Knowing that meatloaf has the ability to conjure up images of grey spongy mystery meat or Will Ferrell in a cheap silk smoking jacket screaming his head off, coming to you exalting it’s praises is a bit risky. It’s also a bit risky to ask you to make a ‘loaf’ made of meat when around here lately, it’s been all about things like broccoli, carrots, lentils, and tofu.
But alas, here I am doing exactly that anyway, breaking all the healthy rules that I’ve promised to adhere in the 24 days that have passed since one crystal ball dropped down in one very famous square.
Resolutions, schmezolutions. Don’t judge me.
It’s just that it’s been cold out and, well – I really love meatloaf; that poor ill-labeled classic whose name in itself is almost hard to say without cringing. I think whoever came up with that nondescript moniker should be fired – it leaves too much to the imagination, in my opinion. I want to know what ‘meat’ is in my loaf.
Am I right here?
In this case, there is no mistaking the provenance of the meat: there is organic beef, organic pork, and organic veal. Though I can’t sit here with a straight face and even attempt to tell you that something made of meat, bound with eggs, studded and blanketed with bacon, and then glazed in a salty sweet mixture of vinegar and ketchup is exactly health food, I can sit here and tell you how amazing a thick warm slice of this meatloaf tastes on a freezing cold January night: positively perfect.
This is not your average dense and one-tracked meatloaf – oh no. This freeform meatloaf is light and airy, with grass fed beef, pork, and a bit of tender veal, and speckled with silky bits of thick cut bacon which while cooking melt into the filling and help keep it moist. The bright orange and green specks of soft sauteed carrots and celery add flavor without any crunch, and both onion and garlic hold court in the background, neither overpowering or overbearing.
So even though we are still eating plenty of things that are green, crunchy, and saintly in their nutritional accolades, occasionally I need to revert back to something tried and true: something that makes the house smell like a home, something perfect for the family dinner table, something that lends itself to being eaten while wearing a pair of broken in slippers. (Or, you know, a cheap smoking jacket.)
Served with a pile of mashed yams or potatoes, this is comfort food at it’s finest.
Rustic Country Meatloaf
Serves 6, heartily
I’ve been making this rustic and rich meatloaf for years, and think it strikes the perfect balance between familiar yet fresh. The key here is to try and get good quality meat; ground beef, pork, and veal is much less expensive than whole cuts, and getting good quality organic meat will make a difference you can taste. If you are feeling particularly inspired, you could even grind your own.
I like to put a splash of fish sauce in my meatloaf; I think it adds that certain savory-umami flavor that I love so much. If you don’t have any, you can omit it without any ill effects – it will still be absolutely delicious.
I prefer this free-form style of meatloaf; the air can circulate around the loaf ensuring it cooks more evenly, it’s easier to slice, and the fat that inevitably comes out of the loaf can come out and flow to the sides (versus sitting in the fat if it was cooked in a deeper pan).
3/4 lb ground beef (grass fed if possible)
3/4 lb ground pork (organic, if possible)
1/4 lb ground veal (organic, if possible)
6 slices bacon (thick cut if possible)
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 celery ribs, finely chopped
1 white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs (I like to use whole wheat)
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp fish sauce (optional)
1/3 cup ketchup + additional for serving
2 tsp sea salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup ketchup
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp honey
Preheat oven to 375°F. Make the glaze: in a medium bowl, whisk together the ketchup, balsamic, and honey. Reserve to the side. Line a shallow baking sheet with rimmed sides with parchment paper (this will make cleanup much easier; you can however skip this step if you like).
In a large heavy skillet over medium heat, melt the tablespoon of butter with the tablespoon of olive oil. Cook the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in the butter and oil, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened and fragrant and the onion is translucent, about 8 minutes. While the vegetables cook, take 3 of the slices of bacon and cut them into a small dice. When the vegetables are done, let them sit for a couple of minutes off the heat to allow them to cool slightly.
In a large bowl, combine the ground beef, ground pork, and ground veal, breaking each compacted ball of meat apart into smaller chunks as you place it into the bowl to make it easier to combine. To the ground meat, add in the diced bacon and cooked vegetables, and then add in the beaten eggs, the breadcrumbs, the ketchup, the Worcestershire sauce, the fish sauce (if using), and the salt and pepper.
Using your hands, gently work through the mixture to combine it; you’ll want to use a gentle hand, as mushing and mashing the meat too much will make the meatloaf dense and heavy. Work your hands lightly through until the mixture is evenly combined.
Heat the skillet that you just cooked the vegetables in over medium-high heat. Take a small pinch of the meatloaf mixture, and fry it until it is cooked through. Taste it, and adjust seasoning to the rest of the meatloaf mixture (salt & pepper) as needed. This will ensure that your end product is not an under-seasoned surprise.
In the parchment lined baking pan, gently form the meat mixture into an oval shaped loaf, about 10 inches long and 5 inches wide. Slice the remaining 3 bacon strips in half lengthwise, so that you have 6 skinnier bacon strips. Lay the bacon strips over the meatloaf in a crosshatch pattern.
Using a pastry or marinade brush, brush the reserved glaze over the meatloaf. Bake the meatloaf at 375F for 1 hour, glazing with the remaining glaze twice, until the meatloaf is cooked through and registers 155F on a meat thermometer inserted in the center.
When the meatloaf is cooked, remove it from the oven and let it rest for a few minutes before slicing. Gently remove the slices of bacon over the top, and discard (or snack on, or feed to the dog — or hovering husband). Take care when slicing – it will be on the more tender/crumbly side, and using a spatula to help you gently lift the slices onto plates is helpful. Serve immediately, with ketchup on the side.
Bake meat loaf in oven 1 hour, or until a meat thermometer inserted in center registers 155°F.