Salisbury Steak

When I was growing up in small-town Mississippi in the 1960s, TV dinners were a treat, something different from home-cooked, not better, really, just exotic, some indication that progress had come to the stagnant backwater of Bruce, Mississippi, if only by way of convenience foods. Frozen pizza held a similar glamour.

For a little over a dollar, we could buy fried chicken, meatloaf, or turkey and dressing with piped-in potatoes and neon peas in a space-age metal container, heat it in the oven, and eat them on the sheet-pan fold-away TV tables. I remember eating one the first time I saw “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” I was eight.

My favorite was the fried chicken, but brother Tom’s was Salisbury steak (as close as he could get to a hamburger). It’s named for James Salisbury, one of those impressive food faddists of the late 19th century whose ranks include Kellogg, Post, and Mary Grove Nichols (by far the coolest of this three.)

Salisbury advocated the same low-carb diet as Tarnower and Atkins (known now as paleo), his being very much meat-centered. Salisbury’s version of a “lean beef cake,” calls for meat “from the centre of the round” procured from “well-fatted animals that are from four to six years old,” but any lean is good.

For a pound of beef, add a quarter cup bread crumbs, and if you don’t have any of those little-bitty cans of tomato sauce, work in a generous squirt or two of ketchup along with a good dusting of black pepper. Don’t over-work the meat. Form into no more than four cakes about an inch thick. Cook in a low oven to medium well.

While this recommendation doesn’t fit the doctor’s diet, my optimal serving of Salisbury steak requires mushroom gravy (a light one), creamed potatoes with a little pitty-pat of butter, and green peas, just like Mother Swanson served.

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