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Among the many changes the pandemic has brought to home kitchens, here’s a major one: the comeback of unfashionable foods. Who would have thought that instant coffee would be one of the most searched-for terms in 2020? Or that the tuna melt would make a triumphant return? It’s the equivalent of seeing the class nerd being crowned prom queen in a good rom-com.
Now as the weather turns colder, another old-time favorite is making a play for the spotlight: meatloaf.
It’s got all the hallmarks of a dish made for the moment: It’s nostalgic and satisfying, invariably served warm or in a follow-up sandwich, and it takes advantage of pantry items, including ketchup, mustard, and that odd onion you have sitting around. It’s also versatile. Vegetarians can easily make a version out of plant-based meat, and anyone who likes a turkey burger can follow suit. Meatloaf is comfort food, defined.
What it is not always: tasty.
“Too many meatloaves come across as, essentially, a dried-out burger,” says Dan Souza, editor-in-chief of Cook’s Illustrated.
With 350-plus recipes in the new Meat Illustrated: A Foolproof Guide to Understanding and Cooking with Cuts of All Kinds (America’s Test Kitchen; $20), Souza and his team go deep on protein, specifically beef, pork, lamb, and veal, from beef tenderloin to all the different categories of pork ribs. The ground meat chapter would seem to be an afterthought in comparison to the other big league cuts. But it could be its own book, with in-depth intel and wide-ranging recipes from homemade breakfast sausage to mapo tofu.
The Cook’s Illustrated meatloaf is studded with sautéed onions and garlic and flavored with mustard and Worcestershire. To keep it moist, the Cook’s Illustrated team makes a panade (liquid mixed with starch) from Saltine crackers instead of the usual bread. Besides adding a fun throwback taste, the crackers don’t clump as badly as bread and bread crumbs tend to do in traditional recipes.
“Since this dish is all about the meat, we stuck with the flavorful and classic combination of equal parts ground beef and sweet ground pork,” says Souza.
Counterintuitively, the loaf is broiled first to ensure that it’s well browned; the fast heat evaporates the surface moisture so that a crisp crust can form, which makes for a good textural contrast for the juicy meat within. Tasting this meatloaf is like tasting a really good wine for the first time—you never knew how much bad, dry meatloaf you were eating before. (Sorry, Mom.) This one is notably juicy and tender, with a well-browned exterior. A sweet, tangy glaze takes it over the top, balancing the richness of the meat; extra glaze is served alongside as a super deluxe alternative to ketchup.
The following recipe is adapted from Meat Illustrated, from America’s Test Kitchen.
Serves 6 to 8
1 cup ketchup
¼ cup packed brown sugar
3 tbsp. cider vinegar
1 tsp. hot sauce
2 tsp. vegetable oil, plus more for coating
1 onion, chopped fine
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup whole milk
1 lb. ground beef, preferably 90% lean
1 lb. ground pork
2 large eggs plus 1 large yolk
1/3 cup finely chopped parsley
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tbsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
For the glaze: Whisk all the ingredients in saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside 1/4 cup of the glaze. Simmer the remaining glaze over medium heat until slightly thickened, about 5 minutes; keep warm.
For the meatloaf: Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and coat lightly with oil. Heat the vegetable oil in a nonstick skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until softened and lightly golden, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Transfer to large bowl.
In a food processor, process the crackers and milk until smooth, about 30 seconds. Combine with the onion mixture. Add the ground beef and pork to the bowl and mix with your hands until thoroughly combined. Add the eggs and yolk, parsley, mustard, Worcestershire, thyme, salt, and pepper to bowl and mix again until combined.
Preheat the broiler. Transfer the meatloaf to the prepared baking sheet and shape into a 9-by 5‑inch loaf. Broil about 4 inches from the heat until well-browned, about 6 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350F. Brush the top with the ¼ cup glaze and bake until well-browned outside and heated through, 40 to 45 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, and let rest for 20 minutes. Slice and serve, passing the remaining reduced glaze at table.
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