My hardcover copy of Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen is dogeared, foodstained and some of the pages are coming out of the binding. It is inscribed, “From Robert and Katy, 1984,” and it is still a “top shelf” cookbook in my kitchen library.
I prize it because the recipes have a zing to them and it contains the best meatloaf recipe of all time. Paul Prudhomme calls it Cajun Meat Loaf and it’s on page 112 after Cajun Prime Rib and followed by Fresh Veal Liver with Mashed Potatoes, Smothered Onions and Bacon. I call it K-Paul Meatloaf.
I am a lover of good meatloaf, and its first cousin, meatballs. I have tried countless such recipes over the years, 13 remain in my database, and probably an equal number in my Cookbook collection; most are good. K-Paul Meatloaf is the best.
What is meatloaf anyway, but ground meat, bread, egg, milk and seasoning. It can be hard and dull or rich, moist and full of flavor, depending on the “other stuff” that goes into the mixing bowl.
My love of K-Paul Meatloaf is a three part thing:
The preparation and mixing.
The sandwiches made from leftovers.
K-Paul Meatloaf assults and enlivens my senses at every step of the way.
Part 1, The Prep
First, vegetables are chopped: onions, celery, green bell peppers, scallions, garlic; and spices measured: bay leaf, salt, red pepper, black pepper, white pepper, cumin, nutmeg, Tabasco Sauce and Worcestershire Sauce.
These are cooked with butter in a heavy saucepan… “saute until the mixture starts sticking excessively, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the pan bottom well.” This is a job for your favorite wooden spoon… the mixture softens and thickens and gives off a pungent aroma. One can see and feel it transform to a hot paste, glistening and starting to stick as the liquid is cooked out. There is an earthyness to the process and a feeling that one is getting to the pure essense of Cajun flavor. It’s a beautiful thing. Add a mixture of evaporated milk and ketchup and it turns creamy, but with the vegetables lending a discernable texture.
While that cools, the basics are put in a large bowl; ground beef, ground pork, eggs and bread crumbs.
Part 1a is a hands-onâ€”or hands-inâ€”affair, mixing all that latent flavor into the meat. Be thorough but gentle. Again, as the solids combine with the sauce there is a transformation taking place that you can feel in your hands as the disparate ingredients combine into a whole that holds together on its own. This is not stuffed into a loaf pan, but placed freeform in a shallow roasting pan, the better to brown and crust all â€˜round. (In this case, I’m doing a half-recipe.)
In less than an hour in the oven (I’ve also done it on a Weber Grille), it’s ready to eat. I check by pressing on the top with my finger, and if it is rather firm, it’s done. The outside is nice and brown with spots of dark brown crust.
This meatloaf is spicy, as you might guess, so sweet and crisp make good accompaniments. While baking, I braised little carrots and made a salad.
For the carrots, I normally braise them in orange juice with a little sugar, but I don’t have any orange juice. I do have an orange, so I section the orange, put the sections with the carrots in some water and wine and sprinkle with a little brown sugar. Tasty.
For the crisp salad: sliced cucumbers, sliced endive and celery, drizzled with Stonehouse lemon olive oil.
Part 2, The Eating
How can I say fabulous? Since there are just two of us, we each claim a crusty end. The meatloaf is moist, without being mushy and full of flavor with just the right amount of peppery goodness to brighten, without being burny hot. The flavor memory of the stirring and the mixing are all in a slice. The texture is so perfect that no gravy or sauce is needed. Yum. The carrots and salad are the ying for the meatloaf’s yang.
Part 3, The Sandwich
Good firm sandwich bread, butter, ketchup, meatloaf. I’m not much of a sandwich guy, so I had to go with the bread we had on handâ€”Milton’s Healthy Whole Grainâ€”which was firm and turned out to be good when lightly toasted. (I’ve been up and down the bread aisles of Safeway and Whole Food and there’s nothing to compare with the white paper wrapped small loaves of Pepperidge Farm white sandwich bread I used to get in Boston. We’re in sourdough country.) The butter is essential, both for the taste and to keep the ketchup in its place on and around the meatloaf, not sopping into the bread.
The first bite is a taste explosion; the rich butter, the warm tomatoey sweetness of the ketchup and the spicy meatloaf mingling and thrilling the palate. Yum. A shame that I have only enough meatloaf left over for one sandwich.
K-PAUL’S CAJUN MEAT LOAF
This is oh so wonderful, from the making to the cooking smells to the eating of the last meatloaf sandwich on white bread with ketchup, days later. In Jerusalem, I always made a half-recipe, because that’s what fit in the oven.
HALF RECIPE For 2 and sandwiches
1 bay leaf
1/2 T salt
1/2 t ground red pepper (cayenne)
1/2 t black pepper
1/4 t white pepper
1/4 t ground cumin
1/4 t nutmeg
2 T unsalted butter
1/3 C finely chopped onion
1/4 C finely chopped celery
1/4 C finely chopped green pepper
1/8 C finely chopped scallions
1 t minced garlic
1/2 T Tabasco sauce
1/2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/4 C evaporated milk (see note)
1/4 C ketchup
3/4# ground beef
1/4# ground pork
1/2 C breadcrumbs
Combine the bay leaves, salt, peppers, cumen and nutmeg in a small bowl and set aside.
Melt the butter in a 1-quart saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, scallions, garlic, Tabasco, Worcestershire and seasoning mix. Saute till mixture starts sticking excessively, about 6 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the pan bottom well. Stir in the milk and ketchup. Continue cooking for about 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and allow mixture to cool to room temperature.
Place the ground beef and pork in a big bowl. Add the eggs, the cooked vegetable mixture (removing the bay leaf) and the breadcrumbs. Mix by hand until thoroughly combined. Transfer to a 10″ x 7″ ungreased baking pan and shape the mixture into a loaf that is well clear of the sides of the pan. Bake uncovered at 350 ° for 15 minutes (25 minutes for full recipe), then raise heat to 400 ° and continue cooking till done, about 10 (30) minutes longer (it should be firm when you press your fingre on top). Alternativly, cook over an indirect fire on a covered grille for about 30 (50) minutes. It’s better to overcook than undercook this dish, if you’re not sure.
Note: I’ve substituted sour cream, yogurt, or condensed milk, of necessity, but evaporated milk is best.
FULL RECIPE serves 4 to 6
2 bay leaves
1 T salt
1 t ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 t black pepper
1/2 t white pepper
1/2 t ground cumin
1/2 t nutmeg
4 T unsalted butter
3/4 C finely chopped onion
1/2 C finely chopped celery
1/2 C finely chopped green pepper
1/4 C finely chopped scallions
2 t minced garlic
1 T Tabasco sauce
1 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 C evaporated milk (see note)
1/2 C ketchup
1 1/2# ground beef
1/2# ground pork
1 C breadcrumbs
Other meatloaf and meatball recipes:
Polly Dutton Meatballs from San Diego, 1962
K-Pauls Cajun Meat Loaf from Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen, 1984
Marc’s Meatballs Supreme spun off from Polly Dutton Meatballs, Jerusalem, 1989
Greek Fried Meatballs from The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines, 1990
Basic Texas Meatloaf from the Boston Globe and eats4one extended 1992
ALBONDIGAS ESTILO MAMA (Meatballs like Mama makes) from Becoming a Chef, 1995
Classic Spaghetti and Meatballs, Cook’s Illustrated, 1998
Mexican Meatloaf From Heyday Country Market Cookbook, 2000
Meatloaf Italian Style from Staff Meals from Chanterelle , 2003
MEATLOAF from The Cooks Canon, 101 Classic Recipes Every Cook Should Know by Raymond Sokolov, 2004
Italian Wedding Soup from a food blog by Star Pooley, 2005
Joyce Goldstein’s Sardinian Meatballs from LA Times via Wednesday Chef 2005
Finnish Meatballs from CELIA BARBOUR in The New York Times, 2006