How you can make meatloaf with the perfect texture
A tale of two meatloaf's
Meatloaf, no matter how you slice it, meatloaf is good food. Unfortunately I didn't know that until I was an adult. It was just one of those things I didn't like. Now however meatloaf is one of my favorite meals to make. It takes real skill and talent to make a truly great meatloaf. Don't laugh, meatloaf is serious business. Cafes, diners and local eateries of all variety have made their fortunes on meatloaf.
A good meatloaf is a remarkable meal and one not soon forgotten. A thick slice of ground beef heaven. Firm with some crust on the outside and velvety insides all smothered in gravy. Sitting next to it is a pile of mashed potatoes with butter and chives, just waiting to usher in the first bite of loaf.
There are however bad loaves. Crumbly, greasy and dry are only a few of the ways to make a bad loaf. Meatloaf should be firm and moist. It should not crumble apart or cook sitting in inches of grease. Often the loaf isn't properly mixed or it has big chunks of mostly raw vegetables poking out of it. Yuk! On the other end of the culinary spectrum some are some very dry or overdone loaves. Not burned, more like meatloaf jerky on the outside and grainy on the inside. A combination no gravy can overcome.
Its all in the ingredients
Like everything else, a good loaf starts with the ingredients. Don't worry, everything you need can be found at the local store, there aren't any secrets on the ingredients list. The trick is what you choose. Pick ingredients with flavor and you will create a meatloaf with layer and depth.
1 pound of lean ground beef, fine grind if they have it
2 slices of bread, cut into small cubes, crusts included
1 tbls dijon mustard
1 tbls worcestershire sauce
1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
2 tbls green pepper, finely chopped
1/2 tbls ground coriander
1 tsp rubbed sage
1 tbls fresh thyme, destemmed and chopped fine
Salt and pepper to taste
Basting sauce, (2tbls dijon, 2 tbls ketchup, 1 tbls worcestershire sauce 2 tbls mayonaise mixed together)
Picking the right ground beef is the number one way to ensure a good loaf. The leaner and finer the grind the better. The more coarse grind the more it will affect the final texture and could lead to crumbling. Adding the egg will give some fat and richness lost by using lean beef.
The bread is the next important piece of the puzzle. It has several purposes in meatloaf. It contributes to the smooth texture, it helps hold in moisture and adds to the overall flavor. Just because the recipe says "two slices of bread" doesn't mean you have to use white bread unless you want to. I would pick whole wheat, whole grain or some variety of multi-grain. The more multi the better. To me, this bread adds a lot of flavor to the meatloaf and texture you can't get from plain old white bread.
The last important tidbit, for the ingredients at least, is the vegetables. They need to be cut up really small, especially the green pepper. In my opinion,green bell pepper shouldn't be used as a vegetable, only as a seasoning. Even on pizza, where it is really good, it should be cut up small. So, cut the veggies small. Big chunks wont cook, half raw chunks of onion and green pepper are nasty. Plus, the big chunks can get in the way and crumble out when slicing the finished product. Same thing with the fresh thyme, you have to get the stems out and chop it up fine.
You just mix it up, right?
Yep, that's what you do. Mix it up. This is an important step. The loaf should be homegenous, you know, completely mixed. Hopefully you have a mixer, this is a trick I learned making thousands of pounds of meatloaf at a country club. The texture of a thoroughly mixed loaf is unsurpassed in the meatloaf world. If you use a mixer, use the paddle attachment and mix on a medium speed. If mixing by hand take some extra time when mixing, its well worth it but I highly recommend using a mixer. Proper mixing also helps ensure there are no air pockets, which can cause cracking and bursting during cooking.
Once mixed its time to shape.Shape the "dough" into a loaf. Try to get it as even as possible top to bottom and side to side. Now comes the fun part, spanking the loaf. You have to spank it to set the dough and push out any remaining air pockets. For cooking don't use a loaf pan, cook on a baking sheet or in a large pyrex with plenty of room. Cooking in a loaf pan will cause the juices and fat to build up so that you're actually boiling the loaf instead of baking. Also, use a roasting rack if you have one, this will help even the cooking and get some more delicious crust on the bottom. When your finished put the loaf on the roasting rack, baste with the basting sauce and cook at 400F until 160F internal temperature is reached.