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See also: More Meatloaf Recipes
I met the rock star Meat Loaf at an autograph signing when I was a teenager. Back then the famous “Bat out of Hell” album was my initial association to the term “Meatloaf.” Almost three decades later my first thought is now ground beef. I like to think that’s a function of my culinary calling and not my age.
Meatloaf is one of the classic American comfort foods even though it’s not indigenous to America. Most cultures have some form of ground meat concoction. Throughout history man has combined ground meats with seasonings, fruits, bread and grain products, vegetables, etc. The first recorded recipes for meatloaf originate in the Roman Empire.
Meatloaf has always been popular for three reasons. First, the meats employed were typically the scraps or less desirable parts of the animal’s carcass. This meant that meatloaf was a cheap source of protein. Second, meatloaf, like stews and soups, was an efficient way of using up miscellaneous food items prior to spoilage. Finally, by incorporating other ingredients, you could stretch out your limited meat supply.
Traditional American meatloaf has its roots in the 19th century. However, it wasn’t until the 20th century that meatloaf truly made its mark on the American culinary landscape. It owes that fame to scientific progress. Modern technology enabled meat packers to cost effectively produce ground meat on a large scale basis. Moreover, the use of in-home refrigeration rose sharply at that time. Ground meat, which has a much shorter shelf life, now had a wider window of usability.
Ground meat, as opposed to steaks and roasts, has more surface area that can be exposed to bacterial contaminants. This is accentuated by the processing it undergoes. A steak is basically cut from a larger piece of the carcass, wrapped and put in the display case. Ground meat is a hodgepodge of smaller pieces from multiple locations in the slaughter house that are then run through a meat grinder. Thus, it has more opportunity to become infected.
Because bacteria are more likely to be present in ground beef, it is recommended that you keep ground beef for no longer than 2 days in the fridge, and 3-4 months in the freezer. The FDA recommends cooking ground beef to 155 degrees and the USDA to 160 degrees, both in the well done range. I gotta tell you, I’ve been eating medium rare ground beef all my life, (which isn’t that short a span of time considering I met Meat Loaf at the pinnacle of his career), and I have never gotten sick. Plenty of other people have done so as well without disastrous results. The point is, if less-than-well-done meat was as dangerous as the germaphobes would have us believe, we’d all be dead by now. Obviously there’s a kernel of truth to their concerns but I believe the fear is out of proportion to the reality. You need to decide what’s best for you but you’ll never catch me cooking any animal flesh, (other than chicken), to 160 degrees.
There are probably more variations to meatloaf than any other recipe in the world. Some recipes call for just beef while others use a combination of beef, pork, and veal. You can use regular ground beef, (which is a myriad of meat scraps), or ground chuck. Many prefer the latter for better flavor. Some use breadcrumbs while others use fresh bread. Many employ tomatoes, sweet glazes, and much to my chagrin, ketchup. Yuk! Two items that most recipes have in common are bread and eggs. The bread serves to extend the meatloaf and with the egg facilitates the binding of the loaf. Eggs also add some unctuousness.
I think meatloaf should be meaty, rich, and moist. With those parameters in mind I present you:
1 ¾ lbs. 90% lean ground beef
2 oz. olive oil plus extra for cooking
6 oz. beef stock plus extra for drizzling
½ cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
½ cup plain bread crumbs
A hefty handful of chopped fresh parsley
Generous sprinkling of kosher salt and black pepper
Mix all of the ingredients in a bowl and place on an oiled sheet pan. Form a uniform rectangle 1 ½ - 1 ¾ inches in height. Place into a 350 degree oven. I remove it when the internal temperature has reached 140 degrees which is medium. Heat the remaining beef stock to a simmer and drizzle over slices of the meatloaf. This is one of the few times I would ever recommend this but if you don’t have homemade beef stock I sometimes use a can of Franco American or Campbell’s au jus. (I can hear my fellow chefs gasping in horror). The proportion of meat to breadcrumbs in this recipe will produce a meatier meatloaf. The eggs and olive oil provide richness and moisture. The stock adds flavor and moisture. Should you choose to cook your meat in excess of 140 remember, the more you cook it the drier it will be. You’ll still have meaty and rich, but not as moist. Oh well. Two out of three ain’t bad.
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