Weeknight Wondermeal: Hamburger Steaks in Rich Mushroom Gravy with Simple Ranch Salad

My oh my.  What to make for dinner?  Sometimes, Lolita despairs.  Sometimes she just can’t think of another thing to make, another tasty thing to eat, another new meal to satisfy her continuous cravings for something simultaneously simpatico and nuevo .  She can’t even be bothered to order something, she’s so tired of being the only “feeder” in the family.  Sometimes she even relentlessly nags her husband to “come up with something on your own, damnit!” , with much foot-stomping, pouting, and black side-glancing, to the point of stupefying him into utter helpless incoherence – which never helps.  What can I say?  Lolita has that gift.

But tonight, thank Gastronomy, skeptical as I was when sullenly surveying the contents of the fridge, suddenly I simulated something I suspected would be both savory and satisfying.  (Blame the wine I’ve been drinking for the inordinate amount of alliteration in this intro.)  We had some hamburgers.  And some fresh mushrooms. And a head of lettuce with a half-full bottle of ranch dressing.  And something struck me.   Before I learned to eat– to really really eat — I enjoyed the suburban chain joints that populated my New Jersey youth.  How could I not?  They are the backbone of Americana.  And Golden Corral’s chopped steak in mushroom gravy, topped with prime pickin’s from their endless salad bar, was an early favorite.  Tonight, I recaptured the sensation using simple, fresh, honest, and not-laden-with-mass-produced-preservatives-reheated-in-steamers ingredients.  And it was better than I remembered…

Hamburger Steaks in Rich Mushroom Gravy with Simple Ranch Salad

2 8oz, 1/2″ thick hamburgers
1 lb sliced white onions
1/2 large red onion (or 1 medium red or white onion)
EVOO, garlic powder
1 shot concentrated demi-glace, like More Than Gourmet’s Demi-Glace Gold
2-3 cups beef stock
1 tbs butter
2 tbs flour
3 cups shredded iceberg lettuce
1 cup diced tiny tomatoes
buttermilk ranch dressing

This is a Weeknight Wondermeal because it is super simple, and doesn’t take a whole lot of time.  I start with a leftover onion – about 1/2 a large red one – which I thickly slice and saute for a moment or two in hot EVOO in my largest non-stick pan.

In go these beautiful au poivre spiced hamburgers from Whole Foods, and my mushrooms.  Any thick-packed burger would have done, but I would have been sure to pepper the hell out of them if they hadn’t been this particular product – just to add the zip and zest this dinner packed. I let sear them on medium-high heat for about 3 minutes, or until I see that a nice brown crust has formed on the bottom of each patty.

I don’t have the  capabilities to make my own demi-glace and store it properly (seriously – I have the world’s worst freezer), so I rely on this product to give me the rich punch of flavor only a truly concentrated roasted stock can provide.  Whenever I see it on sale, I go crazy.

Right before I flip the burgers, I add my beef stock and slide in my concentrated demi-glace.  I let the crusts moisten for a moment before I turn each hamburger steak over.  This way, I wet-seal what will become the outer layer of meat – which will be exposed to the circulating air for the rest of the cooking process.  This sort of trap-cooks each patty with the steam and liquid of the evaporating stock.  It’s a plan, really — sort of inspired by the steamed burgers at Firebrand Saints which have captured my attention.   I blend in the demi-glace gel, drop the heat setting to low, and let simmer for about 30 minutes.

This has been one of my ghetto-kitchen tricks for years.  I have these thin metal nesting bowls, which conduct heat really well – so when I need to melt a tablespoon of butter for dinner and I have something simmering on the stovetop, I jerry-rig myself a crude double-boiler by just setting my clean metal bowl onto the surface of my bubbling stew.  Don’t judge me.  It works.

When the butter is melted, I add my flour…

… and blend well, forming a rudimentary – but effective – roux.

Using tongs, I remove my perfectly steamed (160°) burgers to my plates, and add my roux to the pan, raising the temp to high to bowl down and thicken the gravy.

While my gravy thickens, I toss together the simplest of salads: shaved iceberg lettuce, sliced tiny tomatoes, and some buttermilk ranch dressing.  Yes – it’s Hidden Valley.  I did say this was a Weeknight Wondermeal, didn’t I?

These babies are plump and juicy and pink but fully cooked — bursting with the unctuous, rich, meaty flavors I wanted. Better than my idealized memories of Golden Corral, which have grown better with the years of culinary appreciation I’ve since cultivated.  And that’s what I was aiming for her.   A juicy red fork-tender chopped steak in gravy dinner — not dry, pebbly, sandy, crumbled over-cooked ground beef sodden with oil.  The toothsome mushrooms, hearty sauce, and melting beef was perfectly offset by the cold crisp, and creamy salad – where cool meats warm, and deliciousness is  born.

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