The Oxford Companion to Food says meatloaf is "a worthy dish," but declares, "Its range, however, does not extend into the realm of haute cuisine."
I beg to differ. As evidence consider the fact that Wolfgang Puck serves his grandmother's meatloaf, and gets $22 per serving for it, at the Las Vegas branch of his famous restaurant, Spago. Containing both beef and pork, mushrooms and eggplant, and wrapped in pancetta, topped with grilled red onions, and sauced with a port wine glaze, it sounds pretty gourmet to me.
Nor is Puck the only one to think of meatloaf in grand terms. The late fashion designer Bill Blass -- whose very name conferred highbrow status not only to men's and women's clothing but to a line of chocolates, a signature perfume, and even a special edition Lincoln Continental -- actually argued in his memoir that his meatloaf recipe was perhaps his greatest legacy.
And why not? When you get right down to it, meatloaf has a lot in common with a dish that does have a reputation for being fancy -- pâté, which, as cookbook author Carol Cutler notes, "is nothing more than a French meat loaf that's had a couple of cocktails."
Yet even though meatloaf in the right hands and with the right ingredients can aspire to haute status, the best version is still the simple, down-to-earth, old-fashioned kind made by moms from their own recipes for generations, the kind that Harry Truman, not surprisingly, said was his favorite meal. Thus, the Oxford Companion is correct when it observes that the dish has considerably higher visibility on dinner tables than in cookbooks. Sure enough, Epicurious, one of the largest online culinary databases with some 17,000 recipes, contains barely a dozen entries for it.
Nonetheless, as Cooking Light magazine puts it, "Meatloaf holds an honored spot in the pantheon of all-American foods."
+++++ The Ultimate Meatloaf +++++
This recipe is adapted from Rosso and Lukins' The New Basics cookbook.
3 tablespoons butter
¾ cup finely chopped onion
¾ cup finely chopped green onions
½ cup finely chopped carrots
¼ cup finely chopped celery
¼ cup minced red bell pepper
¼ cup minced green bell pepper
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground white pepper
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
½ cup ketchup
½ cup half-and-half
2 pounds ground chuck
¾ pound sausage (not Italian)
¾ cup fresh bread crumbs, toasted
Sauté vegetables and garlic in butter until soft and moisture evaporates. Cool and refrigerate until chilled. Combine salt, spices, and eggs and beat well. Blend in ketchup and half-and-half. Add meats, bread crumbs, and chilled vegetables and knead until thoroughly mixed. Form mixture into an oval, place into baking pan, and bake in a water bath at 375 degrees for 35-40 minutes. Remove from water bath and lest rest 20 minutes before slicing. Serves 8-10.