The Basic Meatloaf Formula
All meatloaf recipes have the same basic formula: 2 pounds of ground meat and a "panade" made out of bread and crackers soaked in milk. Along with a couple of eggs, this panade helps hold the ground meat together and adds moisture to the mix. Don't worry - this won't make your meatloaf taste like bread, but you will definitely miss it if it is absent.
Any ground meat can be used in a meatloaf: pork, veal, lamb, or beef. You can use one kind of meat, or, if you like, you can mix together a few different types of meat to give your meatloaf some different flavors and textures. In my opinion, the best kind of mix is 70% beef (for its flavor) and 30% pork (for its fatty richness). You should definitely have some fat in your mix so that your meatloaf doesn't end up being dry and crumbly.
A mirepoix made up of small-diced onions, carrots, and celery is a classic, but you can swap any of these veggies for any of your favorites: mushrooms, peas, and even broccoli work very well. Whatever vegetables you decide to use, make sure you cook them before they go into your meatloaf so that they are tender rather than crunchy.
This might be old-fashioned, but I really do love a swath of ketchup on my meatloaf. The ketchup concentrates in the oven, creating a creamy, delicious tomato-y glaze that pairs amazingly with the savory nature of the meatloaf. If you don't like ketchup, you can use BBQ sauce or any other sauce that you like. If you don't want a glaze, you can drape the meatloaf in strips of bacon before cooking - as we know, bacon makes everything better and that is definitely true here.
A Final Note
The final piece of the puzzle to making a great tasting meatloaf is two-fold: cooking time and letting it rest. A 2-pound meatloaf will cook in about an hour - do not overcook as the meat will turn tough and crumbly. The best way to check whether your meatloaf is done is by checking its internal temperature; as soon as it hits 155-160°F, you can take it out of the oven. Letting it rest before you slice it up gives the juices in the meatloaf a chance to redistribute and settle. If you slice it too quickly, the tasty juices will flow out and you'll be left with a dry meatloaf.
How to Make Meatloaf
Makes approximately 10 thick slices.
1. Heat the oven to 350°F: Set the oven to pre-heat and place a rack in the bottom third line of the oven. Line a baking sheet or some other type of baking dish with aluminum foil.
2. Soak the bread pieces in the milk: Add the bread pieces and the milk into a small bowl. Let it stand until the bread has broken down into a porridge-like substance, occasionally stirring and mushing the bread against the side of the bowl.
3. Cook the veggies: Warm a couple of teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the diced carrots, celery, and onions and cook until the onions are translucent and the carrots have turned soft, this should take about 6 to 8 minutes. If they start to turn brown, turn down the heat. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant, about 30 seconds should do. Lastly, add the thyme and tomato paste and stir until coated. Remove from the heat and let it cool down a bit.
4. Make the meatloaf mix: In a large bowl, add the ground meat, beaten eggs, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, soaked bread, and milk, and the cooked vegetables. With your hands, mix the ingredients together until they combine.
5. Shape the loaf: Transfer this meatloaf mixture to your foiled-line baking sheet or baking dish - shape it into a loaf roughly 9 inches by 5 inches.
6. Coat the loaf with ketchup or bacon (optional): Spread 1/4 cup of ketchup mixture over the meatloaf (keep 1/4 cup for later). Alternatively, drape the loaf with bacon slices.
7. Bake for 45 minutes: Place your meatloaf in the oven for 45 minutes, then spread the remaining 1/4 cup of ketchup on top.
8. Bake for another 10-15 minutes: Bake the loaf for another 10-15 minutes (about 1 hour total), until the middle of the loaf has reached 155-160°F on an instant-read thermometer.
9. Cool 15 minutes before serving: Let your meatloaf cool for 15 minutes before serving - cut into thick slices and serve. Leftovers can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, or they can be frozen for up to 3 months.
Photos: Emma Christensen