Meatloaf, mashed root vegetables, and mushroom gravy
When it comes to comfort food it's hard to top meatloaf with mashed potatoes and gravy. But I did my best. Turned out rather well, and it only took two weeks to make!
What? Two weeks? Well, yes. I had to cure the bacon. While the bacon was curing I had to make the ketchup. And of course I needed to bake some bread for the bread crumbs. So it took two weeks. What can I say? Good things take time.
With the amount of effort put into it so far, I couldn't just use beef. Instead, I chose buffalo top round with some lamb and pork to round out the flavor, and I caramelized the onions instead of chopping them.
Plain mashed potatoes weren't up to the task of sitting next to the meatloaf, so instead they're garlic smashers, using roast garlic purée, ¼ pound of unsalted butter, potatoes, turnip, rutabaga, and parsnips (3 pounds of potatoes, 1 pound each of the other veggies). And there's a bit of watercress on the plate as a side salad. Oh, and mushroom pan gravy. Made with veal stock.
Okay, maybe I went a bit overboard. But it was really, really good, and I had a lot of fun doing it. The looks on the faces of some of my first-time students as I told them what I'd done was priceless. And it was really, really good.
1 lb. buffaloGrind the meats, or get your butcher to grind them. I suppose, in a pinch, you could buy ground meats, but that's really not much fun and buying factory-ground meat can be risky. If you can't or won't use buffalo, lamb, or pork, just make sure it's two pounds of meat in total. If you grind them yourself, make sure to cube everything about the same size, then put the meats into the grinder alternately. Your butcher won't be able to do that because most places have a requirement that the machinery be cleaned between species. If your butcher doesn't have that requirement you might want to find a new butcher. Put all the ground meats into a bowl, then add the rest of the ingredients.
½ lb. lamb
½ lb. pork
I can understand if you don't want to make ketchup, but please don't buy bread crumbs. Use some old bread. You know, the stuff you baked two or three days ago that you really want to replace anyway. Don't toast it, just let it get a bit stale, cube it, and toss it into your food processor. Make some crumbs, then save yourself some work and add the garlic and what you estimate will end up being ¼ cup of chopped parsley to the food processor work bowl. Chop until everything is nicely blended. Makes it easier to mix into the meats evenly.
1 cup bread crumbs
¼ chopped parsley (or at least pulled off the stem, see below)
3 cloves garlic, minced (or not, see below)
1 large egg
1 onion, chopped (or caramelized and chopped)
Shmoosh all the ingredients together with your hands and fingers, making sure everything is fairly evenly distributed. Then pinch off a bite and cook it quickly in a frying pan so you can taste. Add as much salt as you think it needs, maybe some freshly ground black pepper if you want. If you aren't confident that you added enough salt, fry another bite and find out. If you have any I suggest a smoked salt, maybe applewood smoked salt.
If you have a meatloaf pan, one of those nice large loaf pans with an insert, fill it with the mixture. Otherwise, make a nice free-form loaf on a sheet pan. Top with strips of bacon if you wish. Of course you do. Who wouldn't want bacon on top of their meatloaf?
Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 375°F for 45 minutes. Remove the foil, then continue to bake 15 minutes or so until the center of the meatloaf reaches 160°F. Remove from the oven and let rest at least 5 minutes before slicing and serving.
Toward the end of cooking, sauté some sliced mushrooms in butter, olive oil, or bacon fat if you're lucky enough to have some handy; remember to salt the mushrooms. When the mushrooms have given up their water and the pan is mostly dry, remove them from the pan. Add two tablespoons of drippings from the meatloaf and two tablespoons of flour to the pan to make a roux. Stir until it just starts to darken, then add 2 cups or so of hot stock, whisking constantly. Cook until the gravy coats the back of a spoon, add the reserved mushrooms back in, and season to taste. If it looks like you've got lumpy gravy, strain it before adding the mushrooms. Then don't tell anyone. They'll think you did a wonderful job of making lump-free gravy so long as you never admit anything. I learned that from Julia Child.
How in the world would you have bacon fat handy? Well, you'd take a nice large slab of bacon, put it into a bag of foil with some water, and bake it for 4 or 5 hours at 200°F, then let the package cool in the refrigerator overnight. When you lift the bacon out the next day to slice it and put it on the meatloaf, you'll find there's a large quantity of beautiful, creamy bacon fat just sitting there begging to be used for something. As a reward--as if bacon fat isn't reward enough--you'll find that the thick slices of bacon you use to top the meatloaf aren't tough and chewy, but instead are soft and crispy at the same time. It's a tip I learned last summer from Michael Ruhlman.
If you get nothing else out of this post, let me suggest that next time you make mashed potatoes, add turnips, rutabagas, and parsnips. The combination is rich and sweet and utterly delightful with a more extensive nutrient set than potatoes alone.
Remember, if you have leftovers, meatloaf makes a great sandwich. But you'd better make two of these if you want leftovers.