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