If you grew up in what the politicians call Middle America, you are no doubt familiar with meatloaf. It’s usually mentioned as the height of culinary mediocrity, the unimaginative, badly cooked Tuesday night dinner of 1950s housewives. The fifties did produce some horrible food in this country, no question: in fact, there’s an awesome web site that specializes in it.
But meatloaf gets a bad rap. Yes, it’s disgusting if you’re just pouring ketchup over hamburger, but done property it can be a delicious, complex and comforting dish. Give this simple recipe a try and tell me I’m wrong.
I used Alton Brown’s method for this meatloaf, but the ingredients are mine. I should also, in the interests of full disclosure, admit that I really, really hate ketchup. I realize that this is a shocking admission for a Pittsburgher, but it’s true. I’ve never been able to stand it, my whole life. I don’t know, maybe I was permanently scarred by those big vats of nasty they used to serve in the school cafeteria. So instead of the traditional ketchup-and-Coke glaze, I’ve updated this meatloaf with a delicious spicy-sweet tomato sauce. It’s got a bit of vinegar to make it tangy, like ketchup, but the taste is livelier and more complex than you get with ketchup. Screw ketchup.
(I really wish I could stop typing this as “meatload.”)
For the meatloaf:
1 1/2 lbs ground beef*
7 slices white bread, potato bread, or plain gluten-free bread (the Whole Foods GF sandwich bread works well)
1 small onion, chopped
3 whole cloves garlic
1 pinch cayenne pepper
2 pinches sage (I used dried, but fresh would be better)
1 generous pinch salt
1 pinch fresh ground black pepper
For the glaze:
About 1 lb crushed tomatoes
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp molasses
2 tsp red wine vinegar
*Alton recommends a mixture of chuck and sirloin; we used chuck from Haldeman’s Foods at the Reading Terminal Market. Definitely use high-quality, fresh ground beef.
Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.
Tear up the bread and put it in the food processor with the sage, pepper and cayenne. Blend until you have bread crumbs. Empty into a bowl and put the chopped onion and garlic into the processor. Don’t quite puree it– leave it a bit chunky.
In a large bowl, mix the onion mixture, the bread crumbs, the salt and the egg into the meat with your (clean, please) hands. Mix thoroughly but don’t squeeze too hard.
Press the mixture into a 10-inch loaf pan to shape it, and then turn it out onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Insert a probe thermometer into the meat at a 45-degree angle, so that the end of the probe is in the center of the meatloaf. Set the thermometer to go off at 155 degrees, and bake.
In the meantime, heat the crushed tomatoes in a pan over medium heat. Add the garam masala, vinegar and molasses and stir in. Lower heat and bring slowly to a boil. Turn off heat and let cool for a minute, then pour into a measuring cup or other good pouring vessel. After the meatloaf has been cooking for ten minutes (by which time it should start to have a bit of a brown crust) pour the glaze onto it and brush it over the meatloaf so it’s covered. Be generous- it’s okay to have a big thick layer on top.
When the center is at 155 degrees, take the meatloaf out and let it cool for a few minutes before slicing (a bread knife works well for this). Serve with garlic mashed potatoes.
Joe’s Garlic Mashed Potatoes
5 smallish Yukon Gold potatoes
2 cloves garlic
3 tbsp butter
Fresh herbs (we used parsley and sage), chopped finely
A splash of half-and-half (optional, for texture)
Peel, dice and boil the potatoes, then mash them in a bowl. Add a splash of truffle oil, the butter, the half-and-half and the herbs. In the meantime, slice the garlic and brown the slices in olive oil in a small pan. When it starts to get brown, turn off the heat. Drain the garlic oil into the potatoes. Chop the garlic slices and fold into the potatoes.
By the way, the leftover meatloaf makes really good sandwiches– we made this with a week’s worth of lunches in mind!