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dansk bøf med løg (danish hamburger patties with grilled onions & gravy)

July 12, 2012

Today’s recipe is (as many of mom’s recipes are), more of a guideline or plan of action than formal recipe with weights and measures. At the heart of it, it’s dead easy. Gently caramelize some sliced onions (use butter, not oil!); form* then fry up some ground beef patties (use good quality ground beef, and simply salt and pepper each side); take the patties out of the pan & make a brown gravy in it; put the patties back in the pan, spoon a bit of gravy over each patty, then gently place mounds of caramelized onions on each & serve – preferably with some boiled potatoes. (It’s also forgiving. If the dish has to sit covered on a warm burner for a bit while dad finishes up in the garage and then scrubs his hands clean, it’s none the worse for wear).

But that little phrase “make brown gravy in the pan?” That part vexed me for decades. This, incidentally, is why some people find it difficult to learn from my mom in the kitchen (hi sis!). When pressed, she will certainly be patient and slow her pace so that you can measure everything she’s doing. Thing is, the next time, the measurements may well be different. It all depends on the feel of the ingredients (or the size of the eggs), the number of people you’re feeding (and sometimes what’s currently on hand in the pantry). At the base of what seems (to a faithful recipe-following-measur-er) to be a chaos, however, there is structure. When you know the ratio of flour to butter for a roux, for example, and can measure by sight, the seemingly random tosses of flour and pats of butter have predictable order. When you’re making that roux in the pan you’ve just sauteed ground beef patties in, the drippings factor in as well (as does the fat content of your ground beef). And if you’ve saved the potato water (of course you did! you wouldn’t just send it down the drain would you?!) to use in the gravy, you’ll need to remember not to add too much flour because the starch in the water will also act to thicken your gravy. Whisk the bejesus out of it as you’re going along (otherwise lumps!), and at the appropriate moment, add a touch of the Danish equivalent of “kitchen bouquet” for color, and bob’s your uncle, you’ve got gravy. It’s not exactly alchemy, but it might as well be for me. Luckily, I’m only ½ of the kitchen duo in residence here. Mom’s technique has now been safely passed along to EJ (who will make me all of the bøf med løg I’ll ever need, right?!)

What follows is a short photo essay of the master at work (on her birthday no less!). Even though it’s typically the birthday person who decides dinner, this one came at dad’s request. Ever magnanimous (and as a nod to the fact that it was also their anniversary), mom let dad pick the meal that night. And while it was never a favorite of mine growing up, it has come to be the quintessential comfort / transport-me-back-home meal. I’m really grateful she not only tolerates the camera in the kitchen, she seems to enjoy passing the family recipes to us with a side of photography.

[I’ve never seen mom’s patty making process in the US. American technique seems to universally favor pressing hamburger patties into shape. For these, as well as patties destined for the grill, mom has never formed them with her hands. In researching other versions of this recipe, I’m seeing that it’s the Danish standard to do it mom’s way. Begin by forming the ground beef into balls. They are then rhythmically chopped into submission with a chef’s knife. Basically, you deploy small quick chopping motions first on one angle, then slide the knife underneath to release it from the cutting board, turn a few times to shore up the sides (using the flat of the knife to guide the edge) and repeat at a 90 degree angle to the first direction. Then do the whole thing over again on the other side.  With a little practice, you end up with absolutely identical pucks of beef ready to be browned.]

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 13, 2012 11:05 am

    A new recipe for “hamburger saturday” !

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