meatloaf revelation

Ever a fan of bison’s lean composition and naturally grass-fed pedigree, I bought some Great Range ground bison on our Costco run last week. After last night’s experimentation, this two-pack of one of my favorite lean proteins might be a new addition to my Costco staples list. (Which, if you care, currently includes spinach, eggs, coconut oil, nuts, pineapples, and roasted seaweed, to name a few.)

Next time mine will be more photo-worthy/Randy Chiu

Next time mine will be more photo-worthy/Randy Chiu

I never would have chosen meatloaf as the humble destiny for my hunk of bison. Indonesian beef wraps, sure. Even the pedestrian spaghetti and meatballs. But meatloaf? Who am I, Betty Draper? Full credit goes to Mark #1 for his ability to see the potential in the plainest, simplest things. And thanks to Mark #2 (Bittman) for providing the structure to what turned out to be a delightful little Sunday night dinner (and Monday lunch leftovers).

Free-form. Who needs a loaf pan?

Meatloaf. I’ve eaten my share of it (with ketchup, of course), but I’ve never been inspired to make it. Not in my entire adult life has it ever once crossed my mind, as much as I’ve welcomed its distant relatives, burgers, pâtés, and terrines. In the New York Times’  topical index on the subject, Florence Fabricant called meatloaf the “darling of the back-to-basics food movement.” And that’s exactly what I thought of last night while chowing down on what turned out to be a comforting, nostalgic, and surprisingly satisfying meal.

With sauteed Swiss chard.

Fabricant’s first lesson was that meatloaf, unlike a good burger, needs some filler—bread, bread crumbs, oatmeal, rice, or other starch, even vegetables. I swallowed my pride an bought some generic breadcrumbs, thinking they were probably good to have on hand in case of a mid-recipe disaster where no bread was to be found in the house.

After blazing 10 miles of new trails with friends in the morning, I was ready for some protein.

And Mark #1 gets credit for the rest. I was kittied (cat on lap) so he mixed up dinner (and Lillet Blanc aperitifs while I lounged. A simple Swiss chard saute took dinner from uninspiring peas n’ potatoes to a vibrant green veggie and protein feast. We used just one pound of pure bison, and despite not adding bacon for extra fat, the free-form loaf was moist, tender, and flavorful. Next time we’ll try bacon. (What could possibly go wrong with bacon?)

As I veer farther off the recipe path, I feel like these basic loaf guidelines have opened up a world of possibility. Especially with our meat grinder attachment. Lamb-currant-cinnamon loaf? Turkey-feta-olive-spinach? Ancho-pork-mole? Let’s go meatloaf!

Mark Bittman’s Basic Meatloaf


1/2 cup plain bread crumbs, preferably fresh
1/2 cup milk
2 pounds mixed ground meats: beef, veal, lamb, and/or pork
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley leaves
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 slices bacon (optional but good, especially if the meat is very lean)


1. Preheat the oven to 350. Soak the bread crumbs in the milk until the milk is absorbed, about 5 minutes.

2. Mix together all ingredients except bacon. Shape the meat into a loaf in a baking pan (Bittman likes free-form because it browns on all three sides, and the fat can run off, rather than become trapped between pan and meat). Top with bacon if you like. Bake 45 to 60 minutes. When done, meat loaf will be lightly browned and firm, and an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a meat loaf will read 160 F.

From How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman.