Perfectly tender traditional meatloaf, cooked with a tasty crust and a sweet-sour tomato glaze. This Gluten-free and Paleo recipe does not use breadcrumbs.
Meatloaf is a mixture of ground meat and seasoning, baked in the shape of a loaf. It is either served hot from the oven as a main course, or left to cool and sliced. Variations are found all over the world, including versions that contain organ meat, versions that contain curry spices, and versions that contain boiled eggs in the middle (resulting in pretty yellow and white rings when sliced). But perhaps the most well-known of all is the North American version, which is topped with a tomato glaze made by mixing 2 parts ketchup to 1 part brown sugar.
The basic meatloaf recipe starts with 2lbs / 900g of minced meat. This is usually a combination of at least 2 meats, which provide a balance between lean and fat. Older, traditional recipes tend to use equal parts of beef, pork and veal. In this mix, the lean beef provides structure, while the pork provides fat and the veal adds lightness. However, modern pork is not as fatty as it used to be when these recipes were written, and modern rose veal is not as light. So while this trio produces a well-balanced meatloaf, you can replicate the texture if you want to avoid using veal by using equal parts of beef and pork. If you go for this option, then ask your butcher to make up the pork mince from a lean cut like the shoulder, and a fatty cut like the belly.
Herbs and spices are used to season the meat, and finely diced sauteed vegetables are usually included. All recipes agree that a ‘panade’ is needed – that is, a starchy paste that will act as a binder and keep the meatloaf moist by absorbing the meat juices that are released during cooking. This is typically made from soaking bread in milk. Gluten-free options can be made by substituting bread for oats or cooked rice. A grain-free option can be made by using mushrooms that have been finely chopped to a breadcrumb-like consistency. Mushrooms are like mini sponges, and are excellent at soaking up and retaining liquid (which is why you should never wash mushrooms before cooking, as this will saturate them with water, meaning that they take a long time to release their juices and brown).
Due to the high fat content, expect a lot of fat to be released during cooking. It is important to cook the loaf in a way that allows this fat to drain away – otherwise the loaf will stew in its own juices, resulting in a soggy and soft-sided loaf. One option is to free-form the mixture into the shape of a loaf, and place in the middle of a metal baking tray that has sides. The fat will collect in the tray, and so you will need to pour it away periodically during cooking (a familiar method for anyone who roasts high-fat meats such as duck). A further adaptation suspends the loaf on a rack lined with tin foil. The tin foil is poked through with holes, which allows the fat to drip through to the tray below. This results in a good, even crust, but looks misshapen and unsightly. So I prefer to mould the loaf by packing it into a metal loaf tin and inverting the whole lot onto the rack. The tin is removed halfway through cooking, by which time the meat proteins have bonded sufficiently to hold the loaf in shape.
However, the top of the meatloaf will still look pretty unsightly, as you should expect fat to ooze out of cracks during cooking. This is why a tomato glaze is applied. Some people advocate first wrapping the meatloaf in strips of streaky bacon, before layering the glaze on top. This cooking method is called ‘barding’, and is used to add extra fat to lean cuts of meat before roasting. This stops the meat from drying out, as the bacon fat renders out during cooking and bastes the meat. There is absolutely no need for adding extra fat to meatloaf, so consider this an unnecessary flourish, but there if you want it.
Tips & Tricks
- Include finely chopped mushrooms – these help retain moisture during cooking
- Mix by hand – food processors are too aggressive and ruin the texture of ground meat
- Bake in a loaf tin for the first 45 minutes, then invert onto a rack for the final 30 minutes of cooking – this allows the fat to drain, and creates a tasty brown crust
- Leave to rest – this gives the muscle fibres time to relax and reabsorb the meat juices that get driven out during cooking. Otherwise the meat juices will run out and be lost when the meat is cut, resulting in tough, dry meat
for the meatloaf:
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil (I used lard)
- 1 small carrot, peeled and finely diced
- 1 small onion, peeled and very finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
- 200g mushrooms
- 250g minced beef
- 250g minced pork
- 250g minced veal (replace with 125g minced beef and 125 minced pork if you cannot find)
- 1 egg, broken and gently combined with a fork
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley leaves
- 1/2 teaspoon paprika
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
for the glaze:
- 2 tomatoes (200g)
- 2 tablespoons tomato purée
- 4 tablespoons (70g) honey
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Prepare the tin. Preheat the oven to 180°C/355°F. Line a rack with tin foil, then place in a roasting tray. Lightly grease the tin foil, then use a fork to poke holes all over. Line the bottom of a 900g / 2lb metal loaf tin with baking paper.
- Saute the vegetables Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add the carrot and onion and fry for about 4 minutes, until the onion is translucent but not brown. Add the garlic and fry for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and leave to cool to room temperature.
- Prepare the mushrooms. Wipe the mushrooms with a sheet of damp kitchen towel to remove any soil. Remove and discard the stalks, then chop in half. Transfer to the small bowl of a food processor and pulse to a breadcrumb-like consistency (if you do not have a food processor then very finely chop).
- Combine the ingredients. Scrape the mushrooms into a large bowl. Add the sauteed vegetables and the remaining meatloaf ingredients, except for the mince. Mix well using a wooden spoon. Use your hands to crumble in the mince. Still using your hands, break up the meat and work the seasoning into the mince. Avoid using a food processor to do this, as this will grind the mixture too finely, resulting in a slimy, unpleasant texture.
- Cook the meatloaf. Pack the meatloaf into the loaf tin. Smooth the top with the back of a wet dessert spoon. Invert onto the tin foil-lined rack, keeping the tin on top (place the rack on top of the tin, then, holding both firmly together, flip the whole lot over). Transfer to the oven and cook for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and gently lift off the loaf tin. Peel off the baking paper from the top of the meatloaf. Return to the oven and cook uncovered for another 30 minutes.
- Make the glaze. Meanwhile, peel the tomatoes. The easiest way to do this is to chop the tomato in half lengthways and coarsely grate, cut-side down, discarding the skin. Alternatively, leave to soak in a bowl of just-boiled water for 5 minutes, drain, and peel with your hands. Combine all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan. Gently simmer over a medium heat for 10 minutes. Set aside and leave to cool.
- Grill the glaze. Remove the meatloaf from the oven when it has cooked for 1 hours and 15 minutes. Preheat the oven grill. If the meatloaf needs crisping up first, then place under the grill for 2-3 minutes, watching like a hawk to avoid burning! Once crisp, heap the tomato glaze on top of the meatloaf with a dessert spoon – it should run down the sides and be evenly coated. Place under the grill for 3 minutes.
- Rest the meatloaf. Remove the meatloaf from the grill, and leave to rest for 30 minutes, covered by a double layer of tin foil. This will also make serving much easier, as the meatloaf will have a firmer texture for cutting.
- Slice the meatloaf and serve hot or cold.