When most people hear this word their first instinct is to utter some sort of guttural sound like “ugh” and follow it with a repeat of the initial word with a sound of disbelief – “Meatloaf?!?!?” I used to feel the same way. The word induced a flashback to a mound of meat, wet and glossy from the heat of the oven, sliced onto a plate with a squirt of ketchup. I think the real nail in the coffin was “loaf” at the end of a word beginning with meat. That kind of word will never make people jump out of their seats and run to the dinner table.
This is unfortunate. Meatloaf is a vessel for so many interesting combinations of meats, vegetables, herbs and seasoning. Recently there has been a burger revolution. It has evolved from a hunk of ground beef between two pieces of white bread to creations like a lamb curry burger on English muffin with cucumber raita. Why not the same flavors baked into meatloaf? There are sliders, the mini burgers. Why not bake meatloaf in muffin tins for mini loaves? There are gourmet burgers with Kobe beef, gourmet mushrooms and shaved truffle. Why not shave truffle on a Kobe beef meatloaf? To me, meatloaf is the low-carb, super moist, less clean-up, no grill required, version of a burger. Yet it remains in the shadows.
Let me tell you a story. A very simple and delicious meatloaf was one of the first things I learned to make for myself. It was easy, healthy (my version), and fed me for several days at a time. It was one of the first things I cooked for Matt. Which in retrospect, was completely unromantic and not sexy. Yet whenever I cook meatloaf now, he recalls this first meal I cooked for him and how delicious it was. Obviously I made an impression. And why not? It’s comfort food. It reminds people of home and family meals. If guys love burgers then logically they should love meatloaf.
My questions remains. Why has meatloaf been left behind? We are witnessing the evolution of the burger in restaurants all over the country. Gourmet fast foods served from trucks and updated comfort foods are creeping onto menus. My prediction is that we will see a meatloaf revolution. Mario Batali will make an Italian style mix of beef, pork and veal formed into meatloaf, baked, and served with a spicy tomato sauce. Eric Rupert will create a poached ground fish loaf with a red wine reduction that will send taste buds soaring. Alice Waters will add to her menu a locally raised 100% organic beef meatloaf flavored with organically grown roasted tomatoes and herbs. Emerill will add his special seasoning, chopped peppers, some onions and then BAM – it will be dinner!
Equally important as the meat is the potatoes. I served garlic smashed potatoes. Yum! But any potato dish that you can execute well will do. Now let us all watch and wait, myself anxiously, for the meatloaf revolution.