Wednesday, August 11, 2010

In Defense/Honor of Meatloaf

America's food culture over the past couple of decades has been shaped by the homecooking of other countries. A slew of chefs have risen to prominence by extolling the virtues of simple homemade fare from specific countries. Mario Batali has become a Crocs-wearing brand name through his commitment to the rustic pleasures of Italian cooking and Rick Bayless's tireless interest in Mexican country cooking has brought him his own frozen dinners. As Americans have come to enjoy restaurant renditions of the homey flavors of bolognese, bouillabaisse, and baklava, they have gradually downgraded the pleasures to be had in the American home kitchen. While we marvel as Batali makes a simple pasta dish with bread crumbs and anchovies, we roll our eyes at the mention of tuna noodle casserole.

Of course part of the reason that American homecooking is brushed aside is that it's oftentimes not very good (growing up in Minnesota, I've certainly had my share of bad casseroles--or "hot dish," as we say up there). That doesn't mean, though, that the foundation--slow cooking, choice pantry items, lots of meat--isn't strong. Case in point: meatloaf. When meatloaf is prepared thoughtfully, with a hand more liberal with herbs and spices than Betty Crocker's, it is a transcendently good meal. With an oily crust and a rich, juicy interior, meatloaf evokes the unfussy luxury of home as well as the sublime simplicity of fine dining. Sort of like a good bolognese.

In this recipe, I've supplemented the usual ground chuck with ground lamb and ground pork to provide a fuller meat flavor. For a moment, I thought about substituting pureed sun dried tomatoes for ketchup. Eventually, though, I concluded that, while many classic recipes deserve updating, there are some things you just don't mess with. Plus, I wanted my mom to continue talking to me.


1 lb ground lamb
1/2 lb lean ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
2 pinches chili flakes
3 pinches cumin seeds, crumbled (or ground cumin)
2 pinches all spice
2 pinches of coriander, crumbled
1/2 cup bread crumbs
healthy pour of olive oil
12 liberal dashes of worcestershire sauce
2 big spoonfuls of dijon mustard
1/4 cup of ketchup
1/2 cup of finely chopped parsley
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk, quickly beaten

1) Preheat oven to 375.

2) Heat skillet over medium heat and a good amount of olive oil--enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add chopped onions and sauté for 5 minutes or until the onions soften and turn translucent. (If the onions begin to brown, lower the heat).

3) Add minced garlic to the onions and saute for a minute then add chili flakes, cumin, all spice, and coriander and saute for a minute more. Stir in the bread crumbs and then turn off the heat. Transfer the onion-spice goodness to a mixing bowl.

4) Add the meat, eggs, parsley, worcestershire, ketchup, and mustard to the mixing bowl, plus two 3-finger pinches of salt and about 20 grinds of black pepper. Roll your sleeves up and plunge your hands into the meat melee. Mix well.

5) In a large baking dish, form the meat into a loaf shape that's roughly 3 inches high. Squirt the top of the loaf with ketchup and rub it along the top and the sides until the meat's covered in a red sheen. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until meat thermometer reads 155-160.