Loco Moco is comfort food at its absolute finest. A hamburger patty on a bed of rice, smothered in gravy, and topped with a fried egg. For me it screams hangover food (which I think other people call brunch), but it makes a dang good dinner as well. Or, apparently for teenagers, an afternoon snack.
The dish was invented in Hilo in the late 1940s in response to a request from a group of hungry teenagers. The group called themselves the Lincoln Wreckers, and was apparently comprised of around 15 high schoolers, who played all manner of sports (baseball, basketball, football, etc.) at Lincoln Park after school. When they had worked up a significant appetite, they would head over to the nearby Lincoln Grill for a bite. Unfortunately, being teenagers without a lot of spending money, they couldn’t afford the more expensive (and filling) items like the hamburger plate. They asked the owners if they could make something cheap and hearty for them, and the kitchen sent out the original loco moco, a bowl of rice with a hamburger patty and a ladle of brown gravy.
The story goes that the dish is named after one of the members of the Lincoln Wreckers who had a wild streak in him. He earned the nickname “crazy” because of his willingness to do things like drink an entire bottle of tabasco sauce on a dare. “Crazy” was turned to loco by one of the Wreckers, who was studying Spanish at the time, and they say that moco was chosen simply because it rhymes. Sticking with Spanish, moco translates to mucus/snot/booger, making it a pretty unfortunate choice, but so it goes.
From that inauspicious beginning, Loco Moco has spread all over the world. The dish is, of course, popular all over the Hawaiian islands, but has also spread to be a favorite in some mainland cafes as well as restaurants in a number of other Pacific rim countries. These days, restaurants have all sorts of variations featuring different meats and different gravies, but for me nothing beats the classic.
1 lb. 80/20 ground beef
¼ tsp garlic powder
½ tsp black pepper
Salt, to taste
½ of a sweet onion, finely diced
3 tbsp flour
3 cups beef broth
½ tsp sesame oil
4 cups cooked rice
4 fried eggs
Scallion greens to garnish (optional)
Add the garlic powder, black pepper, and a good amount of salt to the ground beef and work it into four patties. Thin patties work best in this recipe.
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, and add the hamburger patties. Cook the patties around 3 minutes on each side, or to your preferred doneness, and then remove them to a plate.
There should be 3-4 tbsp of beef fat in the pan. If there is not, add butter to get yourself to 3-4 tbsp of fat.
Add the diced onion to the pan and allow it to cook until the edges begin to brown. Add the flour. Stir together well and cook until the flour begins to brown and the smell of raw flour is gone. Now you can begin adding your beef broth.
Add the beef broth ½ cup at a time, stirring each addition until it forms a nice, smooth gravy. This process works better and goes more quickly if the broth is hot.
When you have finished adding the broth, you should have a nice, moderately thick gravy. If your gravy is too thick, you can add a bit more broth or water. If it is too thin, you can continue to reduce it until it reaches the desired consistency.
When the gravy is finished, remove it from heat and stir in ½ tsp sesame oil.
Serve 1 cup cooked rice topped with a hamburger patty. Smother this with a large scoop of gravy and top with a fried egg. Garnish with scallion greens.
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