Meat loaf is truly a versatile dish: You can take the flavor profile any which way you like by adding spices or vegetables. While many cooks use a mixture of ground beef, veal and pork, we go an easier route and make ours all beef—mainly because we selected 80 percent lean ground beef, and cutting it with other meats would cut down on the fat (fat equals flavor).
The real highlight of this meat loaf, though, is the homemade ketchup that you slather all over the top. When you're cooking it, be careful to keep a low simmer, or the ketchup will splatter all over your kitchen. Use a splatter screen to keep cleanup easy and maybe don't wear white, just in case.
Later, when you put the mixture into the loaf pan, be gentle and do not tightly pack the meat. This ensures a juicy meat loaf that holds together but isn't tough as a brick.
To learn more, read "Loaf Actually."
Recipe from the Tasting Table Test Kitchen
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour and 55 minutes
Total Time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, plus resting time
For the Ketchup:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 tablespoon tomato paste
⅔ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup cider vinegar
One 15-ounce can tomato sauce
1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the Meat Loaf:
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for greasing
3 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
2 medium yellow onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1½ tablespoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup from-scratch ketchup, divided
2 pounds 80 percent lean ground chuck
1 cup dry bread crumbs
⅓ cup chicken stock
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 eggs, beaten
Mashed potatoes, for serving
Finely chopped parsley, for garnish
1. Make the ketchup: In a small skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until soft and translucent, 4 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and cook until caramelized, another 1 to 2 minutes. Add the brown sugar, cider vinegar, tomato sauce and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally until thickened, 40 minutes. Let cool completely. Makes 1¾ cups.
2. Make the meat loaf: Preheat the oven to 350° and grease a 9-iby-5-inch loaf pan. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, onions, oregano, thyme, salt and pepper, and cook until soft and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool completely. Carefully mix in ½ cup of ketchup, the beef, bread crumbs chicken stock, Worcestershire sauce and eggs until just incorporated. Scrape the mixture into the loaf pan on a baking sheet, being careful not to tightly pack the meat.
3. Brush the meat loaf with ½ cup of ketchup and bake until a thermometer inserted into the center reads 155°, 60 to 65 minutes. Cover with foil and let rest 15 minutes, then slice and transfer to plates with mashed potatoes. Garnish with parsley and serve with the remaining ketchup on the side.