Thursday, June 5, 2008

Journey To The Perfect Meatloaf

I love meatloaf. I know it's passé to admit and it's so very "middle America" and "normal" that you probably can't believe I would eat it much less adore it. But, adore it I do!

Long ago I set out to figure out how to make meatloaf.

My mother, who, bless her heart, has never been a great cook, told me to just take some hamburger meat and mix it with ketchup and some dried onions and make it into a circle in a pie pan that was slightly larger than the loaf and cook it till it is done. This is NOT the meatloaf I adore.

So, I went to the trusty Red and White Checkerboard cookbook and tried their recipe. Nope, not what I was looking for. Some recipes even called for brown gravy and canned, sliced, button mushrooms; which I will not abide. I bought a cookbook called 50 Great Meatloaves! And made about 10 of them before chucking that out.

We settled on a recipe that included a bunch of sautéed veggies, but it never held together well. Which, may not sound like a big problem, but, since the one thing I adore more than meatloaf is meatloaf sandwiches, it's a problem when the meatloaf falls apart. How can you take the cold meatloaf and properly arrange it on the bread so that every bite has just the right amount of meatloaf, ketchup and bread if the meatloaf is all falling apart??!?!

I watched some FOOD Network shows and copied down those recipes. Again, not the loaf I was looking for. I saw Roseanne teach Darleen's class (or was it Becky's) how to make meatloaf by adding corn flakes to the meat mixture, but I can't imagine even trying that! So, I tried using stuffing instead of corn flakes in Roseann's recipe and, well, let's just say I'm sorry -- truly sorry to have put the meat and the stuffing to such a dismal end. Now, I realize that I was pretty desperate trying a recipe that was part of a sitcom.... but, I wanted some meatloaf!

I saw a show on PBS where some guy was showing a second grade class how to make meatloaf and he talked about just knowing when the ratio of breadcrumbs to meat to wet was right by the way it held together. That was promising.... an "un-recipe." I like un-recipes.

A little while after that and totally unrelated at the time, I started making meatballs from a recipe I found online. It included breadcrumbs, eggs, sautéed onions, tomato sauce, Parmesan cheese, and, of course, lean meat (both beef and pork). Since I don't do the whole pork thing, I make them with just beef. naturally, being from the south and seeing most food as vehicles for ketchup, I substituted ketchup for the tomato sauce. And, once I accidentally left out the eggs and I liked the way it tasted better, so I kept that. Eventually I started leaving out the milk -- probably because Annie drank the glass I was going to pour in and it worked without that, too.

So, remembering the un-recipe for meatloaf I saw on PBS and pairing that with the altered meatball recipe, I have stumbled on what I think is almost the ultimate recipe for meatloaf.

Meatloaf, Rain Style
  • 1.5 - 2 pounds of lean ground beef
  • Some Bread crumbs (preferably just ground up homemade wheat bread)
  • Some Parmesan cheese (preferably the kind you get at the market that was ground up in the store, but Kraft will do in a pinch)
  • Ketchup (organic, of course, and I like the Whole Foods brand)
  • Yellow Mustard
  • Steak Seasoning (homemade or store bought which includes salt, pepper, garlic and other goodies for beef)
  • An egg for good measure
  • 1 onion, chopped and sautéed
Mix the above ingredients in the amounts you see fit. I tend to use about 1 - 2 cups of bread crumbs and at least a cup of Parmesan and a lot of ketchup. The mix should be moist but not wet and should hold together when you turn it out, but not be a tight blob. Only mix as much as you need to in order to distribute the ingredients evenly.

I put it in a 8 x 8 Pampered Chef stoneware pan, but you can use just about anything that leaves room around the loaf. I make a loaf shape in the center of the pan that stretches from one side to the other longways but is much shorter the other way, so there's plenty of room for the grease to drain out and not get re-absorbed into the loaf.

Cook this for about 1 - 1.5 hours at 350. Make sure the center is at least 157 degrees, minimum. Just before it's done, I brush on a coating of ketchup on the top and let it cook for about 2 - 3 minutes.

Have a better recipe or un-recipe? I'm still looking for the ultimate!


Carrie said...

I, too, love meatloaf! And I hardly ever follow a recipe. Unless I'm baking something, I find recipes as merely suggestions.

I don't have the "ultimate" recipe, but I like to add about a 1/3 cup of my favorite salsa to the meat instead some of the tomato sauce or ketchup. It adds the tomato, onion, and green pepper to it and gives it just a little kick. I still use the ketchup for the "glaze" on top. Just an idea to share!

Tony Vila said...

This (minus the onions and mustard) is almost precisely my recipe for hamburgers. Yum Yum!