Maybe the Best Meatloaf You Ever Et

I remember the days when I was in the writing-about-food business, I used to say, “Well if James Beard was coming to dinner, I’d roast him a chicken with good carrots, onions, potatoes, parsnips, turnips…”

Thank heaven James Beard never did come to dinner. (I did have dinner with him once, but my darling friend Philip Brown did the cooking honors). Nowadays, I’m of a mind that when someone special is coming to dinner (as they did last night), I’d make a meatloaf. Seems to me a meatloaf–a careful composition of textures and flavors–is more special than roast chicken, and it’s easier (no having to turn the bird, baste the bird, worry about the bird…).

For depth of flavor, I use a blend of meats. These days the way the world is going I rarely cook beef…takes too much water to raise the animal. And when I buy meat at all, a new crimp in my habits is, Was the animal raised humanely? Twenty years ago I did pay attention to the line on the egg carton, words to the effect that the chickens had access to fresh air. Nowadays I only buy pasture-raised eggs, buy meats at a store that has “Humanely raised” emblazoned in a banner over the meat case, and I check every package of the chicken and turkey luncheon meats I buy for Bill’s sandwiches for “Humanely raised.” “Organic,” too.

Someone I used to know liked to say, Art doesn’t improve. But social consciousness certainly has improved these last years.

OK. My meatloaf. It’s a tad unusual–last night Bill said, “This is like candy!” I think there was a touch of molasses in the bread I used for crumbs…and Cameron said it was the best yet. So I thought to offer it to you.

Just heated up what was left from last night, so good. It really is the best yet.

Be prepared the mix is gloppy in the making…which is, I’m convinced, some of why it bakes up delectably.*

Maybe The Best Meatloaf Ever
12 servings

1 pound ground lean beef (90% lean)
1 pound ground dark turkey meat
1 pound ground pork (I’ve sometimes used mild Italian-style pork sausage)
1-2 tablespoons cooking oil (I use avocado)
1 large onion, finely chopped (I like red onions)
4 large cloves garlic, pressed or finely chopped
3 cups finely crumbled stale whole grain bread (use the food processor to crumble)
3 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 15-ounce cans organic crushed fire-roasted tomatoes (Muir Glen)**
About 1-1/2 tablespoons salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

An hour or so before putting together, bring the meats to room temperature.

When ready to proceed, set the oven to 350 degrees, set a rack in the middle. Get out an 11-inch cast iron skillet.***

Sauté the onion and garlic in the oil over medium heat, stirring, till tender–try not to let it brown. Set aside to cool.

In a very large bowl, use your hands to thoroughly blend the meats. Blend in the breadcrumbs with a light hand, then the onions and garlic.

In a medium bowl, use a rotary beater to blend the eggs, add the sour cream and Worcestershire sauce, beat till blended. Add to the meats and mix with your hands. Now blend in one of the cans of crushed tomatoes, thoroughly.

Take a dab of the mixture and cook in the onion/garlic skillet to taste for seasoning. My tendency is not to add much salt, let people season their own.

Smooth the mixture into the skillet, flat (not mounded) top. Smooth over the remaining can of crushed tomatoes.

Bake uncovered until the center registers 170 degrees on the meat thermometer, about 1 hour. Let settle 5 to 10 minutes before serving.

*Adapted from an Allrecipes Test Kitchen “Best Meatloaf” recipe.
**An invaluable kitchen asset…if you don’t have it, find it….meantime use a thick not-sugared tomato sauce.
***If your skillet is 10-inches, smooth in the mixture leaving about an inch above and freeze the rest for another supper.

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