With Summer rapidly drawing to a close, I feel the call of some of my favorite cold-weather dishes beckoning me to cover the grill and come back to the oven. Slow-braised meat dishes, roasted root vegetables, all kinds of pies, both sweet and savory. Oh, how I’ve missed them!
While I do dread the end of Summer and the imminent return of cold weather, my heart is lifted by the seemingly endless bounty of the Autumn produce to come. In my opinion, Fall is the best season for stick to your ribs comfort food, including that American classic: meatloaf.
Meatloaf evokes a certain child-like nostalgia whenever I think about it. Some of my favorite nights as a kid were the nights where my mom would pull a big, steaming hot meatloaf out of the oven for all of us boys. What most people may not realize is that meatloaf came about as a way to put meat on the table after stretching it a bit in order to keep the cost down.
Meatloaf in its first iteration appeared as early as the 5th century. American meatloaf has its origin in scrapple, a dish made of ground pork served in Pennsylvania by German-Americans since colonial times. According to the food historian Andrew Smith, the first modern American meatloaf recipe was published in the late 1870’s. (Frank Bruni/Jennifer Steinhauer, Bon Appetit, 3/6/2017) Now while meatloaf has had almost infinite iterations throughout the years, I think the ketchup-laden version of the late 19th century is the one that we all know and love.
Everyone has a favorite meatloaf recipe (probably their mom’s) that is their go-to, and some people may even have a few different versions. I make at least three different kinds of meatloaf. I make the semi-traditional, an Asian version which is ground pork with the addition of Asian spices and aromatics, and a Mexican version which has a lot of cumin and gets some extra spice from the addition of some browned chorizo sausage. While I do love all of these versions of this comfort food classic, my favorite is the good-old American version. However, I do make a few minor adjustments to better suit my taste.
The traditional meatloaf recipe has a few things in common: the addition of ketchup for a bit of sweetness and tang, Worcestershire sauce for an extra kick of umami, eggs and breadcrumbs. While my recipe certainly adheres to all of these prerequisites I do go a bit further and add some things I enjoy for flavor that I think work really well. For instance, I add a fair bit of yellow mustard for some color and an extra punch of sharpness. I also like to add a bit of hot sauce for some heat which I think is almost a necessary component as I do love a bit of heat! The spice also helps to balance out the sweetness of the ketchup.
I also like to add a good amount of BBQ sauce. I find that the bbq sauce adds another level of sweetness to the dish as well as bringing some much needed acid to a dish that is considerably rich. The most glaring difference in my meatloaf is that I add ground pork instead of using all beef as is the universal standard. I find that the pork adds yet another level of flavor with its natural sweetness and slightly higher fat content. It also helps to yield a softer meatloaf.
The most important difference in my meatloaf recipe is that I shape the meatloaf free-form on a sheet pan. Do not use a loaf pan! The loaf pan does not allow the fat that renders out of the ground meat to be released. Instead it keeps the fat contained within the loaf pan which leads to a soggy, greasy meatloaf.
Also, since moisture inhibits caramelization, the meatloaf is unable to achieve that signature glaze and those end pieces that are a little crustier than the rest and which I absolutely love. So the next time you are in the mood for some real, old-time, classic American comfort food, think of meatloaf. It won’t let you down.
If you are interested in more comfort food recipes, be sure to check out our upcoming Steakhouse DIY hands-on class on Thursday, September 26 at 7pm at The Chopping Block in Lincoln Square. We hope to see you there!
All American Meatloaf
1 pound ground chuck
1 pound ground pork
1 green bell pepper, small dice
1 red bell pepper, small dice
1/2 red onion, small dice
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tablespoon yellow mustard
1 Tablespoon hot sauce (I used Louisiana hot sauce)
1/4 cup BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray’s)
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup ketchup, plus additional for glazing
2 cups Panko breadcrumbs
1 Tablespoon canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat a skillet over high heat.
2. Add oil and sauté peppers and onions until softened and caramelized, about 8-10 minutes.
3. Add garlic, cook an additional 2 minutes.
4. Remove mixture from heat, cool completely.
5. Preheat oven to 400.
6. Mix all ingredients in a large mixing bowl thoroughly but gently until well combined. Overmixing will lead to a tough meatloaf.
7. Form mixture into a loaf on a foil-lined sheet pan.
8. After 30 minutes remove meatloaf from oven and generously coat with ketchup.
9. Place meatloaf back in the oven for an additional 15 minutes or until the meatloaf registers 155 on an instant-read thermometer. (The meatloaf will carryover cook an additional 10 degrees or so.)
10. Allow meatloaf to rest 10 -15 minutes to allow the juices to redistribute.
11. Slice thick and serve with your favorite veggies and mashed or roasted potatoes. (recipe follows)
Roasted Mixed Potatoes
1 1/2 pounds baby potatoes, quartered (For this recipe, I used a mixture of red, yukon gold, and purple potatoes.)
1 Tablespoon canola oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Preheat oven to 400.
2. Place quartered potatoes into a mixing bowl.
3. Toss with oil and season to taste.
4. Place on a foil-lined sheet pan with one of the cut sides down to get them extra crispy.
5. Roast for about 30 minutes or until the potatoes are crispy and fork tender.