“Meatloaf is a powerful master and achieves the most divine feats with the smallest and least evident body. It can stop fear, relieve pain, create joy, and increase pity.” – Gorgias 4th Century BCE
I’ve written before about the lost pleasures of oven cooking. One of the reasons, I think, that our cooking, or even the cooking of our parents, never tastes as good as the cooking of our grandmothers, is because we’ve replaced the oven with the range as our primary cooking unit. While the range has many advantages–most notably it cooks food much more quickly–the types of food that you can cook on the stove top are mostly flashy, quick-fire dishes that lack the richness, attention, and home-iness of baked and roasted dinners.
What are the meals you grew up loving? The ones you mom (or dad) cooked? Or your grandma? For me, they were pork tenderloin, baked chicken, lasagna, enchiladas, and, of course, meatloaf, that classic American middle-class dinner staple much-maligned for its frequent descent into the purgatory of overcookedness.
But meatloaf can (and should!) be delicious. It’s incredibly easy (prep time is 15-20 minutes) and, although delicious fresh, is often just as good re-heated. It can be pan-fried with some eggs for breakfast, sliced thin and served on a sandwich, or microwaved and served again for dinner with whipped mashed potatoes or with another perfect oven meal, macaroni and cheese. In any of those cases, please don’t forget the ketchup.
The thing is, meatloaf used to be a much more succulent dish, back when ground meat contained a hell of a lot more fat than it does today, so the key is to change how you cook the meat or the blend of meat that you use. Our mothers, cooking the meatloaf recipe they learned from their mothers but without the luxury of 30% fat ground beef during the low-fat craze of the 1980s and 1990s, were doomed to produce meatloaves more appropriate for use as doorstops.
Thankfully, we’ve learned how to work better with the products we have and it is possible to make a moist, delicious meatloaf even without any ground beef. Below is a recipe that I use. Feel free to augment the seasonings to your taste.
- Meat thermometer – seriously, get one. This is the only way not to overcook your loaf.
- Two-ish pounds ground meat. I typically use 50% ground pork and either 50% 85/15 organic ground beef or ground turkey, depending on how “healthful” I want my meatloaf to be. The ground pork helps to add a little more fat back into the mix.
- 1/2 cup rolled oats. You can use breadcrumbs, but oats add more fiber.
- One small onion, diced.
- One carrot, peeled and diced.
- Two eggs.
- Two tablespoons soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce, plus more for glaze.
- 1/4 cup ketchup, plus more for glaze.
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley.
- 1/2 teaspoon or so each salt, white pepper, black pepper, dried basil, oregano, paprika, cumin.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Pour everything in a large bowl. Mix with your hands until fully incorporated. Press the mixture into an oiled loaf pan, with a low crown in the center. Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes.
In a small bowl, thin a couple tablespoons of ketchup with a teaspoon or two of soy sauce or Worcestershire sauce.
After 45 minutes, check the temperature of the loaf by inserting the thermometer into the center of the loaf, halfway down. It should be about 120 degrees. If it’s not, put the loaf back in for another 10 minutes or so.
Once internal temperature reaches 120 degrees, take out the loaf and remove the foil. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees. With a barbecue brush (I recommend a silicone one), brush the top of the loaf with the ketchup glaze, thickly coating the loaf. Return the loaf to the oven, uncovered, and bake for 20-30 more minutes, checking the temperature every 15 minutes or so.
Once internal temperature reaches 150-155 degrees, remove from the oven, recover with foil, and let rest for 10 minutes. Internal temperature will increased another 5-10 degrees during this rest period as the juices redistribute. You want to shoot for an internal temperature of about 160 for pork/beef and 165-170 for poultry-based meatloaves.
I know it sounds like a lot of instruction, but remember most of this work is unattended, freeing you up to wash the dishes, read the paper, or surf for Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman slash fiction in the mean time.