Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A little while ago my friend Pasta sent me a short note about his first experience making a 'loaf. Since he lives in Colorado, a state that has a strong history with the cattle industry and deep in the centre of the US of A, the home of meatloaf, I thought he may have gotten by purely on karma and osmosis. Boy, was I wrong!

Hey Pete:

I hope to have a story with a better outcome for you next time:

Sex has been said to be like pizza. Even when its bad, its still not that bad. I assure you this does not hold true for meatloaf.

I made a meatloaf tonight from a recipe that I found on the web. It was a Martha Stewart Recipe. It was a meatloaf gone wrong.

I would love to tell you that Martha's meatloaf recipe was a no frills dish that she and her fellow cons may have enjoyed some Thursday evening, a dish that was more for hiding a file than for delivering true nourishment. Alas, the recipe was from 2000, so I need to take at least some of the blame. I'm not sure what went wrong, but what did go wrong, went very wrong. It was not overcooked. It had a nice glaze. The consistency was not too bad. So - I can't really tell you what exactly was wrong with it, other than something was. And this was not an isolated opinion. A frozen pizza was quickly de-thawed for the rest of the family. I however was not as quick to abandon the meal. I figured - its cooked I may learn something from it. What I learned was that this meatloaf was ONLY a vehicle for mustard - and frankly not a very good one at that. I actually had to abandon the mustard for a stronger smokier barbecue sauce, and then just had to throw in the towel. Perhaps our kind host can help me with a simple recipe that minimizes the chance of me screwing it up.

Well, not knowing exactly what steps transpired really ties my hands, but I will give it a go.

According to Dame Melanie Barnard, whose cookbook I praised elsewhere on this 'blog, meatloaves consist or "four categories or ingredients: a main protein, a starch, a binder, and seasonings." You would be hard pressed to find a recipe that doesn't fit this template and I am pretty sure Martha's didn't stray too far from it. What I am about to share are the key tips to each of the four categories. Hopefully, the mistake will be obvious.

Main protein - The key is using a fairly lean fresh (not frozen) selection of meat. Extra lean and/or expensive cuts are generally pointless as they don't add anything except pretension and a little fat is needed for flavour and moistness.

Starch - The starch makes the 'loaf juicy, softer and more flavourful by absorbing the released juices from cooking protein. That is its purpose. The best choice is bread crumbs/chunks from a 1 to 2 day old loaf. Stale or old bread crumbs can actually make a loaf taste off, especially breadcrumbs kept in the freezer for a long time. Freezer burn has a very strong flavour.

Binder - The binder is what keeps the starch and protein together and not crumbling apart in the mixing process. Most starches are quite dry and proteins only release juices when cooked. The binder is best if it is a bland flavour carrying agent like eggs or dairy product (ie milk, yoghurt, or, god forbid, cream). It is there to keep the starch from sucked all the mosture out of the protein as well as keeping the whole package together in its loaf shape.

Seasonings - A lot of spices are best used fresh. If adding vegetables (ie carrots, onions, celery, etc) it is best to cook them lightly before adding them to the mixture. The cooking brings out more flavoured moisture. Dried spices more than a year old may have lost a lot of their flavour. One key thing is that seasonings should be used "with an assertive hand" as they truly make the loaf.

Also, if the recipe used was the one I linked to then be warned that chili sauce means something different now than it did even a few years ago. Chili sauce doesn't mean the Asian variety of textured hot sauce, but more like the Heinz Ketchup-version mixed with chili and peppers. It isn't inordently spicy.

Hope this helps. Please let me know if you try again. Oh, and I miss you too Mark.


Cormac said...

Usually, someone who uses the title "Dame" is worth listening to, even if she has nothing of any substance to say. High entertainment and hilarity is almost guaranteed to follow....


Anonymous said...

I can't believe that I'm the only person to note that to "de-thaw" would in fact mean to freeze! He either "thawed" the pizza or he "de-frosted" it.

Fakn Docters, don't no sehit 'bot ha ta right!!!


spezbaby said...

God, I can't believe I missed that, but then again maybe that's how they do things in Colorado.

mark_yy_mark said...

Hee hee, thanks for pointing that out. But as I guess you may have suspected the pizza was quickly thawed (de-frosted)as opposed to quickly frozen for the family to eat.