It’s been four decades since The Rocky Horror Picture Show which gave us rock ‘n’ roll songs like Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul. That’s the one that unleashed upon us that remarkable singer, Meat Loaf.
Now, I’m pretty sure that Meat Loaf the singer was preceded by meatloaf the dish, but who can deny either’s profound impact on American culture?
You may not be crazy about Meat Loaf, but everyone should know how to make a good meatloaf, right? After all, it’s super easy to make a meatloaf that is super tasty – surely a useful skill when you need to feed a roomful of hungry folks.
The steps you take
This could easily be the shortest cooking method ever:
1. Combine all your ingredients.
2. Bake until done.
Of course, I’m just way too chatty to leave it at that, so let’s start with the ingredients.
First, there’s meat
(You probably saw that coming, didn’t you?) Ah, but what kind of meat? Well, what do you like, because you can make meatloaf out of just about anything that’s not extinct. Beef, veal, lamb, pork, turkey, mastodon. Wait a minute …! Regardless of the meat or combination of meats, you want your meatloaf to have the following two qualities: You want it to be moist, and you want it to be flavourful. Fortunately, both are easy to achieve.
To ensure a moist meatloaf, you need two things: fatty meat and an added starch. Lean meats, like ground turkey or 90% ground beef, can seem dry. Thus, I recommend either a fattier beef (like ground chuck) or adding some ground pork or minced bacon.
You’ll also need a starch, like breadcrumbs, uncooked oatmeal or what the French call a panade, a mix of torn-up bread and milk.
You add starch because the more you cook meat, the more juice is squeezed out of it as the protein nets tighten.
If your meatloaf were made out of meat alone, that juice would flow out of the meatloaf into the bottom of the pan, leaving it as dry as a Bob Newhart routine. The starch actually absorbs the juices, keeping your meatloaf moist.
If you’re using dried breadcrumbs or oatmeal, use about a third of a cup per 500g of meat with an equal to slightly less amount of milk. If you’re using torn bread slices, use about a cup, soaked in a third of a cup of milk, per pound of meat.
Now for the other ingredients
You’ll definitely need egg, roughly 1 per 500g of meat. The egg helps hold the whole thing together, making it easier to slice without crumbling like the hopes of a tone-deaf American Idol contestant.
Next, your flavouring ingredients. Aromatic vegetables like onion, carrot, green pepper or garlic are lovely.
Different chefs advocate variously for adding the ingredients raw or briefly sauteed. Raw is easier, although a brief sweating in oil or butter will bring added moisture to your meatloaf.
Other liquid ingredients like Worcestershire or soy sauce, ketchup or barbecue sauce, add flavour along with moisture. The first two, being more concentrated, would be added in smaller amounts – a tablespoon per 500g of meat – than the latter two, which could be added at maybe half a cup per 500g.
Other ingredients include herbs, spices, various cheeses, rice, mashed potatoes – you name it. Remember, it’s your meatloaf.
No matter how you flavour you meatloaf, be sure to add enough salt. Salt brings out all those flavours. Without it, your meatloaf will be as sad and tasteless as a clown funeral.
Add about a teaspoon for every 500g of meatloaf, a teaspoon and a half if you’re using kosher.
Finally, you can mix all your ingredients in a bowl just long enough to bring it together into a homogenous mass.
Before baking, cook a tablespoon of the mixture in a little fat in a hot skillet.
If you need to adjust any seasonings, do it now and fry another spoonful.
When it tastes good to you, mould the mixture on a parchment- or foil-lined baking sheet, or press it into a loaf pan (23x13cm or 9×5”) and bake in a 200°C oven until it’s 75°C in the centre, about an hour.
Then, let it rest in its fat for about 10 minutes or so to allow any liquid to soak back. That’ll give you the juiciest, most flavourful meatloaf this side of Meatloavia.
Oh, and don’t forget the leftovers: meatloaf sandwiches. Yum.
Here are a few ideas for improving your basic meatloaf
* Greek style: Half and half lamb and beef mixed with egg, breadcrumbs, 2 teaspoons dried oregano and 4 ounces crumbled feta cheese.
* Thai style: Half and half pork and turkey or chicken, egg, breadcrumbs, 1 to 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon each minced garlic and ginger, 2 tablespoons minced coriander, optional tablespoon bottled Thai curry paste.
* Southwestern style: Beef or half and half beef and pork, egg, crushed tortillas (in place of breadcrumbs), 1 1/2 cups fresh or canned corn, cumin, chilli powder, coriander, optional minced jalapeno. – Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service/James P. Dewan