The Best Meatloaf

I wasn’t planning to make meatloaf, much less blog about it, but the wife forced my hand when I caught her putting ketchup on the shepherd’s pie I made over the weekend. Since that’s a sacrilege in my book, I decided to make her a real meatloaf that she could defile however she pleased. Ironically, the meatloaf I made was so delicious that she raved about the taste and balked at the notion of masking the flavor with a sugary condiment.

I’ve never been a fan of meatloaf. I refused to eat it growing up despite my mother’s insistence that it’s just like a really big meatball, which I love. I wasn’t fooled. I didn’t like mashed potatoes either, which made “meatloaf night” a routine battle that usually ended with me being sent directly to bed on an empty stomach. I had a bit of a stubborn streak back in the old days.

The wife really likes meatloaf. It’s a comfort food for her. I tried to make it once before and it didn’t work out. At all. I’ve gone to great lengths since then to make alternate dishes that are similar to meatloaf without resorting to cramming chopped-up animal muscle into a bread pan. But after ordering a pretty good version of meatloaf from Soby’s New South Cuisine in downtown Greenville, I decided that maybe I could learn to like meatloaf if I found the right recipe.

I chose a recipe from (now defunct) Gourmet Magazine when I realized how few of the reviews included additions or suggestions. That’s really rare. Plus, I had most of the ingredients in the fridge, so it seemed like a no-brainer.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup fine fresh bread crumbs (from 2 slices firm white sandwich bread)
  • 1/3 cup whole milk
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 medium celery rib, finely chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1/4 pound bacon (about 4 slices), chopped
  • 1/2 cup pitted prunes, chopped
  • 1 1/2 pounds ground beef chuck
  • 1/2 pound ground pork (not lean)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • Garnish: cooked bacon

PREPARATION

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle.

Soak bread crumbs in milk in a large bowl.

Meanwhile, cook onion, garlic, celery, and carrot in butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, 5 minutes. Cover skillet and reduce heat to low, then cook until carrot is tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, allspice, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper. Add to bread-crumb mixture.

Finely chop bacon and prunes in a food processor, then add to onion mixture along with beef, pork, eggs, and parsley and mix together with your hands.
Pack mixture into a 9- by 5-inch oval loaf in a 13- by 9-inch shallow baking dish or pan.

Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into center of meatloaf registers 155°F, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

The secret to this meatloaf is two very subtle flavors. You chop up some bacon in a food processor to add a salty, smoky flavor, and you mince some prunes to add a sweet under-tone. I didn’t take any pictures of the cooking process because I didn’t have a lot of faith that it would taste very good. Honestly, who puts prunes in meatloaf? Who besides the old folks in padded shoes even keeps prunes in the house?

I followed the instructions almost exactly. The only ingredients I substituted were my own homemade breadcrumbs (from my homemade bread) and heavy cream, since we were out of milk. Click here to see the cooking instructions.

The meatloaf is cooked free-form on a roasting pan so that a crust develops on all sides. The only step in the cooking process I changed was to switch the oven from bake (at 350°) to broil (at 350°) once the center of the meatloaf reached 140°. That helped to brown the top and build a better crust.

Once it’s done, you pour off the fat, let it cool for about ten minutes, and then serve. Look at how tender and moist it came out. I expected it to be greasy, but it wasn’t at all.

The wife swooned over this. She kept saying, “I can’t believe this is meatloaf. Meatloaf doesn’t taste this good.” She insisted that we make this more often and pleaded with me not to blog it so we can serve it to people and act coy about why our version tastes so much better than theirs. She has a grandmother that holds back key ingredients and instructions when she passes on recipes, and I think she wants a little revenge. But I know I’ll lose the recipe if I don’t put it on the site, so here it is.

The Best Meatloaf
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