Mas­ter­ing meat loaf

Hen­nie Fisher looks at the in­tri­ca­cies of mak­ing the per­fect meat loaf

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AFRIEND claims to have de­vel­oped into a bit of a meat-loaf con­nois­seur. Some of you may well say: “So what, meat loaf is noth­ing other than a large, loaf-shaped frikkadel” or “Is it not just an over­grown ham­burger patty, and Amer­i­can to boot?”

While all of these state­ments may be true, meat loaf also proved to be rather an ex­pen­sive ex­er­cise con­sid­er­ing that the best recipes con­sulted pro­posed that one needed two kilo­grams of par­tic­u­lar cuts of meat, pur­posely ground, mak­ing it al­most as ex­pen­sive as a leg of lamb. My friend’s big­gest con­cern and dis­com­fi­ture arose from the pro­tein synere­sis (grey glob­ules ooz­ing out of his meat loaf), which stim­u­lated nu­mer­ous de­bates and cul­mi­nated in this thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Three Cooks Il­lus­trated con­trib­u­tors — Pam An­der­son, Karen Tack and David Pazmino — be­lieve the se­cret to the best meat loaf lies (no sur­prises here) in the choice of ground meat. Ap­par­ently one is able to pur­chase a spe­cial meat­loaf mix in Amer­ica con­sist­ing pri­mar­ily of 50% ground chuck, 25% ground pork and 25% ground veal. Each type of meat con­trib­utes a par­tic­u­lar qual­ity to the meat loaf: beef is in­cluded for its hearty bee­fi­ness; pork con­trib­utes an ex­tra di­men­sion of flavour and fat­ti­ness, while veal (with its nat­u­ral wa­ter­re­tain­ing qual­i­ties) is sup­posed to keep the loaf moist and unc­tu­ous. To com­pen­sate for the fact that veal is rather dif­fi­cult to source in SA, the recipe pro­poses the use of gela­tine to mimic the qual­i­ties that veal would bring to the meat loaf.

“By slow­ing down the move­ment of liq­uids, gela­tine has a sta­bil­is­ing ef­fect, mak­ing it harder for wa­ter and other liq­uids to be forced out, es­sen­tially fenc­ing them in.” In meat loaf the gela­tine si­mul­ta­ne­ously de­creases the amount of liq­uid leak­ing from the meat as the pro­teins co­ag­u­late, and im­proves the tex­tu­ral feel by mak­ing the liq­uids more vis­cous (even when hot), much like veal would do.

Plac­ing the meat loaf on a cake rack cov­ered with tin­foil into which some holes are poked over a roast­ing tin fur­ther al­lows the juices to run out from the meat loaf as it cooks in­stead of pud­dling un­der it. Sir­loin, with 10% fat, pro­vides good beef flavour, but on its own could ren­der a dry, chalky and chewy meat loaf. The re­search sug­gests “round” steak, a cut taken from the hind quar­ters and not fa­mil­iar to us in SA, re­sult­ing in the eye of round, top round or bot­tom round steaks and roasts.

One could cer­tainly at­tempt to per­suade one’s butcher to cut such a piece, which is not en­tirely the same as rump, also taken from the same hind-quar­ter area. Adding chuck with 20% fat pro­duced the re­quired moist­ness in the loaf but re­sulted in a chewy loaf with a lit­tle bit of gris­tle, which may bother some. On the other hand, does one re­ally want a meat loaf to taste en­tirely like pro­cessed meat? No, and the aim here is not to recre­ate the fa­mous north­ern Euro­pean style Hack­braten.

Lastly, there is the mat­ter of the glaze or the out­side cov­er­ing (ba­con strips), but that is a mat­ter for an­other time. The rest of the loaf re­ally al­lows one to play with flavours as you like.

The fol­low­ing recipe con­tains no onion, as it is es­sen­tial to chop those very finely and sauté them be­fore mix­ing with the re­main­der of the in­gre­di­ents. Since I am a bit of a lazy cook the ex­tra pan and time re­quired made me rather opt for some grated ap­ple and a very smooth gar­lic paste. The in­clu­sion of yo­gurt and beef broth con­trib­utes to a juicy meat loaf, paired with potato salad, mashed pota­toes or even some pap.

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