Meat Loaf Deluxe

While it took the rest of the country decades to bring all-American meat loaf out of the closet as a dish worthy of even the snazziest homes and restaurants, Southerners have always not only loved and respected the loaf but also debated every aspect of its preparation to the point of obsession. The various types of meat, the ingredients that yield the most flavor and moisture, the best fillers for binding, the mixing and baking techniques—no facet of meat loaf escapes intense scrutiny and challenge. There’s a lot that distinguishes Southern meat loaf from most other styles (the cardinal importance of bulk pork sausage, the use of bacon as a flavoring and moisturizing agent, free-form baking for even crustiness, etc.), but perhaps the most defining principle is that great meat loaf requires no gravy—that, in fact, it would be desecrated by gravy. My own recipe for the ultimate meat loaf seems to be slightly modified from year to year, but for the time being, this deluxe version should satisfy even the most finicky Reb.

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Ingredients

  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • ½ pound large fresh mushrooms, stems finely chopped and caps reserved
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • ½ medium green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
  • 2 celery ribs, finely chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme, crumbled
  • ½ teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled
  • 1 pound ground beef round
  • 1 pound ground pork
  • 1 pound ground veal
  • ½ pound bulk pork sausage
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • ½ cup tomato ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup bread crumbs soaked in ½ cup heavy cream
  • 3 strips bacon
  • Pimento-stuffed green olives, cut in half, for garnish

Method

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a medium skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter over moderate heat, add the mushroom stems, and cook, stirring, about 5 minutes or till most of their liquid has evaporated. Stir in the onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic, thyme, and rosemary, reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer about 15 minutes or till the vegetables are soft and the liquid has evaporated.

Place the meats in a large mixing bowl, add the sautéed vegetables, and mix lightly. Add the mustard, ketchup, Worcestershire, Tabasco, salt and pepper, eggs, and breadcrumbs and mix with your hands till blended thoroughly. Shape the mixture into a firm, thick oval loaf, place in a shallow baking or gratin dish, drape bacon over the top, and bake 1 hour in the upper third of the oven. Remove the bacon strips and continue baking 15 to 20 minutes longer, depending on how thick the loaf is and how crusty you want the exterior to be.

Shortly before the meat loaf is removed from the oven, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over moderate heat, add the reserved mushroom caps, and cook, stirring, about 2 minutes or till nicely glazed. Transfer the meat loaf to a large, heated platter, arrange olives over the top, and garnish the edges with the mushroom caps.