Meatloaf Master Recipe
This meatloaf master recipe provides a palette for both novice and experienced cooks for experimentation. The large amount of breadcrumbs is unusual, as is the buttermilk, but they make the meatloaf exceptionally light and moist. Beef, pork and veal, usually two parts beef to one each of pork and veal are traditional, but I don’t use veal: it’s expensive and difficult to find humanely produced. I most often use two parts beef to one part pork, but also other meats such as lamb or turkey. Everything from herbs and spices, cheeses, vegetables and more can be added. The meatloaf roulade below turns a humble, homey classic into a dish delicious and elegant enough for a dinner party.
Just remember to add your variations in small increments, and always taste-test as you make additions and before baking the meatloaf.
For each 1 ½ lbs. ground meat:
- 2 large eggs
- 2 c. fine fresh breadcrumbs, either white or whole wheat. Don’t use either Wonder Bread types or really dense breads such as pumpernickel, and
- remove any thick crisp crusts
- 1 c. buttermilk, or ½ c. each yogurt and milk
- 1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt, or more or less to taste
- 1 tsp. freshly ground pepper, or more or less to taste
- 1/2 - 1 c. freshly grated cheese such as Parmesan, Asaiago, or Pecorino Romano
- 3/4 c. loosely packed chopped parsley, preferably flat-leaf
In a large bowl, beat the eggs together, then add the breadcrumbs, buttermilk or yogurt and milk, salt, pepper, grated cheese, parsley and garlic, if using. Let stand for about 30 minutes so that the breadcrumbs absorb as much moisture as possible.
Preheat the oven to 350º.
Add the ground meat to the bowl and gently but thoroughly stir until all the elements are combined and evenly distributed. Test for seasoning by cooking a tablespoon of the mixture, flattened into a patty, in a hot skillet, when cooked through taste to decide if more seasoning is needed.
The meatloaf can be baked in a greased loaf pan, mounded into an oblong on a baking sheet, either greased or lined with parchment paper, or made into individual loaves. Baking times will vary with the shape and size of the meatloaf. Using 1 ½ lbs. of meat, the baking time should be about an hour; for a double recipe, about 1 1/2 - 1 ¾ hours. The internal temperature should be 155º. Let stand for about 30 minutes before slicing.
That’s just the beginning. Now comes the fun part: customizing it as you’d like.
Whichever herbs, spices, or vegetables you use, they’re best stirred into the breadcrumb mixture before adding the meat. When experimenting, add new ingredients in small amounts – you can always use more, but too much can’t be corrected. Taste-test as you go, and remember to always taste-test it before baking.
Garlic and/or onion are crucial to making a tasty meatloaf, and other vegetables can bring flavor to the party as well.
- 1 tsp. minced garlic, or more or less
- 1 T. butter or olive oil
- 1 - 2 c. finely chopped onion, NOT supersweet, or a mixture of onion and bell peppers or other suitable vegetables, such as celery.
Melt the butter or oil in a medium skillet over medium heat and add the vegetables. Stir frequently until the vegetables are cooked through and lightly browned around the edges. There should be no liquid in the pan. Cool to room temperature and combine with the breadcrumb mixture before the meat is added.
Caramelized onions add great depth of flavor. Melt the butter or olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, add the onions and stir to coat. Cover and cook until the onions are translucent. Uncover the skillet and turn the heat to low. Add 1/2 tsp. dried thyme leaves and 1 T. balsamic vinegar if you’d like. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are dark golden brown, and almost gooey, about 30 minutes. Cool before stirring into the breadcrumb mixture as above.
Frost meatloaf with mashed potatoes – Remove the meatloaf from the oven about ½ hour before it’s done. Spread all over with hot mashed potatoes, sprinkle with some grated cheese if you like, and return to the oven until done.
a double master recipe, adding the garlic and 1 c. onions. Place
parchment paper, waxed paper, or a double thickness of plastic wrap on
a large flat surface. Spread the mixture into an even sheet, 12 inches
x 15 inches, with a long end closest to you
Spread 12 oz. spinach that’s been wilted, squeezed dry and chopped over the mixture. Cover completely with about 1 lb. sliced provelone; then top with roasted red pepper pieces – it’ll take 3-4 peppers.
Using the paper or plastic wrap, lift up the side closest to you and roll it over jelly-roll fashion, so that you form a cylinder. Carefully roll it onto a baking sheet. Cover with about 12 oz. very thinly sliced pancetta (Italian cured bacon that’s rolled into a cylinder), overlapping the slices so that they appear like scales.
Bake as above.
Variations – Top with spinach Swiss cheese and thinly sliced ham. Or crumbled blue cheese and a layer of sautéed mushrooms.
Suggestions for meatloaves with an ethnic twist
Swedish – Add one tsp. ground allspice, and ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg. Use onions, but no garlic. Make a sauce: Reduce 2c. beef stock to ½ c., remove from the stove and stir in ½ c. sour cream, 1 T. fresh snipped dill fronds, and 2 minced scallions.
Mexican – add 1 T. or more chili powder or taco seasoning (you may need to reduce the master recipe’s salt if these contain salt.) Top with salsa before baking. Make extra to use, crumbled, for a future taco meal.
Greek — Use ground beef, or lamb, or a mixture. Add 1 T. dried oregano (not ground) and 1/2 tsp. or more ground cinnamon. Serve with a cucumber salad made with yoghurt or sour cream to which minced scallion, fresh dill fronds, and/or chopped fresh mint are added.