I am a sucker for a good meatball. Something happens when you mix otherwise one-dimensional ground meats up with fresh breadcrumbs, herbs, seasonings and make a great sauce to go with it and that is that I will swat your fork away to get at them first. I always believed I held no such adoration for meatloaf until I mentioned this one day — here, on my invisible soapbox — and someone in the comments asked gently, as if they understood they were speaking to a very easily confused individual, if I knew that meatloaf is basically one giant meatball?
And well, no, I had not. Armed with this eye-opening revelation, I set out to address what I found so off-putting about meatloaf. First, I mean obviously, the word and concept of a loaf of meat. I don’t care how many freshly snipped herbs on top and how heavily you lay on the Clarendon filter, a slab of ground meat is always going to be a thing we look past to get to the flavor we love within. And so I decided to make them more like meatballs — round, a bit more tender, and possibly, if you really squint your eyes, a little cute. Okay, yes, I know, that’s a stretch.
Next, I addressed the ketchup meatloaf is often coated with. Let me be absolutely clear: I love ketchup. I have no foodie shame about the delight of a Heinz bottle, in fact, I share a Jeffrey Steingarten level of awe over “our proudest, perhaps our only, homegrown sauce achievement,” and this was about the hardest I have laughed at a food article in the last six months because it’s completely true. But I find it a little thin on meatloaf and so I decided to make my own tart-sweet tomato-ish sauce for the top of my baby meatloaves with tomato paste, Dijon, cider vinegar and a few other things simmered for two minutes until smooth and guys, it’s ketchup. Slightly more tart and thick but it’s basically no more a tomato sauce than these are classic meatballs. Take this information as you wish.
Because I think we can all agree that vegetables within meatloaf are delicious and essential but chunks of carrots and peas poking out all over are… unsettling, I coarsely grind my vegetables before sauteeing them and adding them to the meatloaf mixture.
Finally, because life it too short to eat inferior mashed potatoes, I make mine with a shameless amount of brown butter and then buttermilk for tang and it’s been hard to make them any other way since.
I published this recipe the first time in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, but as we have shivered through snowstorms, wind and general February-ness lately, a few requests have come in for a meatloaf recipe and as this is the very best I have ever made, I hope you’ll agree.
Tomato-Glazed Meatloaves with Brown Butter Mashed Potatoes
- 4 teaspoons vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup (60 grams) tomato paste
- 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons smooth dijon mustard
- 1/4 teaspoon table salt
- 2 slices sandwich bread
- 1/2 medium onion, roughly chopped
- 1 garlic clove, chopped
- 1 medium stalk celery, roughly chopped
- 1 medium carrot, roughly chopped
- Olive oil, for cooking
- 1 teaspoon fine sea or table table salt, plus more for vegetables
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1/2 cup (120 grams) milk
- 2 pounds (905 grams) yukon gold potatoes (about 6)
- 8 tablespoons (4 ounces or 115 grams) unsalted butter
- 1 cup (235 ml) buttermilk
- 1 teaspoon fine sea or table salt
- Finely ground black pepper
Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrot to the food processor, and pulse it until they are finely chopped. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Once the skillet is hot, coat the bottom with olive oil, and heat the oil for a minute; add the finely chopped vegetables. Season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring frequently, until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.
Add the vegetables to the large bowl with breadcrumbs, then add the remaining ingredients. Stir the ingredients together with a fork or your hands until evenly blended.
Pause for a moment to start mashed potatoes: Place the potatoes in a medium pot, and cover with a couple inches of cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, and once it’s boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 20 minutes once the simmering begins; the potatoes are ready when a paring knife or fork can be inserted into the center with little resistance. Drain potatoes, then wipe the pot dry.
Resume your meatloaves while the potatoes boil: Form the meatloaf mixture into twelve 3-inch meatballs; each will weigh about 4 ounces. Arrange 6 in each prepared baking pan, evenly. Drizzle or brush each meatball with a teaspoon or so of the tomato glaze you made earlier, and bake until cooked through, about 20 to 25 minutes (an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a cooked meatball will register 160 to 165F).
Finish mashed potatoes: As soon as you can hold them (I use potholders), peel your potatoes. The skins should come right off with a paring knife. Run the potatoes through a potato ricer or mash them with a masher until smooth. In your empty potato pot, melt butter over medium heat and continue cooking once it has melted, stirring almost constantly, until brown bits form around edge and bottom and it smells nutty. Pour the hot butter and any browned bits over the potatoes. Add buttermilk to pot and warm it gently (so it doesn’t cool down your potatoes when you add it). Pour this over the potatoes too. Add salt and pepper and stir to combine.
To serve: Place a dollop of potatoes in the bottom of a plate or shallow bowl. Top with a meatloaf. Garnish with extra chopped parsley, if desired.