Meatloaf is a dish that changes with age: it is often reviled by children and treasured by parents. It makes sense, actually. Kids like to know what’s in their food, and meatloaf is the antithesis of this idea; it’s just a brown hunk of mystery, coupled with a nagging feeling that there are vegetables inside. Adults like meatloaf because it’s a way to eat many ingredients at once, with minimal effort. Personally, I think that a perfectly-cooked meatloaf is appealing to both sides of the coin: easy to make but tasty enough for everyone to enjoy. To ensure a perfectly-roasted loaf, I developed a recipe that uses a water bath to keep the oven moist and cook everything evenly.
Meatloaf has origins in many countries, spread throughout the world. It’s universally considered a comfort food. Some of my favorite variations include Jewish Klops (made with boiled eggs inside), Czech Sekaná (with pickles and sausage inside), and Austrian Faschierter Braten (wrapped in ham or bacon before baking). The American variation rose to popularity during the Great Depression, when families tried to stretch food out to last longer. Americans typically added breadcrumbs to help bind and add volume to the dish, and the tradition persists today. The truth is that a well-cooked meatloaf doesn’t really need a breadcrumb binder – mushrooms work just fine, and add some great flavor as well.
processed filler ingredients
Meatloaf (Paleo, Gluten-Free)
2 tbsp butter or ghee (coconut oil okay)
1/2 onion, minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chicken broth
1/2 head cauliflower, cut into florets
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
4oz mushrooms, coarsely chopped
small handful fresh parsley
2 tsp sea salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
2 squirts (1/4 tsp) Tabasco sauce
2 lbs ground beef (see variations below)
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp dijon mustard
1. Pre-cooking the onion and garlic will give your meatloaf a more even flavor. In a skillet, warm the butter or ghee on medium heat for a minute. Add the onion and sauté until translucent and aromatic, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another 30 seconds, then add the chicken broth and bring to a simmer; simmer until most of the broth has evaporated, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool, about 5 minutes.
2. Preheat your oven to 325F. Add the cooled onion/garlic, cauliflower, carrot, mushrooms, parsley, salt, pepper, Worcestershire sauce, and Tabasco to a food processor or blender and pulse into tiny pieces, as pictured above. In a large bowl, combine the blended vegetables and ground beef with your hands. Be careful not to over-mix.
3. Pack the meatloaf into a loaf pan, gently pressing down to eliminate any air bubbles. Place the loaf pan into a roasting pan and fill the roasting pan with enough water so that it reaches halfway up the loaf pan. Bake until it registers an internal temperature of 165F, about 90 minutes, then broil for 2-3 minutes to crisp the top. Remove from the oven, gently remove the loaf from the pan, and let rest for 10 minutes before slicing into 1/2″ slices (~10 slices total).
4. About 1/2 cup of liquid will have accumulated around the loaf when cooking. Pour the liquid through a fat separator, then combine half of the meatloaf liquid with the ketchup and dijon mustard. Add more liquid as needed get a sauce that’s thick but pourable. Pour the sauce over the meatloaf, serving with your favorite mashed root vegetable (I used potato, but mashed sweet potato, rutabaga, turnip, or parsnip would be equally delicious).
** Variations: instead of 2 lbs ground beef, try mixing 1 lb each of ground beef and ground pork for a less beefy flavor. Process some uncooked bacon (about 6oz) with the vegetables for an extra juicy and rich flavor (note that adding bacon may increase cooking time up to 30 minutes).
** We’ve experimented with other vegetables in the loaf to excellent result: broccoli, zucchini, and even bell peppers work well with this template.
** Note that Lea & Perrins Worcestershire has a fairly clean ingredients list: distilled white vinegar, molasses, water, sugar, onions, anchovies, salt, garlic, cloves, tamarind extract, natural flavorings, chili pepper extract. According to their website, this product is also gluten-free. I’m personally okay with minimal amounts of molasses and sugar in recipes, but if you are avoiding sugar altogether, fish sauce is an appropriate substitution. The whole “natural flavorings” ingredient thing is probably anything but natural, so again, if you have food sensitivities use fish sauce (or omit).
loaf pan in its water bath