For as long as I can remember I’ve romanticized Hawaii. It’s a place I’ve always wanted to go but, as of yet, I have never been. Initially, it was the beaches that drew me in. The color palette kills me. The pinks, the greens, the violets, and blues. Just imagining a Hawaiian sunset is enough to make me weak in the knees. But as I grew older and came to the sharp realization that my life would never be Blue Crush, I became fascinated with the cuisine. It makes perfect sense really. I’m not blonde, I can’t surf but I can sure as hell eat.
Upon looking into Hawaii’s food scene (Lucky Peach’s 2013 Travel Issue offered me my first peek) I was instantly enamored. It had everything I like: bright colors, a blend of cultures and an unashamed integration of high and low ingredients. What’s more? The state had a cuisine that was uniquely their’s. And as I fell farther down the Hawaii rabbit hole, I learned that this distinctly Hawaiian cuisine could only be Hawaii’s. As a former history major and a self-proclaimed nerd, I live for things like Loco Moco or Hawaii’s famous plate lunches because the history of Hawaii lives there. Many of the state’s quintessential meals are edible timelines of Hawaii, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Now, the history of Hawaii is long, complex and extremely nuanced. I am not from there and have never been there, so I feel ill-equipt to wade into Hawaii’s social and economic history. Also, this is a blog and there’s a recipe at the bottom of this article. You probably want to get there as quickly as possible. So, let’s focus instead on today’s Loco Moco with Ume Rice and Shiitake Gravy. But if you are interested in the intricacies of modern Hawaiian life as well as the state’s social history, I highly recommend the podcast Offshore.
So, what is Loco Moco anyway? Well, Loco Moco is a hamburger patty served atop a mountain of rice, smothered in gravy and topped with a fried egg. The dish was first created in 1949 at the Lincoln Grill in Hilo, Hawaii. It was apparently crafted to suit the request of a group of teenagers who gave the dish its moniker: Loco Moco. The hamburger version of Loco Moco is the most widespread version but variations exist. Some include spam, teriyaki chicken, mahi-mahi, or shrimp as stand-in proteins.
I love Loco Moco because it works so well. It has every craving I could possibly want, particularly whilst hungover, on one plate. You have your burger fix, your rice fix, and your gravy fix. What more could a hangry human want? Now, Loco Moco has a reputation for being a lot, which is not wholly surprising. But in an effort to even out the heaviness of the dish, I opted to add fresh herbs and umeboshi to the rice.
Ume rice is a Japanese dish comprised of steamed short grain rice, mince umeboshi (Japanese Pickled Plum) and a chiffonade shisho leaves – I used mint here to maximize the refreshment. The rice is usually served as a side or formed into onigiri. Here, I used it as a base for my Loco Moco. The refreshing herbal notes in the rice serves as a bit of a palate cleanser between bites of gravy and hamburger. The umeboshi adds a touch of sophistication in the form of umami and a soft tang.
I stayed very traditional with the hamburger patty itself. Since learning that hamburgers benefit from light handling and minimal seasoning, I’ve been trying very hard to stay true to this rule. So, all I did was slap some high-quality, medium chuck into patties, then I seasoned them simply was salt and pepper. I gave them a quick cook in a cast iron skillet where I cooked them to medium rare. Your hamburger should have a crisp sear on the outside and be soft pink in color on the inside. I know it may give you pause to cook burgers this lightly but the texture and flavor really are superior. As long as you get your burger up to temperature it is safe to eat.
The gravy in this dish is a shiitake and oyster mushroom medley. It’s spiked with sake and flavored with browned shallots and rich beef stock. It’s easy peasy to make and if you’re looking for a good vegetarian gravy for another dish, look no further. Obviously, you should swap the beef stock for veggie stock if you’re looking to keep your gravy animal-free. But it’s an easy switch. Not a bad thing to consider as mashed potato season approaches.
So, that’s everything you need to know about this Loco Moco with Ume Rice and Shiitake Gravy. It’s a very satisfying dish that will captivate your entire household. In other words, there’s very little to argue about in this dish. Who doesn’t love gravy, burgers, and rice? Who?!
Loco Moco with Ume Rice & Shiitake Gravy
- 227 g 0.5 lb medium ground beef
- 1 batch Ume Rice see below
- 1 batch Shiitake Gravy see below
- 2 eggs
- Furikake for sprinkling
- 14 g 0.5oz dried mixed mushrooms
- 1 cup boiling water
- 2 shallots halved and thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 100 g 3.5oz shiitake mushrooms, stems removed and coarsely chopped
- 100 g 3.5oz oyster mushrooms
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup sake
- 2 cups beef stock
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 cup uncooked short grain rice
- 4 umeboshi pitted and minced
- 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves chiffonade
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger minced
For the Gravy
- Place the dried mushrooms in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the boiling water over top and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain the mushrooms and reserve the steeping liquid.
- Heat the olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add the shallots and half the salt. Saute until slightly softened. About 2-3 minutes.
- Add the mushrooms to the shallots and saute until softened and slightly caramelized. Deglaze the pan with the sake and add the remaining salt.
- Pour the beef stock into the skillet and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for 15 minutes.
- Place the cornstarch in a small bowl. Spoon off a small amount of the liquid from the skillet and add it to the cornstarch. Whisk to combine.
- Pour the cornstarch mixture into the skillet and cook until thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
- Remove the gravy from the heat and keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Rice
- Cook the rice according to package directions. Once the moisture is absorb, fluff the rice with a fork and transfer to a large bowl.
- Add the umeboshi, mint and ginger to the rice and toss until everything is evenly distributed.
- Keep warm until ready to serve.
For the Loco Moco
- Form the ground beef into 2 patties. Sprinkle both sides of the patties with salt and pepper and set aside.
- Heat a seasoned cast iron skillet over high heat until smoking. Add the patties and reduce the heat to medium. Cook the burgers roughly 5 minutes a side or until the internal temperature reaches between 145°F - 160°F.
- Remove the burgers from the heat and tent with foil.
- Heat a small amount of olive oil in a non-stick pan over medium heat. Crack the eggs into the pan and cook to your preference. I recommend sunny-side-up with a slightly runny yolk.
- Spoon some rice onto two plates. Top the rice with a hamburger patty, then top the hamburger patty with a generous spoonful of Shiitake Gravy. Finish the dish with a fried egg and sprinkle with furikake if desired.