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  • Writer's pictureColleen Turner

This is Not the Salisbury Steak of Your Youth!

Look familiar? Yup...this is the one, the only...the Salisbury Steak of my young, food-formative years (think the mid '70s) and, more than likely, yours, too. Also known as mystery meat, barf maker and just plain, "Yuck."

Imagine my delight when a little known, but awesome magazine, Cuisine @ Home ( arrived in my mailbox, featuring a new take on this school cafeteria classic. I'll get to their French Onion Salisbury Steak recipe in a moment (including my small upgrades). First I want to share my life's experience with the most insidious of social hierarchies, the school cafeteria.

My first foray with an institutional cafeteria was at Mattacheese Middle School (I attended from 1972-1975). Located on Cape Cod and referred to as The Glass Palace, that cafeteria was inordinately loud! Like navigating life as a teenager isn't stressful enough, every scraping chair, any dropped tray (followed by the obligatory cheering and clapping) and virtually every conversation contributed to a cacophony of noises that would grate on anyone's last nerve.

My favorite math teacher and newly named principal in 1974, Gary Getchell, reminded me of the bee hive shaped cement ceiling that was the cause of said volume. So concerned for his students and the less-than-calming nature of the room, he gathered information on how to reduce the noise level, then approached the school committee to get funds for the project. Unfortunately, work was completed the summer I graduated, but he assures me, the overall improvement made things a bit more tolerable.

Mattacheese Middle School, aka The Glass Palace, not only boasted the loudest cafeteria known to man, but all that glass made for some wicked hot hallways! Courtesy image.

The one food that I most recall from those days is the pizza. I mean, who didn't love Pizza Fridays? Sure, it was basically an undercooked cardboard cracker with something red smeared atop and strategically placed gobs of melted cheese-like stuff. Looked a little like this and it was definitely rectangular...wouldn't want anyone losing an eye with a rogue pointy triangular piece.

Friday was pizza day in just about every school cafeteria pre-1980. Add some watery corn niblets, a paper carton of milk and a piece of white cake with chocolate frosting, all served on a segmented plastic tray and I'm 12 years old again. Courtesy image.

School cafeterias...junior high, high school and college...are day-in-and-day-out studies in socialization. Being the creatures of habit that we are, most tended to sit not only with the same people each day, but often at the same table.

Even in college, when you are finding your own way and setting your own schedule, I still headed to the cafeteria at the same time, ensuring said pals and table would be available. Heck, I usually ate the same thing each meal, too...salad, bread with butter, milk and, without exception, some type of dessert (usually two (and, yes, I still haven't lost my "Freshman 15") both neatly tucked in a napkin for me to enjoy at some point before or after another meal).

But cafeteria is also the backbone of earnest conversation and immature food behavior (don't ask). It was the only true unstructured time in junior and high school and in college it was just to relax and start your path toward adulthood with fellow students.

So, dear reader, why the interest in Salisbury Steak? Good question. I can assure you, I never ate it at school nor in its frozen dinner incarnation. I mean, take a gander at that first image...ewwww. But this recipe rescues the oval beef patties from food purgatory. And, best of all, it pairs it with another classic, French Onion Soup.

Mise en place...French for gathering or putting in place. I always try to prep my ingredients before starting to ensure I don't forget anything and to make the cooking process more enjoyable. PS: the tomato is an accompaniment, not part of the recipe.

French Onion Salisbury Steak


For steaks:

1 1/4 pound ground chuck

1/4 cup minced fresh parsley

1/4 cup tablespoons sliced scallions

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

1/4 milk or cream

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

For sauce:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 cups sliced onion

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cups beef broth (low sodium)

1 teaspoon onion powder

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1/4 cup dry red wine

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves

1/2 cup shredded Parmesan


Combine chuck, parsley, scallion, salt and pepper. Divided evenly into four portions and shape each into 3/4 to 1-inch thick oval patties. Place flour in a shallow dish; dredge each patty, covering top, bottom and sides.

Heat oil and butter in cast iron or sauté pan over medium high heat. Add patties and sauté 3-4 minutes on each side, or until deeply browned (you want a crust). Remove from pan and tent.

Allow first sear to get good and brown...I say three minutes per side, but if you need a bit more time, do it. NOTE: the cast iron pan is ideal for this.

Add onion and sugar to pan; sauté 5 minutes. Onions will soften and take on a lovely brown hue. Stir in garlic and tomato paste; sauté 1 minute or until paste begins to brown. In a pyrex measuring cup, heat beef broth, onion and garlic powder in microwave. Stir in; add wine, salt and thyme.

Return meat to pan and bring sauce to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 10 minutes.

Garnish with Parmesan and serve with mashed potatoes (shown below) or egg noodles.

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