There are four components to the basic meatloaf: The meat, the seasonings, the "filler" and the sauce. Any one of them can be varied to suit your own tastes. Then you can put your name on your very own meatloaf recipe!
Let's take the components one at a time:
The MeatMeatloaf can be made out of any kind of ground meat. Ground beef is traditional, but there is no reason you can't use turkey or any other kind. "Meatloaf mix," which is available in some stores, is a combination of beef, pork, and veal. Many recipes include sausage (taken out of the "skin"). Any meat is fine; however, it's best to avoid very fatty meats as they will release a whole lot of grease. Most meatloafs have 1 ½ to 2 ½ lbs. of meat for a standard loaf pan.
The SeasoningsThe seasonings can vary depending upon your taste and adventurousness. Meatloaf can be made Italian style, Mexican style, or plain American style. It can be flavored with anything from wine to hot sauce to curry powder. Garlic is a favorite, as is Worcestershire sauce and ketchup (though low-carb eaters will want to watch the sugar in regular ketchup).
The FillerJust ground meat can be very dense, plus it won't hold as much juice. Usually meatloaf is mixed with some kind of starch such as bread or oatmeal to absorb the juices and make it less dense, about ½ cup of filler per pound of meat. Vegetables such as spinach, onion, mushrooms, or green peppers also make the loaf less dense, as well as add flavor. Fruit such as chopped apple or applesauce is not an unusual addition, adding juiciness as well as a sweet counterpoint to the savory loaf.
On low-carb diets, starchy fillers are discouraged, especially bread crumbs. It is perfectly fine to just leave it out. But if you do this, know that you'll have to drain the excess grease and juices, or form it on a baking sheet instead of in a loaf pan. Here are some low-carb ideas for fillers for meat loaf:
- low-carb bread crumbs
- possibly oatmeal (not instant), depending on carb allowance
- dried vegetables such as onion, tomato, and mushrooms, or dried soup mix (count carbs -- can't use in the same quantities as other fillers)
- Fresh or frozen vegetables such as spinach and others listed above will make the loaf less dense, but not absorb juice
- crushed pork rinds
- Carb Counters Instant Mashers
- Thicken Thin NOTcereal and/or NOT sugar
Putting the Loaf TogetherIn addition to the filler, egg is usually used as binder, usually 1 per loaf does the trick. Some say that more interferes with the texture.
Your hands are the best tools for mixing up a meatloaf, but don't overdo it. The heat from your hands will melt the fat and give the loaf a gummier texture.
The Sauce or ToppingThough a topping for the meatloaf isn't a requirement, it is common. Most popular are some sort of tomato-based sauce such as ketchup, barbeque sauce, tomato sauce or paste, or my childhood favorite, piquant sauce. Mushroom gravies are also common. Bacon is another topping that a lot of people like.
I like to put tomato-based sauces on about 10 to 15 minutes before the end of cooking. I would add gravies after the meatloaf is on the plate.
Cooking the LoafThough we usually think of meatloaves as being in large loaf pans, they will cook faster if divided up into small loaf pans or even muffin cups. At 350 F, the muffin cups will cook in 15 to 20 minutes, as compared to an hour or more in a large loaf pan. Some say that cooking it longer at 325 F will create and improved texture. In any case, when the middle is 155 F, the meatloaf is done.
It's also fun to make meatloaf in different shapes on a baking sheet. Hearts are popular, or see the cat above for real creativity!
Now, let your imagination run wild, and let us know what you come up with!
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