A venerable staple of swanson TV dinners, salisbury steak is largely nothing more than ground beef, onion, horseradish, and mushrooms, with binding agents (typically crushed crackers and an egg). Gravy is not an option, it's a necessity.

Ah, but who do we have to thank for this culinary delight?

Why, it was none other than someone by the name of Dr. James Salisbury who put the Salisbury in Salisbury steak.

Humble beginnings

We have to go all the way back to the American Civil War when diarrhea was rampant among the troops in the field. Enter the good doctor who was one of the first advocates here in the States to promote the idea that a good diet was the pathway to good health. Unfortunately Salisbury thought that a steady diet of coffee and chopped beefsteak would cure the troops of the trots and that other dietary staples such as vegetables, fruits and starches were the main cause of what was ailing them. In addition to diarrhea, he surmised that those culprits also were responsible for such things as heart disease, mental illness and tuberculosis.

His recipe was quite simple. It consisted of ground beef mixed with onions and some seasonings. It was then to be deep fried or boiled and fed to the troops three times a day. I can hear my stomach rumbling as I type this.

Modern times

I guess that one could say that over time the Salisbury steak has “evolved”. Today, you can usually find some in the frozen food section of your friendly neighborhood grocery store. As far as nutritional value is concerned, according to our friends over at Wiki, the USDA requires that packaged Salisbury steak has to contain a minimum of 65% meat. At first I found that somewhat comforting but then upon further reading I was disturbed to discover that of that 65 percent, up to 25 percent of it can be pork and no more than 30% of the steak can be fat. Although the use of meat byproducts is strictly verboten, don’t be surprised if your Salisbury steak contains some beef heart.

If you think that’s confusing, wait until we get to the use of “extenders” like bread crumbs, flour, oats and other assorted non meat like products. It seems they must only make up to 12 percent of the steak. Unless of course were talking about soy protein. Then you can only use 6.8%.

The rest of this delicacy usually consists of binders like milk, cream or eggs.

The USDA also requires that the product be fully cooked before being sold to the salivating Salisbury steak lovers amongst us or else it has to be labeled “Patties for Salisbury Steak”.

On a somewhat more personal note, my love affair with the Salisbury steak occurred shortly after my first divorce. I was, after all a bachelor and living life on the run. It was quick, easy and maybe most importantly, cheap. Who gave a shit about how it tasted?

My love affair ended as I matured and my palate got a bit more refined. However, I’m willing to bet that if I dig deep enough into the dark recesses of my freezer, there’s a package of them, most likely freezer burned beyond recognition just waiting to be opened and consumed.

Heaven help me should that day ever come.



When I was newly married, Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and biscuits, all cooked from scratch, was a favorite on our usual dinner rotation. Virginia's parents were factory workers who worked long and irregular hours. When presented with a home-cooked meal, it often consisted of cornbread, beans-cooked-to-mush and burned round steak with catsup. Virginia says she survived her childhood by the grace of Julia Child who taught her how to cook.

Virginia says this particular preparation came from an Alton Brown cookbook. God blessed is the man whose wife can cook well! These days, as I am now a vegetarian, Boca Burgers replace the steaks. And even before then, to save on time, the spuds came from a box of potato flakes and the biscuits came from Pillsbury. It doesn't really matter how fancy or easy the sides are to make, the steaks are easy to prepare and should take a competent cook no longer than a half hour to make from scratch. I can make them in just under an hour.


4 cube or round steaks, none greater than a 1/4lb each.
1/2 cup flour
1/2 1 lb mushrooms
2 large sweet onions
4+ cloves one head of garlic
1 cup beef, mushroom or vegetable stock
1/4 cup red wine
4 tablespoons butter or olive oil
sea salt to taste

A round steak comes from the rear of the cattle and may include a piece of the femur. At least this is along the lines of American butchery. In English butchery, either thick flank, topside or silverside steaks would be equivalent cuts. These reasonably inexpensive cuts of beef are lean and fairly tough requiring both tenderizing and slow cooking for pleasant eating. If you have a tenderizing machine, wow, you have a lot of fancy kitchen gadgets! For the rest of us, use a meat tenderizer to give each steak several good whacks with the knobby end. They are dead already, no need to go all Conan on them.

Alton recommends cooking everything in a Dutch oven but, for once, I would recommend using a good heavy non-stick skillet and a deep Pyrex roasting pan for this recipe. Set your oven for 250 degrees Fahrenheit. Set your skillet over medium heat. I love sweet onions and I recommend slicing two of them into ringlets, and none too thin either. If you enjoy garlic as much as I do, peel a whole head and smash the cloves with the flat of a chef's knife and then chop them finely. Wash the mushrooms and then quarter them, stems and all.

Put your flour and some salt into a big plate and then dredge each steak into the flour to give a good coating. Put two tablespoons of your butter or oil into the hot skillet and then put your steaks in. You should hear sizzling and the flour should turn golden brown in just a minute. Turn the steaks and cook for another minute. We are not interested in cooking the steaks at this point, any more than a minute in the skillet will result in tough steaks which only a hillbilly would want to eat. Repeat until all steaks have a golden flour breading. Place them all in the Pyrex baking pan.

Reduce the heat on the skillet to medium-low and toss in your onions and mushrooms. We want to cook these until the onions are translucent and then some, until you can split them with a wooden spoon and the mushrooms have cooked out their juices. If the onions start to burn, pour in a bit of the stock. Add the chopped garlic towards the end as they burn easier.

When the onions have reached their desired consistency, add the wine and stir up all the brown tasty bits in the skillet. Now sprinkle just a bit of flour into the skillet and stir it about briskly so the liquids absorb it. Do not let it clump. Add a bit of your stock and let it simmer. Alternate your dashes of flour and your splashes of stock until you are out of stock. You now have oniony, mushroomy gravy and it is delicious! Salt to taste.

Pour your gravy goodness over your steaks in your Pyrex baking pan. Put the pan into your hot and ready oven. Make toast in your toaster and sop up the remaining gravy in the skillet. Let the skillet cool and let your dogs lick the skillet clean. Do not let your mother-in-law see you doing this. In about 25 minutes your steaks should be very tender. Let them cool a bit and then serve with whatever you like. Personally, I like them served over a piece of toast with a side of mashed potatoes and a side of broccoli and a side of macaroni-and-cheese and this is why I am overweight.


Giving credit to where credit is due: http://www.food.com/recipe/cube-steak-salisbury-style-alton-brown-441263#ixzz1qXCKvgEk

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