Thursday, January 28, 2010

How My Lamb Dhansak Became Meatloaf, or, Glad You Had a Nice Lunch, Hon

A brisk midweek January day, and I'm thinking curry, curry with lots of lentils.  Lamb, which consistently ranks in America's top ten most-hated foods, will be the anchor.  I'm ticking off the ingredients that I'm out of--cilantro, curry leaf, basmati--as I imagine the kitchen filling with warm spicy aromas. I'll make a raita, too.

Then, I get the phone call.  In the midst of the usual domestic blather, one offhand comment pushes my dinner nirvana right out the window.  You had lamb curry for lunch?  Hmm, sounds good.  Suppose you wouldn't want it again for dinner, would you? 

Scrambling off in another direction, I quickly rejected alternatives: no Asian, no rice, no Italian (had last night).  What's left?  Those foods that often appear on a real, not chi-chi, diner menu and were once referred to (and far too often) as comfort foods.  Meatloaf and mashed potatoes are stars of the genre, and have been mangled beyond recognition by twenty-five-year-old food writers who think everything is made better by writing:  "This is not your mother's______."  Yep, everything sure sucked before you came along.

Warning:  This meatloaf recipe contains a small amount of Lipton onion soup mix. I believe that those patron saints of the eighties food scene, Rosso and Lukins, had to defend themselves from the burgeoning purist movement when they used onion soup mix in their meatloaf recipe.  I make fancy meatloaf (also known as pate), odd meatloaf (John Thorne's sauerkraut meatloaf), but I turn to the one that follows most often . 

To two pounds or so ground chuck, add a tablespoon of Lipton onion soup mix (be sure to get a good mixed of both dried onions and powder), a finely chopped shallot, two eggs, a splosh of milk, ditto ketchup, a couple of squirts of hot sauce, salt, pepper, and aleppo pepper (optional).    Mush together with your hands until you've got an unholy  mess.

Sprinkle with dried, unseasoned breadcrumbs, and blend gently.  Sprinkle and blend again.  It dawned on me as I was doing this for probably the thousandth time, that what the meat should end up looking like is pretty much the ground beef you started with, except with more stuff in it.  Not too wet; not too dry.  Meatlike and moist, which will make for a meatloaf with the same attributes.

Shape the meatloaf.  Mix some ketchup, hot sauce, and aleppo (or a pinch of cayenne), and  spread over meatloaf.  Bake on a very lightly greased or nonstick baking pan for about an hour, or until the internal temp is around 140, depending on how you've shaped it.  I fancied a ring meatloaf for a time.  It will continue to cook as it sits, which it should do for about 30 minutes after it's out of the oven.

Serve with mashed potatoes and frozen peas.  Hold the raita.

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I'm a ninth-generation Brooklyn native living in Manhattan.