Daughter Eilene’s friends are coming over and this means feeding a crowd—they still stay in the space they have created in the garage away from the “old folks.” Her friends have express a desire to not have the Asian food that they could get at home, so I decided on meatloaf. Good sides for this are parsley potatoes and green beans.
I first learned to make meatloaf from my mother Claudia, but I have moved far away from that beginning. Today I thought to use Herbs de Provence to give it a French flavor. Wife Jan pushes me to add more vegetables to my dishes, so I planned to make this one more “loaf” and less “meat.” Also, since it was going to have a French flavor, I thought throwing in a red pear would be an interesting idea.
My mother would always just throw the raw vegetables into the meat mixture—depending on the long cooking time to cook them through. This would sometimes lead to a “soggy” meatloaf, as the vegetables juices would not always steam away before the loaf was done cooking. I have taken to sautéing the vegetables to rid them of “excess liquids” as well as adding some flavorful vegetable fond—from the Maillard reaction. Today, I thought, “Why stop there?” Some bacon and a stray bratwurst made it into the mix.
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.
This birthday my family bought me a standing mixer. In the recipe book that can with it was using the machine to mixing meat—much cleaner that squishing it through your fingers like I have always done. This technique produces a well mixed meatloaf with no chunks of unmixed beef.
Karl’s Meatloaf Provincial
¼ cup bread crumbs
⅓ cup milk
1 large egg
1 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
3 slices bacon
1½ cups onion, finely diced
1½ cups celery, finely diced
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1½ cups leek, halved lengthwise and sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup dry sherry
1 Tbs. Better Than Bouillon, Roasted Beef Base
1 Tbs. Herbs de Provence
½ tsp. black pepper, cracked
1 red pear, peeled, cored, and finely chopped
1½ lb. ground beef (80%)
1 bratwurst, casing removed
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 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. Fry the bacon in a medium pan, over medium high heat.
Tip: You do not want to make typical “America crispy bacon.” You are just trying to render enough of the bacon fat to grease the pan for the vegetables.
Note: Remove the bacon while it is still “floppy” and—after it has cooled—chop it finely.
5. Sauté the onions and celery with the salt until they are just starting to pick up some color, about five minutes.
Note: By sautéing the vegetables you 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.
6. Add the leeks and continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, another 4-5 minutes.
7. Pull the vegetables to the sides of the pan and sauté the garlic in the hole in the center for one minute, until fragrant.
8. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sherry, beef paste, Herbs de Provence, pepper, and chopped pear.
Tip: the sherry does three things, it adds its own flavor, it re-hydrates the dried herbs, and finally it helps cool the mixture, so that it does not cook the eggs when you add it to the meat.
Note: I am sold on using Better Than Bouillon in my dishes. The beef paste especially gives you the umami flavor of browning the meat without actually having to take the time to do so. A word of caution though, these pastes are very salty—even the “low sodium” ones—using more than one tablespoon can cause you dish to turn out too salty.
9. Put the beef, bratwurst, and bacon bits into a large bowl and break it apart with a knife.
10. Scatter the panade and vegetable mixtures over the meat.
11. Mix the ingredients together well.
Tip: I have found that a standing mixer with the flat beater attachment makes quick work with this step.
Note: Meat is mostly protein and if you mix it too much the strands of protein will link together to make a tough, dense sausage-like meatloaf. There are enough vegetables in this dish to block the protein from linking up like this, so do not worry about over-mixing the meat.
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 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 and firm up.
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 60-75 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.