A chopped-steak dish invented by Dr. James Henry Salisbury as a “meat cure” for wounded and ill Civil War soldiers, Salisbury steak’s resurgence occurred during the food-strapped times of WWI as a ration-stretching measure.
Element of Distress
Between the cafeteria lunch line and the frozen food section, Salisbury steak is sadly paraded as fatty ground beef drowning in a weak, gray mushroom sauce—more ailment than cure.
Line of Attack
We’d transform the patties of meat from leaden to tender, and then spike our sauce for amplified flavor and depth.
First things first: Making the meat palatable, not pathetic. To eschew greasy patties, we swap out a fattier grind with 90-percent-lean ground beef; and instead of cooking the meat until well-done (the traditional, yet tough-textured step), we quickly brown the patties on both sides. Besides, the meat will cook through while simmering in the sauce.
So far we’ve improved upon the hockey puck, but that’s small comfort—how can we make the “steaks” even more tender? Rather than adding a binder of bread and milk mixed together (which comes dangerously close to meatloaf territory), we add mashed potatoes. The spuds give the meat a silky texture without imparting potato flavor. Using dehydrated potato flakes mixed with milk saves major time and does the job nicely—you can’t really taste them, anyway.
We hereby pronounce these patties tender and moist, but the sauce needs to do them justice. Most modern recipes call for a bland sauce made of mushrooms, onions, and broth—where’s the richness in that? To beef up things (so to speak), we add tomato paste to the sautéed mushrooms and onions for deeper flavor and body, and we pour in some port to further enrich the sauce—among all the alcoholic additions we tried, port provided the best depth of color and flavor.
Tender meat in a rich, mushroomy sauce? Yes, please—doctor’s orders.