Meatloaf, an American tradition with deep roots

February 6, 2013 

Is there any recipe that shouts comfort food like meatloaf does?

This time-saving and affordable favorite has been around for generations and most of us think of it as iconic Americana, but in fact it is not.

The Romans made something resembling our meatloaf in the fifth century and almost every European country has a version of it as does the Middle East, where they call it kafta, and it is also popular in the Philippines and Vietnam.

There are so many recipes resembling meatloaf it would be a daring deed to say exactly where it came from.

The French pates and terrines are top contenders, but even the lowly meatball might have a connection.

Another possibility is the famous meat pie we associate with England morphed into our treasured meatloaf, but the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans enjoyed a pie filled with meat centuries before the Brits did.

It is perhaps best to let the history of this recipe lie. It does, however, seem fairly certain that the first American version of meatloaf came to us from the Pennsylvania Dutch who gave us scrapple, or as they would call it pon haus.

From that time to this, countless versions have been experimented with and many of them are very good indeed, but let's get one point straight -- meatloaf does not have to be the lowly incarnation found in school cafeterias and greasy spoons. This is a recipe that can shine, and you should be proud to serve it to your most finicky guest.

A few technical points should be touched on: meatloaf is generally molded by hand into, well, a loaf, but a mold can be used if you like. A mold makes for better presentation and gives you options other than a formless lump. A terrine is perhaps the best choice, giving you a long and not-so-thick shape.

If you want to get fancy you can cover your meatloaf in dough before cooking, making it resemble a pate en croute, or a pate wrapped in a pastry shell. A meatloaf can be made with finely ground ingredients or if you want it more terrine like use course fixings.

As a general rule a meatloaf is at its very best when made with a variety of meats, with a mixture of beef and pork being the norm, but there is nothing wrong with adding veal, some

smoky bacon, diced sausage or even poultry.

The vegetables you can add make an almost endless list but be sure to include onions, bell pepper and garlic. Some think it best to sauté them first, but if you are in a rush you could skip that step.

Think of the presentation that could be achieved when you slice open a succulent meatloaf that has hidden inside whole boiled eggs, carrots, mushrooms, a delicious melted cheese and smoked ham.

Lastly make sure to plan your sides carefully. Mashed potatoes are certainly the all-time favorite, but that could be replaced with mashed sweet potatoes or just steamed jasmine rice. Think also about braised leek or cabbage and string beans tossed in a little olive oil, bits of crushed garlic and roasted along with the meatloaf for the last 15 minutes or so.

ROLLED STUFFED MEATLOAF

1 pound ground beef

1 pound ground pork (course ground like for chile)

2 raw eggs

1 cup panko bread crumbs

1 chopped onion

1 course chopped red bell pepper

4-6 toes chopped garlic

4 hardboiled eggs

3 medium sized carrots

6 slices best quality ham

6 slices cheese (best would be gruyere or other good melting cheese)

Black pepper, red pepper flakes, Italian seasoning

1 sheet wax paper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Chop the onions and bell pepper and sauté in a little oil for 5-6 minutes, then add the garlic, season well and cook 2 minutes longer. Combine the beef, pork, panko, two raw eggs and sautéed vegetables in a large bowl, season aggressively and combine thoroughly. Place the mixture on the wax paper and form into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Place the carrots about 1 inch from the edge and then roll the loaf (think of rolling a cigarette) one turn, add the ham and cheese and roll again, next add the hard boiled eggs and finish rolling up the loaf. Press the edges together to seal.

Place the meatloaf carefully in an oiled sheet pan and place in the hot oven. Roast for 15 minutes then reduce the heat to 300 degrees. Total cooking time will vary but should not exceed 1-and-one-half hours. Pierce with a thin-bladed knife to see if the juices run clear. Let rest 10 minutes or so before serving.

CHEF CONNIE POKEY BENNETT'S FAMOUS MEATLOAF

Chef Bennett commands the kitchen at Big Mike's Speakeasy in Gulfport, Miss., and has been a chef for more than 20 years. He graciously agreed to share his meatloaf recipe, which is his Thursday special.

1 pound ground beef

1/2 cup shredded pepperoni

2/3 cups chopped onion

1/2 cup chopped celery

1/3 cup chopped green bell pepper

2 eggs

1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs

1 tablespoon dried basil

2 tablespoons hot sauce

4 tablespoons parmesan cheese

1 tablespoon Worcestershire

2 pinch salt

2 pinch black pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all of the ingredients and form into a loaf. Place on an oiled sheet pan and bake for 1 and-one-half hours. Top with homemade gravy and mashed potatoes.

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