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ROMANCING THE MEATLOAF

MEATLOAF 101

Innumerable meatloaves have graced countless tables around the world.  Along with meatballs, it’s the ultimate in comfort food and one of the most go-to globally prepared household dishes.  Meatloaves can be simple or have the potential for tremendous complexity, depending on diurnal inspiration and a willingness to be intrepid.  It’s a chameleon dish embracing any flavor profile and accompanied by many sauce variations.

In a world ruled by tastes and choices, meatloaf is something you staunchly avoid or it’s a much awaited, beloved dish.  For meatloaf-haters maybe your only foray into the wonderful world of meatloaf was comprised of a dried out, flavorless brown slice of beef your mom slapped on a plate that not even the dog was about to eat.  If that is the case, a good meatloaf is far from the insipid rendition from the recollection of your childhood days and you should reconsider because meatloaf done well is sin on a plate.

Here are a few stipulations to ensure the rendition is stellar.

  • IT IS NOT A PUNCHING BAG – Don’t overmix the mixture – as it will become pasty. Optimally, meat should be at room temperature and mixed with the best tools available: your hands.  Also, if your choice is forming the loaf inside a pan, don’t press down too much because you will overly compact the mixture and the outcome will be dry.

  • LEAN MEATS – Using turkey or chicken is the perfect vehicle to showcase and combine any blend of spices and ingredients. However, poultry has very little fat content and your loaf will come out very dry.  Add wet ingredients to give it as much help as possible and using dark meat is preferable.

  • GRIND YOUR OWN – No matter what meat you’ve decided to showcase, it’s best if you are able to grind your own.   If you lack the kitchen equipment, ask your local butcher to grind the cuts for you.  You’ll see there is a huge difference once you do that.

  • FLAVOR PROFILE – We’ve mentioned that meatloaf is a blank canvas, it loves flavoring.  And the inspiration can be derived from any source: Italian, Spanish, Swedish, Indian, Mexican, Moroccan, Asian.  Be intrepid and experiment, you’ll be pleasantly surprised as how incredible the end result is.

  • AROMATICS – For the meatloaf purists that prefer not to “contaminate” the loaf with too many ingredients that’s cool too.  The basics are a mirepoix or Holy Trinity depending on the flavor profile.

  • MOIST LOAF – One of the key components to ensure you have a juicy loaf is soaking bread with a liquid.  The most common choice is milk, although wine and stock are also good candidates.  Making a panade– bread crumbs soaked in liquid is another great way to add moisture and remember, adding breadcrumbs to a loaf is not meant to be a “filler”, rather act like a sponge to retain its juices and keep the loaf moist and provide texture as well as keep it together.

  • AN AL DENTE LOAF IS NOT A GOOD LOAF – For the most part, adding raw veggies to your loaf isn’t a great idea.  It is rather off-putting biting on piece of half raw onion or garlic.  Sautéing any and all veggies will provide a caramelized taste to the loaf and it’s the optimal method.  However, if you still want to add raw onion and garlic to a loaf, grate or puree it.

  • REFRIGERATE OVERNIGHT – Something came up a while back where I was unable to cook my loaf the day I assembled all ingredients together.  I was forced to place the mixture into a Tupperware and into the fridge it went. The flavors married so incredibly well by allowing it to sit overnight, that’s become a requirement when its meatloaf day.

  • LOAF PAN OR NO LOAF PAN – There is also the age-old debate of free forming it or using a meatloaf pan. Most chefs are free-formers and will tell you it’s called meat-“loaf” for a reason. You’ll find the result will be a better tasting, juicer loaf every time if you don’t utilize the stereotypical pan. It’s also a good technique to use if you decide to wrap the loaf in bacon love, as it will “form” the loaf. Lay the bacon inside hanging over the sides of the loaf pan, adding the mixture inside and then wrapping it on top of the meat; then invert it onto a cookie-sheet  It’s the best way to ensure that the bacon embraces the mixture perfectly.

  • OVEN TEMPERATURE – Bake your loaf at 375F – and bake for about 40-55 minutes. Insert a meat thermometer to ensure that the interior temperature reaches 160F – to ensure the loaf is cooked through.

  • RESTING – Allow it to rest before cutting. Tent it loosely with foil after it has cooked and let it stand about 10/15 minutes.  By allowing to rest before cutting it, it allows for the juices to be redistributed and your loaf will be very juicy.  Same concept as you would do for a steak or a roast, if you cut into meats straight away, all the juices will be lost.

  • GLAZE OR NO GLAZE – If you are going to serve it without an accompanying sauce – such as a mushroom burgundy sauce or beer sauce, then it is best not to glaze it with the usual ketchup mixture as the flavors will clash with the sauce. Otherwise, its best to place the loaf in the oven, cook it halfway and then add your glaze. If you are going to elevate your loaf mixtures with interesting flavor profiles then it stands to reason you should pay the same attention to the glaze or a sauce.

  • SIMPLE GLAZE – ½ cup of ketchup, 1 TBSP tomato paste, 1 TSP Aleppo pepper, 2 TBSP brown sugar, 2 TBSP Worcestershire sauce, 1 TBSP Coleman’s mustard powder, 1 TBSP honey or maple syrup, pinch of Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper.Whisk and spread over the loaf, halfway through the cooking.

After reading this, preparing your meatloaf should be a real cinch, even for a beginner.  Become adventurous.  You can even stuff it with hard boiled eggs or a layer of blue cheese.  So go get creative, turn your meatloaf mojo on and surprise everyone by creating one of these loaf masterpieces!

Highly recommended cookbook on Meatloaf – A meatloaf in Every Oven, by Frank Bruni and Jennifer Steinhauer.

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