Salisbury steak and mashed potatoes

Salisbury steak is a mainstay dish that evokes nostalgic memories of home and family. Originating in the U.S., it was once served at the fanciest restaurants in the country. But the recipe we know and love was created by James Salisbury, a physician who promoted a meat-centric diet. This modern version of Salisbury steak comes from Jessica Formicola, whose popular blog Savory Experiments has hundreds of recipes for comfort food, such as cube steak. Formicola lives outside of Baltimore with her husband and two toddlers, and she didn’t start out having a culinary career. A licensed psychotherapist, she worked as a local hospital’s director of the outpatient substance disorder clinic, and cooking was her escape. She eventually left her full-time job and created her blog. "Most of my readers are Midwestern housewives," Formicola told us. "And the type of food they like is a really good tater-tot casserole, so I don’t buy fancy-schmancy ingredients. But I do like to experiment with new and different recipes."

Although you might think that Salisbury steak is just a hamburger with mushroom gravy, it’s a bit more special and has characteristic flavorings, such as Worcestershire sauce and Dijon mustard, and the gravy is made from sautéd onions and browned mushrooms. It’s quick and easy, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll include Formicola’s recipe in your regular rotation.

Gather together the ingredients for this Salisbury steak

ingredients for salisbury steak placed on table

At first look, you might think that the ingredient list is a little long. But most of the ingredients are the same for the steak and the gravy. The star of this recipe is the ground beef, and Formicola recommends an 80/20 (lean to fat) mix. You could also use an 85/15 mix to cut the fat a bit, but you do need fat to keep the beef moist, so we don’t recommend a leaner ground beef for this recipe. Buy a good-quality ground beef, and don’t be shy about asking the butcher what cuts were used. Beef chuck and round steak are the most common cuts because they have a higher percentage of fat. If you really want to know what type of beef is in the mix, you could grind it yourself, even in a food processor.

Except for the mushrooms, the rest of the ingredients are most likely in your fridge or pantry already and are similar to the ingredients you’ll need for meatballs. Once you’ve gotten everything together, it’s time to start your Salisbury steak dinner.

Brown the beef patties for the Salisbury steak

salisbury steak cooking

The first step is mixing the flavorings for your Salisbury steak. In a large mixing bowl, add the breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons of the ketchup, 1 tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard, the egg, Kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Use a wooden spoon or fork to blend the ingredients together into a paste. Add the ground beef bit by bit, breaking it into small pieces with your fingers. Using clean hands, mix the flavor paste into the beef so it’s well-combined. You want everything evenly blended together, but don’t over-mix because, like burgers, this will toughen the beef when cooked. When you’ve finished mixing the ground beef, divide it into four equal portions, and then shape them into oval patties. Press your thumb into the center of each patty to make a well. "The well in the middle helps keep the patty flat and even as it cooks and shrinks," Formicola told us.

Heat 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Transfer the patties to the skillet, and brown them until a crust forms, about three to four minutes. "People tend to cook ground beef slowly," Formicola said. "But then the juices release, and the meat turns gray and loses flavor." When one side is nicely browned, turn the patties over, and brown them for another three to four minutes. Remove the patties from the skillet, and set them aside on a plate.

Brown the mushrooms and onions for the Salisbury steak gravy

how to make Salisbury steak

You’ll now start making the silky and deeply delicious gravy for your Salisbury steak. First, mix together 1 tablespoon of ketchup, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, and 1 teaspoon dried parsley flakes in a small bowl. After you’ve browned the patties, check to see if your skillet is dry, and add 1 to 2 teaspoons of vegetable oil, as needed. Heat the skillet over medium heat, and transfer the onions and mushrooms to the skillet. As you did with the patties, you’ll want to brown the onions and mushrooms too. "The development of flavors for this dish relies mostly on browning," Formicola told us. "All of the browned bits on the bottom of the skillet will season the gravy."

Sauté the onions and mushrooms until they’re soft and golden brown. Pour in the beef broth, stirring the bottom of the skillet to loosen the browned bits, then add the gravy seasoning, stirring everything together so it’s smooth and comes to a low simmer. "Use low-sodium beef broth," Formicola said. "The ketchup and Worcestershire add salt, and regular beef broth will make the dish too salty."

Finish the gravy for the Salisbury steak

beef gravy and mushrooms cooking for Salisbury steak

To finish the gravy for your Salisbury steak, you could combine butter and flour together (known as a beurre manié) as Julia Child often did to thicken a sauce, but Formicola has a much easier way for achieving a glossy gravy. Simply combine 1 tablespoon of cornstarch in a small bowl with 1 tablespoon of cold water. Blend them together so the cornstarch is fully incorporated (sometimes it settles in the bottom of the bowl) into a paste, and then whisk it into the gravy.

As it heats, the cornstarch will quickly thicken the gravy. It will seem thin, at first, but you’ll be warming the patties in the gravy, and the gravy will continue to thicken as it cooks. Another important tip from Formicola: Cornstarch will clump into lumps if you simply dump it into the gravy. So, always mix cornstarch (or alternatively, arrowroot) with the same amount of water first.

Simmer the patties in the gravy and serve the Salisbury steak

making Salisbury steak

The final step for this easy recipe for Salisbury steak is simply transferring the browned beef patties back to the pan and then turning them in the gravy to coat both sides. Lower the heat to low, and simmer the Salisbury steak for about five minutes, or until the patties register 160 degrees Fahrenheit with an instant-read digital meat thermometer. Although the USDA has lowered cooking temperatures for some cuts of meats, the changes do not apply to any ground meat, so your Salisbury steak will be safe to eat when it hits 160 degrees Fahrenheit.

Now’s the time to taste the gravy and assess whether it needs more salt and pepper. Formicola told us it’s optional to sprinkle on some chopped parsley, but the garnish does add to the visual appeal of the dish. Salisbury steak is traditionally served over mashed potatoes, but you could also serve it with broad egg noodles, rice, or even quinoa for soaking up the luscious gravy. Formicola prefers not to cook the same thing over and over, but we predict that her recipe for Salisbury steak will make frequent appearances at your dinner table.