I made meat loaf recently and both Jan and Eilene complained that there was too much “loaf” and not enough “crusty bits.” To make up for this deficit, I decided to make mini-meatloaves. These would be small enough so that they would be all crusty end bits.
Why not make meatballs?—I can hear you thinking. First of all, meat balls are a bit fussy—measuring the sticky meat, so that they are all the same size, and rolling them into tight, compressed balls. If the meat mixture is too wet it can be hard to form into shape, too dry and they could cook into dense meat rocks. Finally, the best way to cook meat balls is in a skillet, rolling them around in batches to brown them on all sides. I wanted something that I could just stick in the oven and free me to make my other dishes.
I wanted an easier way. By scooping the meat into a mini-muffin pan all of my loves were exactly the same size. Also, it did not matter if the mixture was a bit over-moist, because it was held in place by the muffin tray cups. By par-cooking the loaves to set their shape, I turned them out onto a baking sheet. Broiling them after that produced crusty, but still tender, neat little loaves.
In the past, I thought all you had to do was to dump and mix the dry bread crumbs and other ingredients into the meat. Sometimes, this would produce a tough, dry loaf. I was reading about the mistakes to avoid when making meatloaf. One secret to a tender meatloaf is to use a panade—a starch mixed with a liquid. It is important to let your panade rest for awhile before adding it to the meat—the starch needs time to absorb and trap the liquid.
After Dinner Note: The panade kept these mini-meatloaves very tender, even though they were very dark and crusty.
¾ cup bread crumbs
1 cup milk
2 Tbs. olive oil
1½ cup onion, finely diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
½ cup celery, finely diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup tomato, finely diced
1 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. thyme
1 tsp. chervil
½ tsp. rosemary, ground
½ tsp. black pepper, cracked
¼ tsp. oregano
1 Tbs. dark soy sauce
¼ cup dry sherry
1 lb. ground beef (15%)
½ lb. ground pork
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 Tbs. parsley, chopped (optional)
1. Put the bread crumbs in a small bowl and stir in the milk.
Tip: Grating the dried ends of sour dough and sweet French baguette loaves into fine crumbs maker a good combination.
Note: Whenever I buy a loaf of bread the last few inches seem to end up on the shelf to dry out. When I have collected 3-4 of them, I grate them on a box grater and put the crumbs in a plastic bag in the freezer, until I need them for a recipe.
2. Set the bowl of bread aside for 15 minutes, so that the crumbs can completely soak up the milk.
3. Heat the oil in a medium pan, over medium high heat, and sauté the onions with the salt until just starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.
Note: My mother used to simply add the raw celery and onions to the meat. Besides guaranteeing that the vegetables are completely cooked, the pre-sautéing adds a great deal of flavor using the Maillard reaction.
4. Add the celery and continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, about 5-6 minutes.
5. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center for one minute, until fragrant.
6. Add the tomato and tomato paste to the garlic and continue cooking until the tomato has started to darkened, about three minutes.
7. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs, pepper, soy sauce and sherry.
8. Put the meats in a large bowl and mix in the panade, the mixture in the pan, and the eggs.
Tip: It is alright if this mixture seems a bit wet and loose
9. Pam a lipped baking sheet and a mini-muffin pan well.
Tip: For large mini meatloaves you could use a regular sized muffin pan.
10. Fill the muffin pan cups with the meat mixture just to the lip of the pan.
Tip: Do not pack the meat into the cups. You do not want any air pockets, but you also do not want to squeeze the mixture tightly together either.
11. Put the mini-muffin pan into a pre-heated 350º F oven and bake them for 20 minutes.
12. Remove the mini-muffin pan from the oven and set the baking sheet—upside down—over the muffin pan.
13. Flip the pans over together, and slam them down on the counter.
Tip: You are trying to free the formed and set meat loaves from the muffin pan.
14. Return the loaves on the baking sheet into the oven—on the middle rack, 6 inches from the broiling element.
15. Switch the oven to broil and broil the loaves for 15-20 minutes, until they are well browned.
Tip: To keep you meatloaves from overcooking while they are browning, prop the oven door open with a metal spoon.
Note: Professional cooks have a device called a salamander. This is an open ended broiler that allows the free flow of air through the oven. This lets them brown their dishes or melt a cheesy top without trapping the heat and overcooking their dish.
16. Transfer the mini-loaves to a serving platter.
Tip: You may garnish with some parsley.