Meatloaf is perhaps the classic comfort food, but is often associated with colder months when our bodies crave hearty fare with gravy and roasted vegetables. But I made some meatloaf this weekend and found it just as delicious and satisfying as ever.
Recipes for meatloaf are everywhere. It is a pretty forgiving foodstuff so naturally the Internet is full of preposterous variations, granny recipes and family secrets. I typically use a basic recipe from a cook book with minor variations. Try Joy of Cooking or How to Cook Everything for starters.
Everything else I do focuses on developing a really fine, flavorful crust.
Resist the urge to cover your meatloaf with slices of bacon while baking. While a bacon-infused loaf sounds tempting, keep in mind that the crust is the best part. Bacon will taste good but underneath you will just have a mushy, soft surface.
I repeat: Leave off the bacon.
Secondly, do not stuff your meat mixture into a loaf pan. Rather, use a sheet tray with edges and line it with foil or parchment. Use your hands to mold the meatloaf into shape. This way the sides are exposed and develop a crust. But why stop there? You see, I’ve found that making four or more smaller loaves as opposed to one large one increases the percentage of crust as well. If you make them into single portion sizes, there will be no slicing required.
I believe that a good glaze is an essential element of meatloaf crust. Some folks use ketchup which is fine and dandy, while others use a grape jelly base which is kind of gross. Feel free to experiment with glaze concoctions, keeping in mind that it must have a high percentage of sugar in order to get sticky and caramelized. Recently I used a combination of ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, sugar and hot sauce which turned out great. Don’t apply the glaze until halfway through cooking, otherwise you run the risk of it burning.
Nice crust. Photo by Girl Interrupted Eating on Flickr.
Having smaller loaves does decrease the cooking time somewhat, so you will have to be vigilant and flexible in determining when it’s finished cooking. Meatloaf is great leftover–even cold–so be sure to make plenty of it. I have found it’s even good for breakfast.
Do you have tips and tricks for making meatloaf? Or an old family recipe? Let’s hear them.