Kitchen Focus

When I think of comfort food, meatloaf comes to mind. There's something old fashioned and simply beautiful about a simple meal that can be all things to all people. And the great news is that if you can master meatloaf, you've also got meatballs, sauces and a wide variety of other dishes that can benefit from a savory seasoned meat mixture.

The key to good meatloaf is keeping it moist without getting it watery. Achieving this can be as simple as choosing a proper ground meat, sweating vegetables before adding them, and/or cooking the meatloaf in the proper fashion. How do you insure these things? Here's the place to look for some hints and tips for meatloaf nirvana:

  • Choosing a ground meat that is extra lean will often result in a dry end result. However, a very high fat meat will simply swim in the fat that drips away during baking. I like to use a ground meat that is labeled 85% lean. If you choose one that is higher fat, you should form the loaf and bake it on a rack to allow fat to drip away. If you choose one that is lower in fat, you should consider adding ingredients to add moisture to the mix, like sautéed onions, barbecue sauce or beaten eggs.
  • If you are adding vegetables -- such as carrots, zucchini or onion -- to your meatloaf, do yourself a favor and sauté them before adding them to your meatloaf mixture. Vegetables tend to hold a lot of water in them and that water is released during the cooking process. By sautéing before adding the vegetables, you allow them to "sweat" off a lot of their liquid. You also concentrate the flavors, which is an added bonus!
  • How you cook your meatloaf matters. Part of the process depends on the type of meat used -- the higher the fat content, the more important a baking method that allows fat to drip away will be. Also, if you are baking a lower fat meatloaf, it will benefit enormously from a flavorful glaze. Generally speaking the lower the fat content, the earlier the glaze should be applied and the thicker is should be applied.

Of course, it would be a little mean to have all this talk of meatloaf without a good recipe. So here's one I enjoy regularly:

Classic Meatloaf

  • 1 cup of finely chopped onion
  • 1 celery rib, chopped fine
  • 1 Tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 carrot, chopped fine
  • 1/2 cup of finely chopped scallion
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 tsp salt (use 1 1/2 teas if using Italian sausage)
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
  • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2/3 cup ketchup
  • 1 1/2 pounds of ground chuck
  • 3/4 pound of spicy ground pork sausage
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1/3 cup minced fresh parsley leaves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large heavy skillet cook the onion, garlic, celery, carrot, and scallion in the butter, over moderate heat, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Cover and stir occasionally until the carrots are tender, about 5 more minutes. Stir in the salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and 1/3 a cup of the ketchup. Cook for 1 more minute.

In a large bowl, combine the meats, eggs, bread crumbs, vegetables, and parsley. Form the mixture into a loaf and put it into a rectangular baking pan with 2 inch high sides. Cover the loaf with the remaining ketchup.

Bake the meat loaf in the preheated oven for 1 hour.

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 90 minutes

If there's a topic that you'd like to see covered in this column, let me know. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at .