I don’t think I’ve ever made meatloaf the same way twice. As long as the Ol’ Curmudgeon likes it, I won’t worry about it. What is meatloaf? Well it’s a basic food staple.
From time immemorial, people have mixed meat with veggies, breads, thickeners and various spices, baked it in a loaf or patty, and served – sometimes with a sauce or gravy, sometimes without. They did this to stretch the meat in lean times, to use up bits of meat that otherwise might have been thrown out, and to make tough meats more digestible. In early times, the meat used was already cooked – usually leftovers – whereas now-a-days we tend to use a raw ground meat – either beef or pork, but lamb, chicken, turkey and veal can be used, also. Any meat, actually. Horse, anyone? Donkey? Goat? Yup. Any or all of the above!
What I do these days is get or make about 2 pounds of meatloaf mix – 1/3 ground beef, 1/3 ground pork, 1/3 ground veal. Add in 1-2 sweet Italian sausages removed from the casing. Do not mix, yet!! Now the variations begin! About 1/3 – 1 cup of bread crumbs. I’ve used – pulverized bread out of the loaf, crushed croutons, crumbled cornbread, prepared breadcrumbs from the grocery. I’ve used more, I ‘ve used less. In this case, less isn’t very good, and too much more is not very good, either. Just toss them in on top of the meat. Toss in 1-4 Tbsp of some kind of meat sauce – Heinz, Worcestershire, A-1, Lea and Perrins steak sauce, etc. I tend to use a thick, savory sauce, like Lea and Perrins Steak Sauce. Chop up some onions. About a quarter cup to half a cup is good. “Sweat” them before adding. I don’t add bell peppers, but some people do. If you add them, don’t add much, chop them up very finely, and “sweat” them before adding. Salt, pepper to taste. I use seasoned salt and lemon pepper. Only now do you mix – very lightly – just enough to get a semi-even distribution of all ingredients.
Precook, about half-way done, enough bacon to cover the top of the loaf. While the bacon is cooking, gently pack the meat into a loaf pan. Liberally cover the top with ketchup. I use Hunt’s – nice deep flavor, not too spicy, less likely to be “watery” than other brands. Once the bacon is about half-way done, lay the strips over the top.
Bake in a 350degF oven for about an hour, or until the meat is done in the center (145deg on meat thermometer).
The first night we have it, we just slice it and serve warm. We don’t like gravy on it, but others do. A flour gravy, a sausage gravy, brown gravy – whatever you like will work if you want gravy.
The next day, we slice thinly and make sandwiches with lots of mayo and sweet relish on them. I like some spicy dark mustard on mine; the Ol’ Curmudgeon does not. O well! To each his – or her – own!
Other things that can be done with meatloaf include rolling up into little dough-covered packets – pasta dough makes raviolis or Chinese gow gees (a type of Dum Sum), yeast dough makes pierogs or pasties, flatbread (pita) makes gyros, tortillas makes burritos, corndough covered with corn shucks makes tamales. Good for lunch pails. The meatloaf should be cooked before adding to these to avoid having food poisoning problems. Every culture seems to have some kind of meat roll.
Roll in packets of wonton skins and cook in chicken-miso stock, then deep fry – you have egg-rolls. (Leave out the meat, only use veggies, cook in miso stock, then deep fry – then you have spring rolls.)
Another delightful thing to do with a meatloaf mix is to roll it in softened cabbage leaves and cook all lined up and stacked in a deep pot (crock pot will do) with some vroth of some kind around it. Cabbage rolls are an Eastern European fave. Think Poland, the Ukraine, Russia, Slovakia, etc. Good with a generous dollop of sour cream on top!
Roll into little balls, cook in a skillet – voila! Meatballs! Add to some cream sauce or tomato sauce and serve over pasta – Spaghetti and Meatballs! Or, add to a savory brown sauce and – Hungarian meatballs.
It’s all the same stuff. And it’s all good, plain, basic, country cooking. Country French, country English, country Russian, country Chinese country – add your own geographic area.
To get it to where you like it requires experimentation. That’s something we have problems with in our “Mickie-D” society. We want to do it fast without playing around. Some people are actually fearful of experimenting in the kitchen. To them I say, put your fears aside and get your hands dirty!!