Meatloaf was a staple meal growing up. We were subjected to it at least 2 or 3 times a month in my family. I guess it was cheap and easy to make. However, it was always dry and tasteless. To compensate for that, prior to being baked, it was smothered in ketchup and draped with bacon. This didn’t help or do much to enhance the flavor or even make the meatloaf palatable. As a result, I avoided meatloaf for many years.
My rediscovery began in a diner, when a friend of mine ordered it and I laughed at him while pantomiming sticking my finger down my throat and making false gagging sounds. He just knowingly smiled, as he enjoyed his dinner and I behaved like a jerk. Before he devoured it entirely, along with fluffy mashed potatoes and obviously canned string beans, he offered me a morsel smothered in mushroom gravy. Eureka! This was unlike any meatloaf I had ever tasted previously.
A few years later another friend, a New York City Firefighter, introduced me to his special firehouse meatloaf, which was made with applesauce. Amazingly, it was not dried out and it was delicious. Thus began my hunt for how to make the perfect meatloaf.
The first thing I discovered was that ground beef, the classic ingredient in all of the meatloaf I had growing up, was too dry and its dryness was compounded by the addition of too many breadcrumbs, which are needed to bind it together. So step number one, reduce the quantity of breadcrumbs and supplement the ground beef with other ground meats that retain their moisture upon being baked; ground veal and ground pork together fit the bill.
Next for even more moisture I did use ketchup (later replaced by Chili Sauce), but rather than pouring it over the top, where it basically dried up in the oven, I added it to the mixture. This was supplemented by a bit of sour cream and the overall flavor was enhanced by the addition of Worcestershire Sauce. Finally, I figured that some fresh chopped herbs, particularly sage and thyme would certainly help in the flavor department as well.
The end result is: Not Your Mother’s Meatloaf. For the ultimate comfort food meal, serve it with mashed potatoes and a green vegetable of your choice. Wouldn’t mother be surprised?