IN THE NAME GAME, meatloaf is a loser. When you name recipes, you want to arouse interest and make people hungry. There’s nothing enticing about the descriptor “loaf,” unless you’re referring to bread. And it doesn’t help that there’s a lot of bad versions of meatloaf out there. On the flip side, a good meatloaf is among the best of American comfort food. The perfect meatloaf is a blend of flavors, slightly sweet and slightly spicy, with a crisp exterior and soft inside. Even better, for the time-pressed cook, meatloaf is the perfect convenience food. The meatloaf can be mixed and formed into the loaf in the morning, covered and refrigerated, and at dinner time popped right into the oven to bake. That’s great because my family are big fans of meatloaf.
The basic formula: I still use the basic formula I came up with as a youngish bride trying to impress my husband: 2 parts ground beef (with 20% fat), 1 part ground pork, 1 egg per 1 ½ pounds meat, a few tablespoons breadcrumbs, ketchup/seasoned tomato sauce and grated Parmesan cheese. I like to season with Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and sautéed onions.
As with most meals, I sometimes have to change things up based on what I have around. I prefer panko breadcrumbs (you know, the very crisp Japanese version), but I use what have. A chopped-up piece of bread will do in a pinch. I keep dehydrated toasted onions around; they make a quick fix if I don’t have time to chop, sauté and cool onions. The loaf can be spiced up with seasonings and sautéed vegetables at will. Once the meatloaf mix is ready, test for seasoning by cooking a small patty of the mixture.
Here’s the bacon part: The last steps are the most important. I line a rimmed sheet pan with heavy-duty foil—a shallow roasting pan would work as well. I form the meatloaf mixture into an oval loaf on the foil, no more than about about four inches high. Now comes the most essential step. I wrap about 4 slices of bacon evenly spaced down the loaf, tucking the ends under the loaf—the bacon will look like stripes across the length of the loaf. It doesn’t matter exactly how you arrange the slices, just make it even. The loaf goes into a 350-degree oven to cook low and slow for about 60 to 75 minutes (it may take a little longer if it’s really cold when it goes in the oven) until it registers 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer when tested in the thickest part of the loaf.
When it’s done, let it rest 15 minutes so the juices don’t all run out when you slice it. Use two large spatulas to transfer to a cutting board or serving platter and enjoy. It’s a dish that’s best served warm.
—Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
LittleBird “Stephanie Cooks” inspires dinner every Monday for MyLittleBird.