Comics in the Kitchen: Captain America Needs Meatloaf and Apple Pie
With Captain America: The Winter Soldier opening, I was thinking about Steve Rogers. Before he was Captain America, he was a sickly kid living through the Great Depression. Most families were lucky to have food at all, so I imagine he still appreciates a good, simple meal when many of us might take it for granted. My great-grandfather was young during the Depression, one of 11 siblings being raised by their mother after their father abandoned the family. He used to tell me how they mostly got by on beans and potatoes, and meat and fruit were some of the rarest luxuries. So if Steve came to my house for Sunday dinner, I’d want to serve a meal that would be comfortable and familiar, but very much a treat: meatloaf and mashed potatoes, with apple pie for dessert (we’ll save the pie recipe for another time). And what’s more American than that?
Some people have an aversion to meatloaf because they associate it with a mass of mystery ingredients covered in a burnt-ketchup film. That’s not what we have here. Last summer, I traveled around the western U.S. and tried some excellent meatloaves in places where they know their beefy comfort food. I knew then that I needed to step up my home-cooking game, and set out to create a meatloaf recipe that would be worth telling you about. When we tasted this one, I realized that I wasn’t just being hyperbolic for the purposes of this column. If Captain America was coming to my house for dinner, I would FOR REAL serve this to him. It’s real good, y’all. Real good.
Meatloaf for Captain America
1 pound ground beef, lean (90/10)
1 pound ground pork, lean (90/10)
2 cups breadcrumbs
1 Tbsp dried parsley
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/4 cup dried, minced onions
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/3 cup ketchup
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp salt
6-10 slices center-cut bacon
3/4 cup ketchup
1/3 cup Dijon mustard
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp hot pepper sauce (like Frank’s Red Hot), or to taste
Put all the ingredients (except those for the topping) in a large bowl. Mix them all together with your hands* until they are thoroughly combined. The final consistency is important, so once it’s all mixed, evaluate what you have. Are there still dry breadcrumbs in the bowl? It needs more wet ingredients. I would probably start with adding a little more mustard and/or ketchup. Is your mixture mushy, so that it won’t hold its shape well? Work in more breadcrumbs, a little at a time. You should be able to shape it into an oblong loaf and have it more or less retain its shape.
*I always use disposable nitrile kitchen gloves when I’m using my hands to work with ground meat.
Once you’re happy with the consistency, put your meatloaf either into a loaf pan or onto a roasting rack in an oven-proof dish. I have a loaf pan with a special insert for making meatloaf; the bottom of the insert has holes in it to let fat drain off as the meatloaf bakes, which also let the heat surround the meatloaf well so you get a nice crust on the bottom. Putting it on the baking rack will have the same effect, but the insert lets you pull the loaf out of the pan and easily slide it onto a tray for slicing and serving.
When the meat is in the baking vessel of your choice, lay strips of bacon across the top, allowing them to overlap a bit. I laid them on horizontally, but you can go vertical if you like. (It’s a bit easier to slice the finished product if you lay them vertically.) Cover the top of the meatloaf with a delicious bacon lid.
Then make the sauce for the glaze. Mix the ketchup, Dijon mustard, and brown sugar together in a bowl until everything is combined and the sugar has mostly dissolved into the mixture. Add the hot pepper sauce until it reaches the level of spice you prefer. Drizzle about 1/4 of the glaze over the top of your bacon-covered meatloaf and brush it around until the top has a thin, even coat. Not too thick — just enough to give a nice color and flavor. The sugar in the glaze will caramelize a bit during baking, adding another layer to the flavor and texture.
Put the meatloaf in the oven, uncovered, at 350F for 40 minutes. At the 40-minute mark, pull it out and add more of the glaze — about the same amount as before. You should still have about half your glaze left, which you can heat up and serve as extra sauce at serving time. Put the meatloaf back in the oven for another hour. This is a big, dense meatloaf, and it takes time to cook all the way through. You do NOT want to serve rare meatloaf! The finished product will be moist, but not so loose that it falls apart when sliced. The goal is to be able to produce actual slices of meatloaf when it’s done.
At this point, the meatloaf has been in the oven for 100 minutes. Does it look done? The bacon should be cooked, but not burnt, and any visible edges of the meatloaf should have a nice crust (but again, they shouldn’t be burnt). If it looks done, pull it out and let it rest for five minutes. Then take it out of the baking dish and put it on a plate or platter to slice it. Cut one slice, maybe an inch thick, from one end. If there is any pink visible in the meat, it’s not done! But if it’s done, serve it with a little drizzle of more of the warmed-up glaze (if desired). Enjoy!
Unless you’re feeding the rest of the Avengers too, you’re likely to have leftovers. This is PERFECT. Leftover meatloaf is even better the next day, and makes fantastic sandwiches. Warm up a slice, spread on a little extra sauce if you like, and eat it between slices of sourdough bread. Did you serve mashed potatoes with your meatloaf? Spread on a thin layer of those too. Eating a meatloaf-and-mashed potato sandwich feels very American. You can just feel the patriotism swelling up in your chest, or maybe that’s your cholesterol levels. Unless you’ve been dosed with Super Soldier Serum, or your daily activites mostly consist of sprinting between intense bouts of hand-to-hand combat, you probably shouldn’t eat like this every day (even though I kind of want to). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to jog around the block with the Captain America March on my playlist.