Sunday, September 13, 2009

A meatloaf experiment

I did a good bit of cooking this weekend, but nothing much worth posting about. I made a pot of chicken stock, a mess of beans, a batch of scallion buns (I took out the bacon and chives that messed up the last batch and instead just added a little cabbage. That worked very nicely.) and, as you can see from the post title, a meatloaf.

I hadn't planned on the meatloaf being particularly interesting either, but I had a thought that brings it just barely into range. If you read my last post you know that's a pretty low bar, but the results promise possibilities to come.

So, meatloaf. In my last post about meatloaf included a schema that I stole from somewhere for a generic meatloaf. Here's a bit more detailed version:
2 pounds ground meat
1 1/2 cups finely chopped starch (but not too finely. Breadcrumbs, not flour)
1 cup somewhat more coarsely chopped vegetables
2-3 eggs
1/4 - 1/2 cup dairy of some sort
copious seasonings

mix everything, pack it into a loaf pan and decant it into a baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for around an hour until the inside reaches between 140 and 160 degrees depending on who you ask. If you're going to glaze, wait until the last 10 minutes.

Now you could fuss about making sure your choice of vegetable matches nicely with your choice of meat and starch, or you can throw together whatever you've got and count on the seasoning to smooth things out. I went the latter route this time around.

The actual experiment was how far I pushed the definition of "starch". Usually, that means bread crumbs or sometimes oatmeal or crushed croutons. Instead I, while looking at the remnants of the chicken stock cooking process, wondered if mashed carrots and turnips might do. (I also had a good bit of well-boiled chicken. I put that in the beans.) I thought I'd have the full cup and half, but after sqeezing the soup out of the vegetables, they had compressed down to only half a cup, and that's including the bits of onion I left in the there. On the plus side, it had the texture of squished white bread which a lot of meatloaf recipes use. I filled out the rest of the volume with half panko bread crumbs and half oatmeal. (My homemade breadcrumbs went grotty with all the humidity recently so I had to toss them out and make due with what I had left in the house.) I ground those together with the carrot/turnip mush and ended up with this promisingly mealy-looking stuff:

For the meat, I used a pound of ground beef, half a pound of pork and a few Argentinean-style chorizos. I usually buy the Venezuelan-style ones, but I thought I'd try Argentinean this week. I dunno, though. They smell like cheap hot dogs and they're full of fat and gristle.

For the vegetables, I used cabbage, red and yellow sweet peppers, some past-their-prime cremini mushrooms and carrot tops. I fried them up to add a bit of flavor from browning and to drive out some moisture so they can absorb meat juices later.

For the dairy, I used about a third of a cup of well-crumbled goat cheese and the whey it came packed in.

And for the seasoning, adobo con sazon, Pickapeppa sauce and Crystal hot sauce.

Here it is all mixed and molded.

And here it is afterward. I did a simple glaze of ketchup, brown sugar, hot sauce and white vinegar.

It holds together nicely without being tough or crumbly. I should have chopped the vegetables more finely and there's some sinewy bits from the sausage, but otherwise, the texture's very nice.

The flavor is a bit more carroty than perhaps one might wish and I went light on the salt, but otherwise, the random assortment of ingredients I threw together work well enough. It's not great, but random assortments rarely are. [It's tomorrow now and I can report that the flavors work rather better cold and I've decided that I quite like the textural interest of the vegetable chunks. So I'm happier with the results than I was yesterday.] The interesting bit is that the soup vegetables have vanished entirely into the meat mix and I do think they had a beneficial effect on both texture and, subtly, on the flavor.

I wonder how other vegetables with a similar texture might work. Mashed potato or yam should be comparable. I'd be surprised if there aren't recipes out there that already use them, but it's tough to search for them as they're often mentioned as side dishes where they're not ingredients. Going further afield, might an avocado, with much of the moisture squeezed out, work? Or a roasted canistel? Canistels firm up to a yam-like texture when roasted. Now I'm thinking about roasted avocados. There are a bunch of recipes out there, but they're really just warming the avocados through and melting cheese on top. What does happen to avocados when you roast them long enough to affect the texture? Have any of you tried?


kat said...

Interesting take on meatloaf. We love Andrew Zimmern's recipe which is full of spinach & bacon so much that we rarely make any other version

billjac said...

The Bizarre Foods guy? He has recipes? I thought he was just a novelty act with the ability to choke down whatever was handed to him.

Yeah, I could make just about any savory dish better by adding spinach and bacon, but I'm hoping meatloaf will be a good way to use up CSA scraps so I've got to be more flexible.

Russell Hews Everett said...

Canistel That's firmly in the uncharted territory of possibly the best/worst thing ever. Then again, I made pie with them so it might work. Made me think pumpkin meatloaf, we're just getting the first of the season's pie pumpkins around here.

I would imagine that roasted florida avos probably aren't too good, but I've never tried. Time for an experiment.

billjac said...

I share your skepticism about using fresh canistels in savory dishes, but roasted canistels are a very different thing in both flavor and texture. If a sweet potato meatloaf can work (and if you use ham and/or turkey, I think it can), then a roasted canistel meat loaf can too.

As for Florida avocados, I can't say I have high expectations, but unless I try it, I'll never know.