of both worlds this way.) I also slip in a couple egg yolks, and season the mixture with salt, along with plenty of black pepper, onion powder, and garlic powder, making up the spice profile I most associate with Salisbury steak.

If you want—and this is totally optional—you can add a wee splash of liquid smoke, which approximates the flame-grilled flavor in the TV dinner version of the dish, but I stop short of applying those terrible fake grill marks. I have my limits.

How to Mix Together the Meat and Add-Ins

Next is to mix it all thoroughly, which I enjoy doing by hand, but you can pass the work off to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment if you don't want to sink your fingers into raw meat. This is a case in which you want to be sure to mix everything very well, bonding the meat proteins and fats into a more sausage-like mixture. A loose, crumbly hamburger texture is not the aim, since we want the ground meat to seem more like a solid piece of steak. It won'treallyseem like a solid piece of steak, of course, but, you know, we try.

Finally, ball up the ground meat, form it into oblong patties about three-quarters of an inch thick, and set them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I like to press dimples into the surface of each one, which prevents the patties from seizing up as they cook. That keeps them flatter and more steak-like, and less like half-inflated meat balloons.

The rest of the dish comes together fairly quickly. I start by searing the patties in a large cast iron skillet until they're browned on both sides. Because these are relatively thick, and because we want to cook them through fully, I begin at higher heat to get the browning going, then lower the heat to avoid burning the exteriors before the heat has penetrated deeply enough to the middles. Remember: You can always crank the heat later if they cook through and still need a little more color, but you can't undo carbonized Salisbury steaks. Done, by the way, means the center of the patty has reached about 145°F (63°C) on an instant-read thermometer.

Once they're browned and cooked through, transfer the patties to a plate, and let them rest. Now it's time for the pan sauce, which, in this case, is a fairly basic brown sauce with mushrooms.

Making the Brown Mushroom Gravy

The first step, then, is to toss some sliced cremini or button mushrooms* into the pan, adding oil if they soak up whatever grease is left behind and the pan dries out. (As a rule, you should always add more oil if your pan dries out while you're sautéing, no matter how much oil the recipe calls for.) Cook the mushrooms, stirring and scraping, until they release enough liquid to dissolve all the browned bits left by the steaks on the bottom of the pan, then keep cooking them until that liquid evaporates and they themselves start to brown.

*Technically, these are the same mushrooms—just with different-colored caps.

Right when you think the mushrooms are at risk of burning, it's time to add some diced onion, stirring it around until it releases its own juices, once again saving your behind from imminent burnt-ness. That's a big part of cooking, honestly: taking something to the edge of burning (butnotburning it), then adding something else to the pan to stop that from happening. Do it in successive waves, as in this recipe, and you end up with layers and layers of deep flavor.

When the onions have softened, their juices have evaporated, and things are once again getting brown, I quickly stir in some ketchup or tomato paste (though I think ketchup's sweetness, acidity, and all-American flavor make it the better choice here). Then it's time to add the liquid to the pan. The obvious choice here is beef stock, but unless yours is homemade or you have access to something of equivalent quality, it's much better to reach for chicken stock. That's because most store-bought beef stock is made with very little actual beef and tends to have piss-poor flavor. Don't do it, really. Chicken stock, whetherhomemadeor store-bought, makes a fine substitute, and all the beefy flavor in the pan from those steaks will enhance it plenty.

Along with the stock, I also add a cornstarch slurry that I make by mixing the starch with a small amount of stock. This prevents the lumps that can sometimes form when you add dry starch to a large amount of liquid. Why cornstarch here? It's a fair question, since we usually lean on other thickeners, like gelatin (whether naturally present in the stock or added in the form of unflavored gelatin), to increase a sauce's body without affecting its flavor, the way flour and cornstarch can. In response, I point to that original Swanson's TV dinner that introduced me to Salisbury steak. It included a brown gravy with a flavor and texture that made it seem like it was thickened with cornstarch: kind of glossy, and just a hair cloudy. I don't know if that's what Swanson actually used back then, but it tasted like it. To me, that makes it an almost inherent quality of a Salisbury steak gravy. It's similar to the reason why I sometimes like the floury flavor of a roux-based cheese sauce inbaked mac and cheese—it just tastes right to me.

After the stock has reduced a bit and the cornstarch is given some time, the liquids will start to thicken up into a proper sauce. To finish it, simply whisk in a little butter for extra richness and flavor and an even silkier texture, along with Worcestershire sauce for deep flavor and a small splash of apple cider vinegar to balance that richness out.

This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (1)

Then just nestle the Salisbury steaks back into the pan sauce, spooning it all over, until they've warmed up a bit. The only question left: What's on TV?

April 2017

Recipe Details

Salisbury Steak With Mushroom Brown Gravy

Prep35 mins

Cook25 mins

Active60 mins

Total60 mins

Serves4 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces crustless white sandwich bread (115g; about 4 slices), diced

  • 1/3 cup (80ml)milk

  • 1 teaspoon (about 4g)cornstarch

  • 1 1/2 cups (355ml)homemadechicken stock or store-bought low-sodium chicken broth (see notes)

  • 1 1/2 pounds (680g) ground beef, preferably about 20% fat

  • 1/2 pound (225g)ground pork

  • 1 medium yellow onion (10 ounces; 285g), half finely minced and half diced, divided

  • 2 large egg yolks

  • 4 teaspoons (18g) Diamond Crystal kosher salt (for table salt, use half as much by volume or use the same weight), plus more as needed

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 teaspoon (about 4g)onion powder

  • 1 teaspoon (about 4g) garlic powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon (1ml) good-quality liquid smoke, such as Wright's or Colgin (optional; see notes)

  • 2 tablespoons (30ml) vegetable oil or other neutral cooking oil, plus more if needed

  • 10 ounces (285g) cremini or button mushrooms, stemmed, caps thinly sliced

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml) ketchup or tomato paste

  • 2 teaspoons (10ml)Worcestershire sauce

  • 1 tablespoon (15g)unsalted butter

  • Apple cider vinegar, to taste

Directions

  1. In a medium bowl, combine bread with milk and soak well, breaking up bread pieces with your fingers until no firm or dry bits remain. Set aside.

    This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (3)

  2. In a measuring cup or medium bowl, combine cornstarch with a couple tablespoons chicken stock, stirring to form a smooth slurry with no lumps. Add remaining stock, stir well, and set aside.

    This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (4)

  3. In a large mixing bowl, combine ground beef, ground pork, minced yellow onion, egg yolks, salt, a very generous grating of black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and liquid smoke (if using). Add bread mixture, along with any liquid. Using clean hands, mix well until all ingredients are thoroughly combined. (Alternatively, you can use a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment to combine these ingredients; scrape down sides occasionally.)

    This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (5)

  4. Place a grape-sized ball of meat mixture on a small plate and cook in microwave or in a small nonstick skillet on the stovetop until cooked through (about 15 seconds on high power if using microwave). Taste, then adjust seasoning if desired. Cook another small sample and adjust again if desired. (This recipe purposely makes a tiny bit more meat mixture than you will need so that you can taste and adjust seasonings as necessary.)

  5. Form meat mixture into 4 baseball-sized balls; you may have a small amount left, depending on how much you used for the samples. Flatten each ball into an oblong, steak-like shape about 3/4 inch thick and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Using a finger, form dimples all over top side of each ground-meat steak.

    This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (6)

  6. In a large cast iron skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add ground-meat steaks, dimpled side up, and lower heat to medium. Cook, using a thin metal spatula to rotate steaks for even browning, until browned on one side, about 8 minutes. Flip steaks and repeat on other side until browned, about 8 minutes longer. Adjust heat as necessary to ensure steaks brown but don't burn on either side. Continue cooking and turning steaks every couple minutes until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the steaks registers 145°F (63°C). Transfer steaks to a platter.

    This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (7)

  7. Increase heat to medium-high and add mushrooms to skillet, scraping and stirring until mushrooms release their liquid and you can scrape up browned bits on bottom of pan, about 1 minute; add extra oil at any point if pan seems too dry. Continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until mushroom liquid has evaporated and mushrooms begin to brown, about 6 minutes longer.

  8. Add diced onion and cook, stirring, until onion releases its liquid and you can scrape up browned bits from mushrooms on bottom of pan, about 1 minute. Continue cooking until onion liquid evaporates and onion is softened and beginning to turn lightly golden, about 2 minutes longer.

  9. Stir in ketchup or tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir stock mixture to lift any settled cornstarch from the bottom, then add to skillet and bring to a simmer, stirring and scraping up any browned bits. Continue to cook until stock has reduced by about one-third and has thickened slightly.

  10. Stir in Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Lower heat and add butter, stirring vigorously, until butter has melted and a smooth, emulsified sauce forms that lightly coats the back of a spoon. Add just enough vinegar to taste to balance out the sauce. (Use small increments of about 1/2 teaspoon, tasting after each addition to ensure you don't add too much.)

    This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (8)

  11. Return steaks to skillet along with any accumulated juices, spoon sauce all over, and simmer gently until warmed through. Serve right away.

    This Salisbury steak recipe is just like the TV-dinner classic, but ten thousand times better. (9)

Special Equipment

Large cast iron skillet, thin metal spatula, baking sheet, instant-read thermometer

Notes

If you have good-quality beef stock (which means homemade in most cases), you can use it here; if not, it's better to use chicken stock, as store-bought versions of chicken stock offer better flavor than store-bought beef stock.

Liquid smoke adds a hint of flame-broiled flavor, which replicates the flavor profile of many TV dinner versions of Salisbury steak, but is entirely optional.

Read More

  • The Food Lab's All-American Meatloaf
  • The Best Italian-American Meatballs
  • Beef Mains
  • American
  • Ground Beef
  • Mushrooms
  • Quick Dinners
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