Wife Jan suggested that I haven’t made meatloaf recently, so I thought I would throw one together. I first learned to make meatloaf from my mother Claudia, but I have moved far awat from that beginning. Jan has been pushing me to add more vegetables to my dishes, so I planned to make this one more “loaf” and less “meat.”
My mother would add rolled oats to her loaf as a “meat stretcher. With five hungry kids and a tight budget, she was always looking for ways to make much of little. However, there are more reasons than economy to add starch to a meatloaf. One secret to a really tender meatloaf is to use a panade—this is a starch mixed with a liquid used to bind the meat together.
In the past, I had always thought that all you had to do was to add the dry bread crumbs and the milk to the meat and the binding would take care of itself. However, soaking the bread and milk together—before adding them—turns out to be an important step. The milk unlocks the starch molecules, so that they can recombine during cooking to bind the ground meat together.
Today, I decided to take this idea one step further. In the past, I have added a whole egg—as a second binder—just before mixing the meat. I thought that adding the egg to the panade would also break up the proteins in the egg—allowing them to combine more evenly during baking. As a finally though along these lines, I wondered if marinating the meat for a while might increase the flavor of end result. So into the panade went some Worcestershire sauce and spices followed by a brief resting period.
Karl’s Weekday Meatloaf
¼ cup bread crumbs
⅓ cup milk
1 large egg
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
½ tsp. thyme
½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. marjoram
¼ tsp. black pepper, cracked
2 Tbs. butter
1 cup onion, finely diced
1 cup celery, finely diced
¼ tsp. Kosher salt
1 cup leek, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. thyme
½ tsp. marjoram
½ tsp. black pepper, cracked
¼ cup dry sherry
¾ lb. ground beef (15%)
1. Put the bread crumbs in a small bowl and stir in the milk.
Tip: Grate the dried ends of sour dough and sweet French baguette loaves into fine crumbs.
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. Add the egg, Worcestershire sauce, and seasonings and whisk them together well.
3. Set the bowl of bread mixture aside for 10 minutes, so that the crumbs can completely soak up the milk.
Tip: The milk and egg the mixture should be a soft paste.
Note: You want to break the egg up fairly finely, so mix the ingredients together well.
4. Melt the butter in a medium pan, over medium high heat, and sauté the onions and celery with the salt until they are just starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.
Note: My mother just threw the raw vegetables into the meat and trusted the baking to cook them through. By sautéing the vegetables first you both drive off some of the excess liquid in the vegetables and also add some of the good flavors of the Maillard reaction to your meat loaf.
5. Add the leeks and continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, another 4-5 minutes.
6. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center for one minute, until fragrant.
7. Add the tomato paste to the garlic and continue cooking and scrapping until the tomato paste has started to darkened, about three minutes.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the herbs, pepper, and sherry.
Tip: the sherry does three things, it add its own flavor, it rehydrates the dried herbs, and finally it helps cool the mixture, so that it does not cook the egg when you add it to the meat.
9. Put the beef in a large bowl and break it apart with a knife.
Tip: Meat is mostly protein and if you mix it too much the strands of protein will link together to make a tough, dense meatloaf. By breaking apart the beef you are letting the other ingredients in between the pieces of meat without working the strands together.
10. Scatter the panade and vegetable mixture over the meat.
11. Mix the ingredients together well.
Note: You are doing a balancing act when you mix your meat and vegetables. While the starches and vegetables keep the meat proteins from linking up they are also making bonds of their own. You want to mix enough to have enough bonds to hold your loaf together without compacting it into a solid sausage.
12. Pam a lipped baking sheet and a large bread loaf pan well.
Tip: My mother always baked her meatloaves directly in the bread pan. As a result only the top of the mat was exposed to the dry oven heat to brown. My family prefers that I turn the loaf out onto a baking sheet, so that five of the six sides get brown and crusty. (See Maillard reaction)
Note: Lining the baking sheet with aluminum foil is a connivance for clean up, but is an ecologically unsound practice.
13. Pack the meat mixture into the loaf pan.
Note: If you are not in a hurry, cover the meat with a sheet of plastic wrap and set the loaf in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes to marinate.
14. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and turn the meatloaf out onto the baking sheet.
15. Put the meatloaf in a 375º F oven and bake 40-65 minutes.
Note: How long you need to cook the meatloaf depends on its thickness, bake until the internal temperature reaches 160 º F.
16. Remove the loaf from the oven and cover it with aluminum foil to rest.
17. Slice the meatloaf into ¾ inch slices and serve with parsley potatoes.