Friday, March 10, 2006

mondo gumbo meatloaf

... In which our heroine proves that one can indeed add fat to fatty meat and survive to tell the tale ..
I keep promising to blog my gumbo recipe, and someday I will. The delay comes because when I make gumbo, I'm usually cooking for company. It's too good not to share. When I'm cooking for company, I generally have no time for stopping and taking pictures. So my gumbo recipe, to date, goes unblogged. I do want the world to have it ... I call it spreading the gumbo gospel ... and have even taught a couple of classes on it at our local cooperative food store. So, trust me, I will blog it. Someday.

The last time I made it, it occured to me (as I stirred the brown roux for longer than you might think one would) that the first few steps create a very tasty roux-and-veggie concoction that might be a nice addition to other dishes. As I cast about for ideas, I hooked a good'n: meat loaf. I don't usually think of putting a roux in a meatloaf, but this is no normal roux. This is a roux full of flavor (she said rouxfully). And I do like a meatloaf with big chunks of onions in it. So, sez I to meself, let's give this'n a try. Next time hamburg goes on sale. Which happened this week. $1.59 a pound in family-size packages. The latter detail, of course, accounts for the "mondo" portion of my meatloaf title!

So here's a blogger's tale of makin' meatloaf with a distinctly southern accent, y'all.

Quantities are approximate, as I didn't exactly measure ... I'll tell you how to tell when you've got it right where appropriate.

The roux:

~½ c olive oil or butter
1 large onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, chopped (I always use frozen)
1 stalk celery, sliced (about 1 cup)
~1 c stock (chicken, veggie, beef)

The loaf:

2 eggs
1 tsp salt
1 Tbl tomato paste
1 Tbl worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
3 lb ground beef
¾ c fine white bread crumbs

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees F.

Over medium-high heat, preheat any pan that's not nonstick. You can use a large skillet or a pan. In the pictures, I use an anodized aluminum dutch oven. A real southern cook would use a cast arn pan (that's "iron" to us yankees), but with a ceramic cooktop, I don't dare. Those babies are really, really expensive to replace once you crack 'em, and I'm prone to dropping things!

Add your oil, allow it to heat for just a couple of seconds, then whisk in enough flour to get yours to look about like this. It's more flour than you think. Start with ½ cup and then add more till it's not quite dry-looking.

Whisk, stir, whisk some more. Your pan will no doubt start smoking. Not to worry. Whisk, stir, whisk. You're aiming for a brownness close to peanut butter. From time to time, if it seems to be going a bit too slowly for your patience level, you can stop stirring and let the roux sit in the center of the pan for a short time. Keep an eye on it, though. When you start stirring again, you'll see that the bottom has browned. Good! Now whisk to get all that brownness mixed in. Repeat. I'm sorry I didn't pay any attention to how long this took. Perhaps ten minutes?

You'll end up with roux that will look like this. It looks a bit wetter than it did when raw, and that dark, rich color means dark, rich flavor, y'all. If you let it burn, you'll see dark specks in your roux. It's ruined then, and you'll want to throw it out and start over. Trust me on this, people. You do not want to use burnt roux, tiny though those black spots may appear. It's nasty bitter stuff.

Ok, now you have this smokin' hot pan with roux that's still cooking in it. Dramatically dump your chopped onion in, and listen to the sizzle! Stir vigorously until the onion is totally coated with the roux. You have now stopped the roux from cooking. The color you've got is the color you've got, and all that heat is now cooking your onions rather than your roux.

Keeping the heat at medium high unless it makes you too nervous, let the onions cook down a bit (precision is not required here) and then throw in the celery and green peppers. You can lower the heat in the pan if you want to slow things down, but it will take quite a bit longer if you do.

At this point, you get to decide how long you cook the veggies. If you like them to show up as chunks in your meatloaf, you'll cook them a shorter period than if you want to disguise them to fool your kids into thinking they're not eating veggies. In my case, I just cooked them till they were done, but not all the way down to mush.

You can see that there's browned roux stuck in the edges of my pan. Excellent! Don't be too obsessive about getting that scraped up and mixed in. It's all good.

Next, add a little stock to deglaze the pan, stirring constantly. I love the sizzle and steam from this. It's surprising how much stock this little bit of roux can absorb without getting watery. Look at the picture below to see the approximate gooeyness I was going for.

You can probably turn the heat down at this point. While adding the stock, run your spoon or whatever you're stirring with around where the brown bits are to get them incorporated. You'll end up with about 2 cups of roux, a little less if you cooked the veggies down further.

Here's what my mixture looked like just before adding it to the meat mixture. It's kind of gooey and wonderfully rich. This is the point at which I looked at it the other day and asked myself what else I could put it in. Love this stuff!

Ok, when you're done cooing over your lovely roux, take a swig of your cold beer (people, this is not a wine kind of a night) and set it aside to cool while you prepare the rest of the meatloaf. Of course, if you're like me, you've been preparing the rest of it all along, and swigging your beer all along, and you really don't need to me to orchestrate all that, now do you?

Ok, whisk your eggs in a bowl large enough to contain all the ingredients and let you get your hands in there and mix it all up. (I had to put in a large picture of my bowl here; isn't it pretty?) Add to it the other ingredients except bread crumbs and meat. Whisk well, then dump in the meat, bread crumbs and the roux and wash your hands so you can just get in there and squoosh stuff around. Latex gloves?!? Oh, all right, but make sure they're food grade. Mix, mix, mix. Tra la la la la. Done.

Now wash those greasy hands (or strip off your gloves, if you must) and line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil. I have baked this directly on a baking sheet in the past and will never do that again. Entirely too challenging to clean off.

Dump the meat mixture onto the foil, and shape it into a long loaf. Spread ketchup over the top. Put some hot water in a brownie pan or some such thing and put it on the bottom shelf of the oven to keep the loaf from splitting. Put the loaf in the top shelf. Bake for one hour, or until you can cut into the middle of the loaf and see the doneness you're after. We like ours with no pink, and this recipe still was tender and moist.

The bottom line, or did the experiment pan out, y'all?

Was it worth the extra trouble to brown the roux? I'm not sure. I can't say the browned roux flavor was particularly prominent in the meat loaf. I think next time I would just saute the veggies and go from there. But it was worth a try, and we are definitely enjoying our tender, moist, mondo gumbo meatloaf! The Huz is a major cheese lover, so he happily dumped a LOT of shredded monterey jack on top of his. Mine was more demurely enjoyed with some extra ketchup. Haute cuisine it ain't, but there's something to be said for comfort foods too. Right?

Postscript: Sweetnicks just tipped me off about the MeatLoaf Madness event over at Eating For One. Is that serendipitous or what? Another venue to share to wealth. Thanks, Sweetnicks! Oh, and besides being generous with her tips, she's being generous enough to allow a meatloaf entry to qualify for ARF (antioxidant rich foods) Tuesday! Even though this meatloaf has LOADS of veggies in it, that's still a stretch. Sweetnicks, I owe you one for sure!!


Eva said...

I so love meatloaf. I've got some beef in the fridge that just might get loafified tomorrow.

mll said...

I so loved this post!!! I so delighted in the way you expressed yourself. How fun to see the joy of someone who loves to cook. I think I might even enjoy cooking with someone who loves it like you do!!!

PatL said...

Eva, loafification is good. And the word is great!

MLL ... especially when there are swigs of cold beer involved!! Let's do it!!

Cate said...

I l-o-v-e meatloaf, but The Husband? Not so much. Luckily The Neighbor likes it, so we split one. Cold meatloaf sandwiches with mayo on toast . yum-o!

Babycakes said...

It looks delicious and chock full of all kinds of veggies.Being a southern girl,I know a roux makes anything better!lol
Emily aka biscuits and blues

PatL said...

Hi, Emily, thanks for stopping by. Looks like you're just starting your own food blog. Welcome to the fam!