A Scandinavian Hamburger Story: Danish Hakkebøf with Soft Onions

The story of how the hamburger came to Denmark, and a classic Danish fall recipe.
By Kalle Bergman – Photos by Mads Damgaard

The history of the hamburger is still a matter of much dispute. There are several different versions of historical origins, and I honestly have no idea which is the correct one. But, one of the legends is that the Hamburger was invented by a Danish butcher’s apprentice in the US around the turn of the 19th century.

Whether or not that is the true story of the origin of the Hamburger is probably best left unsaid, but since it is undeniably fitting in the context of this recipe – let’s all agree to pretend that it is, ok?

What is absolutely true, is that a Danish food writer visited USA in the mid 40’s and immediately fell in love with the country’s emerging fast-food culture. He brought his new found love for burgers back to old Denmark and started spreading its gospel to anyone that would listen. Married couple Oscar and Anni Pettersson jumped on the idea of a burger joint in Copenhagen and opened Oscars Bøf Bar (Oscars Beef Bar) in late May 1949 in the amusement park Bakken (which by the way is the oldest amusement park in the world) on the outskirts of Copenhagen. And the Beef Sandwich – as the Danish version of the American Hamburger was called – was an almost instant success.

Today Oscars Bøf Bar is still going strong as an active institution in Danish culinary life, now run by the third generation of the Pettersson family at the same place in Bakken as always.

Hakkebøf Med Bløde Løg (Chopped beef with soft onions) is what might could call the “dinner version” of the beef sandwich. In this dish, the traditional burger bun is removed and replaced by potatoes, gravy, pickled accessories and lots and lots of soft onions. A great fall dish!

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Danish Hakkebøf with Soft Onions - Hakkebøf med Bløde Løg
 
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One of the most classic Danish fall/winter dishes, and the story of the hamburger.
Author:
Recipe Type: Main Course
Serves: 4
Ingredients
  • 1 1?2 Ib Ground beef from the butcher's
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 Large onions
  • ½ Cup water
Sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons of organic butter
  • 3 Tablespoons flour
  • 1 1?2 Cups of really good beef stock
  • Salt & Pepper
  • A dash of food coloring
Instructions
  1. Take the meat out of the fridge about 15 minutes before you want to start cooking. Shape it onto four round hamburgers and season with salt and pepper. Fry them in butter in a large pan for about 5 minutes on each side.
  2. Peel and slice the onions. Put in a medium heat pan with a little bit of butter and fry for a minute. Add water and simmer until the water has evaporated.
  3. Melt butter slowly in a casserole. Add the flour and use a whisk to mix it for a minute or two.
  4. Slowly add the stock in portions, and keep whisking while you pour it in. Season with salt and pepper, and add just a dash of coloring to get the right dark brown color.
  5. Serve the hakkebøf with soft golden onions on top, together with boiled or roast potatoes, brown sauce and pickled cucumber or beets.

Kalle Bergman

Kalle Bergman is a food writer and media entrepreneur who is the founder of Honest Cooking. As a food writer, his writing has been regularly featured in publications like Gourmet, Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post and Serious Eats. He is obsessed with simple food, more often than not from his native Scandinavia.

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7 Comments
  1. The dish certainly pre-dates the story of Oscar’s. It even mentioned in the film Contraband released in 1940. Then my grandmother made it for special occasions and had learned to prepare it as a child in Denmark. She emigrated to the USA in 1912. In any case – it is a wonderful dish.

    1. Hi Mike

      I am not sure if you mean the hamburger / bøfsandwich or hakkebøf? Because the story is only about the bøfsandwich (while the recipe is for hakkebøf, granted, rather confusingly – and that is surely older than the 40’s) – I have not heard any alternate versions of the story of bøfsandwich.

      All the best
      Kalle

  2. hakkebof er meget gammelt I danmark.det har langt vaeret en hverdags spise og det er ikke noget at gore ved bofsandwich.Da jeg arbejderd I kobenhave hevd station restaurant jeg lavede flere tuisind af dem og jeg selv var meget glaede for dem.her I england bruge jeg det samt opskrift som jeg laert naar jer stod i lare i hovedbanegaardens restaurant.

  3. This recipe fondly reminds me of the years I lived in Denmark as a young bride. There was a wonderful restaurant in Copenhagen, not very fancy, but they served traditional Danish food reasonably priced and hakke bof with carmelized onions and a fried egg on top served with small white potatoes and red cabbage or cucumber salad was one of my favorites. I’d board a plane in a heart beat to experience that again

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