See the meatloaf, eat the meatloafSeptember 19, 2006
Meatloaf is a food product shrouded in mystery for me. It’s meat. But it’s also a loaf. There’s, like, bread and stuff in it. You can slice it like bread, but you can also eat it like a hamburger. Some people love it, and they wax nostalgic for their mom’s famous recipe. Some people despise it, holding it in the same esteem as the fruit cake they kick aside when they want the door to slam shut.
Like my husband, I never ate meatloaf as a kid. Shock. Horror. I even had a good mom; no, a great mom. Was this lack of meatloaf her one flaw, or a childhood nightmare she spared me from?
Well, judging from the magical meatloaf my husband has produced, maybe it’s the one teeny, tiny flaw my dear mother harbored. It’s true: She did not make meatloaf this good. (Actually, she did not make meatloaf at all.)
The meatloaf my husband made is hearty and thick; it has a lot in common with a good burger. But its texture is more complicated — spotted with vegetables, strewn with tortilla chips, and flavored with Southwestern spices — a mere burger isn’t an adequate comparison. When you add to that the meatloaf’s requisite toppings: fresh salsa, salsa verde and queso fresco, you have a piece de resistance — a loaf of meat for the ages. Or for me. To eat.
Read on for my hubby’s secrets, and fond memories of his similarly meatloaf-less childhood…
As a child, I never ate meatloaf. It was just something that was never served in my house; my only exposure to it was in the lunchroom cafeteria. So, as a kid, I either saw no meatloaf or saw meatloaf in its worst incarnation.
It wasn’t until I was an adult and started to cook that I began to see meatloaf’s potential as a flavor-filled, delicious red-meat delight. It has more substance then a mere hamburger, and you can add myriad flavors to it. And for people who didn’t grow up meatloaf-deprived as I did, when you say “meatloaf” to them, most have a fond affection for it.
This recipe is probably a variation on many classic meatloafs out there, but there are four things I think give it its distinct Southwestern credentials:
First, it has the spices — especially the cumin and chili power, which put that first layer of flavor and aroma on the meat.
Second, it has cilantro. If you’ve read many of our posts, I use this green herb in many places. I think it just reeks of good food. Personally, I use it infinitely more often then its doppelganger, parsley, because it has a vibrant flavor I think parsley lacks.
Third, I replace the breadcrumbs with tortilla chips. This gives the meatloaf a distinct flavor as the filler now brings a heavy, fried-corn smell and taste to the meat. The only caution I offer in this method is to control the amount of salt in the loaf. If you use something that has a very salty flavor, such as bagged tortilla chips, be sure to adjust the recipe.
Fourth is the sides of queso fresco and dueling salsas. They are not necessary, but they stand in for gravy or other condiments and serve to round out the flavor by bringing in more heat and texture.
These aspects really makes the meatloaf different from others I’ve seen over the years.
Southwestern Meat Loaf
1 lb. ground pork
3 ribs celery
1 medium red onion
1/4 cup fresh cilantro
3 cloves garlic
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 cup crushed tortilla chips
5 slices bacon
1 tbsp. cumin
1 tbsp. chili powder
1 tsp. coriander
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. fresh ground pepper
1/2 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. basil
1/2 tsp. dried mustard
1/2 tsp. paprika
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Note: I had a great test pair of test cooks make this recipe. Until they pointed this out to me, I didn’t appreciate that this is a large amount of meatloaf. When I designed this recipe, I had used it for dinner guests and the idea that I would make sliders for a later post. So I suggest if you are making this for a small group (4 or less) that you half the recipe and use about 2/3rds of the spice mix. My experiences is that spices need a certain level to have a kick and halving it will not do the dish justice.
1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
2. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients except the bacon. Yes, I said all the ingredients except the bacon — spices, too. Now combine them. I can here your mind going… how? Or with what? May I suggest those things at the end of your arms with the fingers? Just go right in, grab, squeeze and mix it up.
3. Once the mixture is completely integrated, it’s time to decide what sort of loaf you want. I use a loaf pan to give it a nice rectangular (loaflike) shape, but you can free form this by placing the mixture on a sheet pan and then sculpting it.
4. After forming it into the desired shape, layer the bacon over the top. The bacon serves as a flavor enhancer, but it will also help to keep the meat moist. This is important since you’ve used lean ground beef. If you free formed it on a sheet pan, you may need more bacon than the recipe calls for.
5. Place the loaf in the oven and bake for approximately 1 hour. If you have a thermometer, you are looking for an internal temperature of between 155F-160F.
6. After removing, let rest for approximately 15 min.