Friday, 27 May 2011

Meatloaf - more interesting & versatile than I thought

If you think of meatloaf as basically a gussied-up square burger cooked in the oven you really can't go wrong.  My mum used to make her version when I was little and I loved it so thought I'd try giving I a bash myself.  True to form I made it up and threw it all together before it occurred to me to look on the brilliant BBC GoodFood website to see what should be in it, but it worked out just fine. I started by making a basic burger mix, as always adding more seasoning and herbage than it feels like you should:

1 kg lean minced beef and / or pork, 2 finely chopped medium onions, squished or very finely chopped garlic (about 5 cloves in my case), salt & pepper, mixed herbs – I used sage, oregano & thyme, 2 tsps of English mustard (I'm guessing horseradish would be wonderful here), 1 small chilli, 2 eggs, good quality streaky bacon

NB: a quick thought about the herbs: as a rule I always try to use anything & everything as fresh as it can be but herbs are often the exception.  I always have a good stock of dried herbs (dried myself from fresh herbs either grown or bought) as the flavour strengthens as they dry.  Whilst fresh are still best in many things I cook, I do prefer dried in burgers and therefore meatloaf.

Combine all the ingredients except the bacon in a big bowl and cover with cling film.  Leave out of the fridge for the flavours to get stuck in for at least an hour, though I left mine for about three hours. Line a non-stick loaf tin (if yours isn't non-stick, give it a light layer of butter or oil) with the strips of streaky bacon, taking care to overlap them generously so that they completely cover the meat when it is turned out and leaving enough hanging over the edge to cover the top of the meat.  Press your 'burger' mix firmly into the bacon-lined tin until it is almost overflowing and cover with the overhanging bacon.  Fill a wide & deep roasting dish about 2/3rds full of water and stand the loaf tin in it (meat side up) and cook on about 170C / gas 4-5 for around an hour until the top is browned & glistening.  Leave it to stand for about 10 mins to cool, then turn out and slice.

I served mine hot with really rich onion gravy (recipe below) but I'd imagine a dollop of ketchup in a bun would be nice, as would a big smear of mustard.  The leftovers (and there were a lot) were brilliant cold with salad and pickled chillis, though I would have loved some cornichons even more.  We even had enough to slice up and add to an already meat-heavy BBQ the day after that!

Gravy: thinly slice a medium onion and sweat (horrible expression) gently in butter or olive oil. When they are soft, sprinkle a couple of teaspoons of soft brown sugar over them and let them bubble gently to caramelise.  Add some super-rich beef stock (I used 2 Knorr stock pot extra strong but actually Bovril would have been fine and homemade even better), the juices from the loaf tin and about half a bottle of red wine and simmer until thick & glossy.

A fragrant Chinese marinade & its many uses (yes, I know - more noodle soup!)

I’ve been using a combination of any or all of these ingredients as a marinade for many years, and often use them as a base for a beautiful fragrant broth.  To my mind, this marinade works best with pork belly, whether slow roasted as in the recipe below or cooked very fast & hot on a BBQ for a crunchy, sticky crust.  It works beautifully too with chicken, salmon, prawns, tofu or anything robust enough to carry the strong flavours.  

Wherever possible, use whole spices and grind or bash them yourself for optimum flavour .  Substituting one or two here & there with the powdered versions is absolutely fine too.  It is such a complex combination of flavours and textures that quantities of each ingredient are entirely subject to mood & particular taste – if you know you don’t like cloves for example just leave them out. If you are chilly & need something punchy and warming, ramp up the Szechuan pepper, cloves and chilli or for something lighter and subtler, dial them down and add more star anise.

Combine as many and as much as you like of: ground cloves, ground Szechuan pepper, chopped ginger, chopped garlic, ground cinnamon, ground star anise, chopped red chilli, tamarind paste, good strong soy sauce, nam pla, soft brown sugar (palm sugar is the ideal but can be hard to find) and a splash of sesame oil.  Rub this sticky mess all over whatever you choose to marinate and leave for at least one hour but ideally three or more. 

For an amazing broth, marinate a piece of belly pork, scored gently on the meat side, for a few hours.  Put in an oven-proof pan and cover with about a litre of water and the goo leftover from the marinade and bring to the boil.  Transfer the pan to the oven and roast it uncovered, long & slow for around 3-4 hours. Add water as & when required to maintain the broth and stop it burning.  There’s no reason at all not to do this in a slow cooker and  forget about it as you go about your day but you will need then to crisp the crackling either under the grill or in a very hot oven before serving.  To serve as a soup, layer noodles, greens, mushrooms (or anything you fancy) and the shredded pork (it should just fall apart by now) in a deep bowl and ladle the liquid (be sure to taste before you do this so you can add water to lighten or reduce to strengthen) over the lot. Scatter the crunched up crackling and some finely chopped spring onions over the top and serve at once.

Marinated tofu in very light broth

Marinated, slow roast belly pork in spicy, heady soup