Friday, October 7, 2011

Meatloaf Revisited

Am I repeating myself? Yes I am, I posted a meatloaf a while back, but this one is a little different. My previous meatloaf followed my mother's recipe fairly closely, this time, I'm taking a slightly different track- it's one of those common, everyday meals that is simple enough that anyone can make- but at the same time there are an almost infinite number of subtle variations on the same idea.

My mom's meatloaf is great- but it is essentially a giant Italian meatball. The main thing I want to do differently this time around is to incorporate more vegetable into the mix. To do this, and maintain a relatively smooth texture, I'll need to almost puree my vegetables. To get there without exerting too much effort, I'm going to cheat, and put down my knives and go for the old, trusty salad shooter. So we'll take an onion, a stalk or two of celery, and a handful of baby carrots, and two or three cloves of garlic, and run them through that salad shooter until they are a thoroughly shredded- they won't turn into a paste, but they will shred up into fairly small bits in a matter of seconds.

The next step is to cook down our shredded vegetables so they break down even more, and so we develop flavor. Take a hot pan with a thin layer of olive oil, and drop in our vegetables- season them with salt and pepper, and let them cook over medium heat. Make sure to stir from time to time- we want the vegetables to wilt, and soften, but we want to stop short of giving them more than a token amount of color. While the vegetables cook down, we can move on and get our binder together.

Bread and eggs are the main components of our binder. I prefer to mix them together into a paste with a few other seasonings before adding the meat- this, I feel, helps to make sure it gets well distributed and has a chance to absorb and get broken down by the eggs. Most people will simply use store-bought breadcrumb- but I actually like to use leftover sliced bread- especially if it's good bread, and especially if it's gone a little stale. For me, meatloaf is an opportunity to make use for those old end pieces of bread that usually end up getting thrown out- and if I happen to have a handful of breadcrumb left over, I'll toss some of that in too.

This time around, the mix ended up being about five slices of bread- some white, some wheat- and the last handful of store-bought breadcrumbs. Crumble it all by hand as well as you can, and add in about five eggs, a shot of ketchup or barbecue sauce (about two tablespoons) and a splash of either balsamic vinegar or worcestershire sauce. Add in any herbs you like at this stage too (I usually use a little parsley and maybe some oregano or marjoram) Mix it all together into a paste, and let it sit for a few minutes while the vegetables finish cooking down to let the egg soak in. When your vegetables are ready, let them sit in the pan with the heat off for a few minutes so they cool (or you'll end up with scrambled eggs!), then add them to the binder as well.

Next is the meat- you'll need a large package of ground beef- usually about 2.5 to 3 pounds. Hopefully, you've thawed it thoroughly or it will be somewhat difficult to combine with our binder and vegetable slop. You'll need to get your hands dirty, and knead the sloppy mess of bread and vegetable into the meat. Keep going until everything is evenly mixed, and form the meat into a rough loaf shape, and set it in a baking pan.

No meatloaf is complete without that flavorful, dark colored crust on the outside. That crust is partially due to the meat itself browning in the oven, but it's not really complete unless you help it along a little. Coat the outside of the loaf liberally with ketchup or barbecue sauce and rub it in. The sugars in the coating will caramelize in the oven, and turn into a thick, flavorful bark on the outside of the loaf. Your loaf will need between an hour and an hour and a half to cook at 350 degrees to be done all the way through.

The roasting is the easy part. Conveniently, a meatloaf of this size takes about the same amount of time to cook as a baked potato, so they are a natural match. The ketchup/barbecue sauce coating turns into that flavorful crust we want, and the vegetables inside meld together with the meat. The loaf should hold together reasonably well when you slice it, but still be soft enough to cut with a fork. If you're feeling especially ambitious, the pan drippings are ideal for making a gravy or something like a yorkshire pudding. I usually end up serving my meatloaf with a potato and a vegetable as sides, with a squirt or two of ketchup. The leftovers keep well, and end up as lunch. You can even take the leftovers and crumble them up into something resembling a meatball sandwich, or a pizza topping- I've even used leftover meatloaf crumbled into tomato sauce to make something similar to a bolognese sauce. Simple, classic, and versatile- no wonder meat loaf is one of the most popular common items on the American dinner table.

No comments:

Post a Comment