Despite the fact that my education and professional career has been focused on the Arts, I really do love science. In fact, as a kid, I was given a microscope for Christmas, and in 5th grade, I had a mad science birthday party.
People often discuss cooking and baking as “science,” but I had never given this statement much thought beyond a surface level.
For my birthday, my family gave me this incredible book from Cook’s Illustrated. It includes 50 scientific concepts of cooking, and 400 recipes to demonstrate the concepts. From marinades, to melting cheese, to cocoa powder, this book covers it all.
What I really love about this book is the scientific explanation of each concept. They actually discuss the chemical composition of foods, and the chemical reactions that happen when you cook. It’s pretty much perfect for a nerd like me!
My husband’s birthday is this week, and that means that I make classic meatloaf and roasted potatoes for dinner. He is a true “meat and potatoes” guy, and this meal is his request each year. So, of course, I turned to my science book to unlock the keys to a perfect meatloaf.
Meatloaf is found under the concept: “A Panade Keeps Ground Meat Together.” A panade is a mixture of starch and liquid, and can range from white bread and milk (the most basic example) to panko and yogurt. It helps keep the meat moist and helps meatloaf or meatballs hold their shape. Scientifically:
“The molecules of starch combine with the milk to create a gel that lubricates the ground meat proteins, preventing them from interconnecting too strongly, which would leave us with a tough and dry finished dish.” (p.142)
For meatloaf, the book suggests that you:
- add a panade
- use frozen cheese
- bind with eggs
- bake form free
- glaze late
I followed 3.5 out of 5 rules… I forgot to add the frozen cheese, and instead of the form free method, I used a special meatloaf pan that raises the loaf so that juices can drip out the bottom. We received this as a wedding gift, and it definitely works well. I use the loaf pan without the insert for breads and things, so it is fairly multi-purpose.
Adapted from The Science of Good Cooking
Serves 8 – 10
- 1 Tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2 celery ribs, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 teaspoon paprika
- 1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- 2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary
- 1/4 cup tomato juice
- 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 2 large eggs
- 2/3 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
- 1 Tablespoon soy sauce
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef
- 1/3 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 3 Tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Sriracha
- 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Melt butter in a skillet over medium-high heat; add onion and celery and cook, stirring ocaisionally, until beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Add paprika, basil, rosemary, and garlic and stir until fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce heat to low and add tomato juice. Cook, scraping bottom of skillet with a wooden spoon to loosen any browned bits, until thickened, about 1 minute. Transfer mixture to bowl and let cool.
Whisk broth and eggs in a large bowl. Stir in panko, soy sauce, mustard, salt, pepper, and onion mixture. Add ground beef and mix gently with hands until thoroughly combined, about 1 minute (do not over mix). Transfer meat to a meatloaf pan*, and bake until a meat thermometer registers 135 to 140 degrees, 55 to 65 minutes. Remove meatloaf from oven and turn on the broiler.
While the meatloaf cooks, prepare the glaze. Combine ingredients in a small saucepan. Bring to simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring, until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Spread half the glaze on top of the cooked meatloaf; place under broiler and cook until glaze bubbles and begins to brown at the edges, about 5 minutes. Remove meatloaf from oven a repeat with the remaining glaze. Cool meatloaf for 20 minutes before slicing.
*If you don’t have a meatloaf pan, you can create the same effect by making a 10 by 6 -inch rectangle with foil. Place the rectangle on a wire rack, and place the rack on a rimmed baking sheet. Punch holes in the foil, and spray with cooking oil.
I served the meatloaf with roasted potatoes (tossed in olive oil, salt, and pepper and roasted for about 30 minutes at 375, then 10 minutes at 500 degrees) and green beans (tossed with a simple dijon vinaigrette).
This recipe (and the scientific concepts behind it) did not disappoint! My husband thoroughly enjoyed the meal, and will enjoy the leftovers we continue to eat for dinner throughout the week.
And now for the winner of our EZ Tofu Press Giveaway!
Thank you to those of you who entered our giveaway. The winner is: Gabrielle!
(Yes, I realize the irony of announcing the winner of a Tofu Press in a post about Meatloaf….)