For many, meat loaf tops the list of comfort-food favorites. It does for our family. Quick to mix and make, easy to bake, meat loaf is a simple recipe. As with many such seemingly foolproof recipes, a lot can go wrong.
If the meat is too lean, the meat loaf is dry and crumbly. If the meat is too fat, the meat loaf can come out of the oven swimming in grease. So I recommend ground sirloin that is 90% lean and 10% fat.
If there is not enough flavor added to the mixture, the meat loaf comes out bland and colorless. If there is too much strong flavor added, the baked meat loaf tastes like anything but meat. Consider, for example, too much fresh or dry garlic, too much black or hot red peppers, too much molasses or sweetener, and too much barbecue sauce or ketchup. Over the years I have developed a recipe with, I believer, just the right flavor balance.
If the binder used in the mixture, usually breadcrumbs, is too much, the baked meat loaf will be starchy, more loaf than meat. And if the binder used is too little, the baked meat loaf will fall apart when it is sliced. So the correct ratio of binder to meat is essential. I don’t like oatmeal as a meat loaf binder because it has a tendency to still look and taste like oatmeal when baked. Breadcrumbs, of course, are perfect, but not gluten free. There are many gluten-free binders (see recipe Variations), and one of my all-time favorites is gluten-free restaurant style corn chips pulverized in the food processor. One quart of chips yields 1 cup of fine crumbs.
Last, but not least, if the meat loaf mixture is baked in an enclosed pan, the fat released (and there will be fat) will pool in the pan and the meatloaf will be bathed in rendered fat—yuck.
If the meat loaf is shaped by hand and baked on a rack to allow the fat to drip down into the pan beneath, the hand-shaped meat loaf has a tendency to break apart and develop cracks because the sides of a loaf pan help preserve that nice rectangular structure we know and love. I wholeheartedly recommend a two-piece meat loaf pan, widely available at kitchen stores and online from kitchen catalogs. My favorite is Chicago Metallic nonstick meat loaf pan set.
A meat loaf pan measures about 9½ by 5½ by 3½ inches deep. The rectangular metal pan has an insert with two handles that rests about an inch above the bottom of the pan. The insert bottom is perforated with many holes, which allow the fat to drip down into the bottom where it never touches the meatloaf. If you make meat loaf often I’ll wager you will use this pan every time.
Enough said. Let’s make meat loaf.
- 2 ½ pounds of ground sirloin, 90% lean, 10% fat
- 1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce (about 7/8 cup)
- 2 large eggs
- ¼ cup dried onion
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup fine crumbs from restaurant-style GF taco chips
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly spray a 2-piece meat loaf pan set with nonstick cooking spray.
- In a large bowl, add meat, tomato sauce, eggs, onion, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, vinegar, sugar and salt. Stir very well with a large spoon until completely mixed.
- In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulverize taco chips to fine crumbs.
- (1 quart of chips yields 1 cup of crumbs. You will need 1/2 cup; freeze the rest.)
- Mix well. Pack mixture into meat loaf pan and smooth the top.
- Bake until cooked through, 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hour, and an instant-read thermometer inserted in the middle reads 160°F. Remove from oven. Remove insert from pan.
- Transfer meat loaf to a flat-bottomed platter or cutting board. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.
- Serve with baked or mashed potatoes, salsa or ketchup, and a green salad.
Variations: Substitute ground turkey for beef. Substitute meat loaf mix (beef, pork and veal) for beef. Substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs for taco chip crumbs. Substitute mashed, cooked white rice for taco chip crumbs.
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