Have you heard about the White House meatloaf? Apparently, it’s so good that President Trump has been known to order it for guests, including New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who dined with the president about a month ago.
“This is what it’s like to be with Trump,” Christie later said on a radio program. “He says, ‘There’s the menu, you guys order whatever you want.’ And then he says, ‘Chris, you and I are going to have the meatloaf.’”
“For his fans, all of this adds up to authenticity,” says Frank Bruni, op-ed columnist and former restaurant critic for The New York Times, of the president’s unapologetic fondness for comfort food, including well-done steaks topped with ketchup, fried chicken and meatloaf.
Essentially a mixture of ground meat bound with bread crumbs or some other starch and mixed with spices and other flavorings, meatloaf started out as a simple way to stretch limited resources into additional meals. Variations of the dish can be found spanning a variety of cuisines, from Vietnamese gio to South African bobotie, French pate to Middle Eastern kibbe, even Swedish and Italian meatballs.
In the United States, meatloaf has attained iconic comfort-food status, along with fried chicken and mac and cheese, hamburgers and hot dogs. But where fried chicken and other comfort food classics routinely show up on fine dining menus — re-imagined and re-invented by chefs — meatloaf often gets left on the diner counter.
“There remains this meatloaf bigotry that just doesn’t make any sense,” says Bruni. “You can take meatloaf in many more directions than you can take fried chicken, or hamburgers, or hot dogs.”
Bruni and fellow New York Times reporter Jennifer Steinhauer recently wrote “A Meatloaf in Every Oven.” The book, a self-described love story about meatloaf, explores the dish and its history, with 49 recipes, including favorites from chefs and prominent politicians.
“A good meatloaf is packed with so much flavor because it’s a compendium of all these other additions — the starch element, often the vegetable element, certainly the meat element,” says Bruni. “You’ve got a bunch of robust flavors packed into one form. What’s not irresistible about that?”
Meatloaf is an easy dish to master, in part because it’s so forgiving. There’s “something about meatloaf where you feel like you have a margin for error,” says Bruni.
The method is simple: Combine ground meat with bread crumbs or another sort of starch binder, and perhaps an egg or two. Flavor the mixture with vegetables, herbs and spices. Perhaps add a little richness with cream or grated cheese. Fit the mixture into a loaf or cake pan, or bake little loaves in muffin tins for individual servings. Or simply mold the mixture into a free-form loaf and place on a rimmed baking sheet. Slather your creation with ketchup, or maybe layer it with strips of bacon, to add seasoning and baste it with extra moisture. Then bake until done.
There are ways to take your meatloaf to the next level. First, skip the lean meats. “If you’re looking to make a diet entree, just don’t make meatloaf,” Bruni says.
Fat adds flavor and keeps the meatloaf moist. Use ground beef or pork with a higher fat ratio; if using ground poultry, skip the turkey or chicken breast and go for the dark meat. Bruni uses lamb; its ample fat content and an assertive flavor stand up to a lot of spice.
After the meat, some sort of starch is probably the most important ingredient in a good meatloaf. Bread crumbs or torn bread are traditional, but potato chips, rice — even oats or cooked farro — will also work. Bruni uses panko crumbs for the “fluffiness” they impart to the loaf. Use enough starch to bind the loaf, but not too much to dry it out.
Finally, don’t forget the flavor. Some recipes call for soaking bread or bread crumbs in milk or cream; this adds moisture and richness, as does grated cheese. If you’re adding vegetables, saute them first to deepen their flavors and soften them.
When it comes to seasoning, be generous. Get creative with herbs and spices.
Before baking the loaf, pinch off a little piece and cook it to test the mixture. Taste it and check to see if you need to adjust any seasonings. If the piece falls apart, add additional starch if the loaf is too moist; and some dairy, meat or other source of moisture, such as ketchup, if it’s too dry.
As great as a well-made meatloaf is fresh out of the oven, this is one dish that gets better with time. Trump reportedly likes a good meatloaf sandwich. And Bruni? Sometimes he likes it best straight out of the fridge.
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely chopped onion
2 teaspoons Creole spice
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced button mushrooms
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
1 1/3 cups plain bread crumbs
2 teaspoons chopped Italian parsley
1 1/3 cups ketchup, divided
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with foil.
In a heavy saute pan heated over medium-high heat until hot, melt the butter, then add the onions and Creole spice and saute until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and mushrooms and cook until the mushrooms are softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and pour the mixture in a bowl. Set aside until cooled.
In a large bowl, knead together the beef, turkey, bread crumbs, egg, mushroom mixture, parsley, 2/3 cup ketchup, 2 dashes Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper until well combined. Form the mixture into 2 loaves and place on the prepared pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 2/3 cup ketchup, 2 dashes Worcestershire and 2 dashes Tabasco sauces. Spoon the ketchup mixture evenly over the loaves.
Bake the loaves until a thermometer inserted reaches 155 degrees, about 45 minutes. Increase the oven temperature to 425 and continue baking until a thermometer inserted into the meatloaf reaches 165 degrees, about 5 minutes.
Remove and set aside for several minutes to set up before slicing. While the meatloaf is resting, prepare the gravy (recipe below). Serves 8 to 12.
5 tablespoons butter, divided
1 large onion, sliced
1 1/2 cups coarsely sliced button mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon salt, more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon Creole spice
3 tablespoons flour
4 cups low-sodium beef broth
In a large, heavy saute pan heated over medium-high heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add the onions and mushrooms, salt, pepper and Creole spice and cook, stirring frequently, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes.
Stir in the remaining butter, then sprinkle over the flour, stirring to make sure there aren’t any lumps. Slowly stir in the beef broth.
Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the gravy is thickened, about 30 minutes. Remove from heat and strain out the mushrooms and onions, discarding them. This makes about 2 cups gravy.
Adapted from a recipe by chef Brandon Boudet of the 101 Coffee Shop in Hollywood.
Grilled cheese and meatloaf sandwich
2 slices French or Italian bread (about the same diameter as the meatloaf)
6 to 8 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 ounces Provolone cheese (about 4 slices)
1 thick slice bacon-wrapped meatloaf, warmed
1/3 cup sun-dried tomato and radicchio slaw
Spread 1 side of each of the slices of bread with mayonnaise. Top each slice with half of the cheese. On top of one slice, place the warm meatloaf slice, then the slaw. Top with the inverted second slice of bread to form a sandwich, pressing gently so everything stays together.
Heat a griddle over medium-high heat until hot. Meanwhile, spread the outside of one side of the sandwich with mayonnaise.
Invert the sandwich onto the hot griddle, and spread the second (top) side with mayonnaise. Grill the sandwich until the bread is crisp and golden-brown, and the cheese starts to melt. Flip the sandwich and repeat with the second side. Remove from heat.
Slice the sandwich and serve immediately.
Sun-dried tomato and radicchio slaw
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
1/3 cup sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt, more if needed
4 cups very thinly sliced radicchio (from 1/2 head, cored and sliced crosswise)
1 large stalk celery, very thinly sliced on the bias
2/3 cup thinly sliced sun-dried tomatoes (from 15 to 20 oil-packed tomatoes)
1/2 cup chopped pickled pepperoncini peppers (mild or hot)
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives, sliced or chopped
2 teaspoons dried basil
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 tablespoons olive oil, or to taste
Pickle the onion: In a small nonreactive bowl, combine the onion, vinegar, sugar, salt and several grinds of pepper. Set aside for 20 minutes. Drain, squeezing excess liquid from the onions and place the onions in a large bowl. Reserve the pickling liquid.
To the bowl of onions, add the radicchio, celery, tomatoes, pepperoncini peppers, olives, basil and oregano. Sprinkle over 3 tablespoons of the sherry vinegar pickling liquid, along with 2 tablespoons oil. Gently massage the mixture together and taste, adjusting the flavorings and seasonings as desired. Cover and refrigerate for 20 minutes before using to give the flavors time to marry. This makes about 1 quart slaw, which will keep, covered and refrigerated, for up to 3 days.