Meat-Potatoburgers is a recipe that perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Money-Saving Main Dishes (1966). Judging by name alone I was expecting Meat-Potatoburgers to resemble certain Depression-era burgers, like the Mississippi slugburger or Oklahoma Onion Burger. There are any number of regional variants, many of which are still available if you know where to look, but the common theme to all of them is padding the ground beef with an inexpensive filler. This can be anything from ground pork to bread crumbs to onions and soy flour, with the intent of stretching a meal for two to feed four or five or six. They are the burger equivalent of adding a cup of water to the soup, but not what the USDA was after with this recipe. Instead, Meat-Potatoburgers are more like mini-meatloaves, thick tomato-soaked cakes that are both too big and too crumbly to be served on a bun. They work kind of like a cheap Salisbury steak.
Preparation is straightforward. Ground beef is mixed with a healthy portion of grated onion, shredded potatoes, and chopped green peppers, then simply seasoned. The beef is rolled into large balls, then gently smashed to form generously sized patties about an inch and a half thick. Patties are pan fried to brown up the outside, then simmered in plain tomato sauce until cooked through. I’ve made a few adjustments to the original recipe. The original recipe wants you to cook the burgers in “fat or drippings”, which is entirely unnecessary. Unless you’re using extra-extra-extra lean ground beef, there will be plenty of fat to brown the burgers and lend substance to the sauce. The other major change I’ve made is to omit flour, which is used in a slurry to thicken the resulting tomato sauce. I know from past experience that no good can come from this. A little bit of flour or starch might reasonably be used to thicken a tomato-based gravy, but adding them to a thick puree gives it both a gluey texture and colors it an unappetizing salmon pink. Turns out the tomato sauce thickens up just fine on its own. The only other changes are simple ones to suit my tastes: I’ve replaced green bell peppers with mild Anaheim peppers, which are much more palatable and have better texture when cooked. I’ve also added some garlic salt to punch up the flavor a bit.
The end result is a moist, handsomely portioned hamburger steak with a built-in pan sauce. Money-Saving Main Dishes recommends serving it with “mashed or buttered squash and apple-celery-raisin salad.” On a colder evening I would have gone for the squash, but egg noodles and a simple butter lettuce salad were better suited for a warm, late summer evening. Don’t expect a spaghetti-and-meatballs vibe; the Meat-Potatoburgers recipe won’t make quite enough sauce to dress the pasta but the noodles can help sop up what’s left over. Any simple starch and green vegetable would work fine: boiled potatoes and spinach, white rice and green peas, etc. Enjoy!
- Add all ingredients except for the tomato puree to a large bowl. Combine well by hand, as you would for meatloaf. Shape into six 6 oz balls.
- (Optional) Toss the balls back and forth from hand to hand a dozen times. You want to use enough force to get a satisfying slapping sound and aerate the meat balls.
- Heat a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Arrange the meat balls in the skillet and let them sizzle for a minute or two, then gently smash until each of the patties are just barely touching. Continue to cook for 3-4 minutes until the bottom is nicely browned and the meat balls release easily from the bottom of the skillet. Flip meat balls (which should now look more like thick patties) and fry for 3-4 minutes more.
- Pour tomato puree over top. Bring to a slow boil, then reduce heat to medium-low. Cover and simmer 20-25 minutes until Meat-Potatoburgers are cooked through.