Stormy Weather Meatloaf
The '07 Patriots' Day Storm (I won't use the bogus term Nor'easter) raged around here for about a week, fraying nerves and generally making us bounce off the walls. (You don't live in Maine if you don't like winter, but for most transplants it only dawns slowly that while winter is bearable and sometimes even pleasant, spring in Maine is the pits. Every year: chilly, raw, rainy, muddy, ugly --- with nary a flower in sight, long after the daffs, tulips and apple trees are out only a short way down the coast in Boston. I'm starting to understand why so many Mainers head to the islands and the southern beaches in April, instead of in January and February when you would expect a snowbird exodus.)
Comfort food, of course, is the time-honored remedy for the crabbiness that blooms when cabin-fever has been hanging around too long, so this spicy, herby meatloaf was just what the doctor ordered. (Not the heart doctor -- he ALWAYS says no to this meal...the head doctor, I'm sure, is the one who orders comfort food to be administered.)
Since it's comfort food (which means that the food police have been given the night off), I adhere to the following meatloaf rules: more pork than beef, at least 25% fat, and a good measure of salt. After those rules are complied with I go with the flow in terms of ingredients...tasty porcini mushrooms, tarragon, ground fennel seeds and a mirepoix (celery, carrots and onions) ended up in this version.
I served this with garlicky turnip greens, mashed potatoes with celeriac, a full-bodied, earthy Chianti and some vintage Muddy Waters. Needless to say, our soggy blues were well chased from the house.
Stormy Weather Meatloaf
12 oz ground beef, 70% lean
12 oz ground pork, 80% lean
6 oz bacon or pancetta, medium dice
1 medium carrot, medium dice
1 small onion, medium dice
1 medium stalk celery, medium dice
3 cloves garlic
1-1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 cup full-bodied red wine
6 T panko flakes or unflavored bread crumbs
2 T fresh flat-leaf parsley, minced
3 T fresh tarragon leaves, minced
1-1/2 tsp fennel seed, freshly ground
2 tsp salt
1 tsp hot sauce
Place the meats in the freezer* while preparing the other ingredients, to allow them to reach a temperature around 34º before mixing. Place the mushrooms in 2 cups of hot water to soak 15 minutes.
Sauté the carrot, onion and celery slowly in a little olive oil until the onions become translucent. Remove from heat.
Carefully lift the mushrooms from the soaking liquid with a slotted spoon, reserving the liquid. Allow them to drain over the bowl for a few seconds and then transfer to a sieve. Rinse the mushrooms in running water for a few seconds to wash away any grit. Sauté the mushrooms in a little olive oil on medium heat for about three minutes, stirring. Pour the soaking liquid into the pan through a fine-mesh strainer, leaving the last teaspoonful in the bowl with any remaining grit. Add the wine, raise the heat and cook rapidly, stirring occasionally, to reduce the liquid to a thick, syrup-like glaze which will coat and cling to the mushrooms.
Combine the cold meat, carrot mixture, garlic, mushrooms, nutmeg, egg, panko, herbs, salt and hot sauce in a roomy bowl. Mix quickly but thoroughly (I think this is best done with a pair of clean hands) and press into a loaf pan. Deocorate if preferred with some artful carrot slivers, tarragon leaves, etc.
Bake in a 350º oven until the internal temperature reaches 150º. Remove from oven, wrap in foil and allow to rest 20 minutes.
* I've been reading Michael Ruhlman's Charcuterie lately and he instructs that blending the meat at near-freezing temperature binds the fats in such a way that they don't break down so readily under heat, which is apparently a good thing, so I've added this step to my meatloaf routine. Comments welcome on this.