After making and eating plenty of meatloaf over the years, I can unequivocally declare that this is definitely one of the very best.
“Lamb Meatloaf with Mushroom Pan Gravy” is from the new cookbook, “Poole’s: Recipes and Stories From A Modern Diner” (Ten Speed Press), of which I received a review copy, by Chef Ashley Christensen.
Her Poole’s Diner in Raleigh, NC is all about comfort food — done with craft and skill. This is the kind of food you never tire of because it’s delicious and just makes you feel better — inside and out.
Of course, being a James Beard Award-winning chef, Christensen’s dishes often redefine diner food, stretching the boundaries, but still in keeping with its inherent warm soulfulness. There’s everything from “Cornbread Crab Cakes” to “Grits with Roasted Pumpkin, Aged Maple Syrup and Crispy Peptias” to “Jacked Up Devil’s Food Trifle.”
What makes her meatloaf so spectacular?
Well, for starters, the inclusion of the lamb. Typically, meatloaf is a mix of pork and veal or beef. The lamb, with its deeper, more pronounced flavor, makes you sit up and take notice from the first bite.
This loaf is compact in texture and very moist, given to the trick of adding grated onion i into the meat mixture. After baking, cut the loaf into slices, and sear them in a hot pan to give them divine crisp edges.
Secondly, the gravy is outstanding, so much so that I could practically eat it on its own by the spoonful. It’s made with a mix of mushrooms, beef stock, and white wine. Dried porcinis are rehydrated, then mashed into butter, before being swirled into the sauce to thicken it and give it a slight gloss. You can easily halve the porcini butter recipe, which is what I did, because that’s all you need to make the gravy. The dried porcinis add an extraordinary depth of mushroomy, earthy meatiness to the gravy. It would be incredible spooned over roast chicken, too.
I won’t lie — this isn’t a dish you’ll whip up in 30 minutes. It will take some time, as you have to make the porcini butter and the gravy. But there is nothing complicated about it.
You can even cheat a little like I did to streamline the process. Instead of making my own rich beef stock, I bought a jar of Kitchen Witch Beef Bone Broth from Whole Foods. The Santa Cruz company, run by three women entrepreneurs, simmers beef bones for a minimum of 24 hours to create a flavorful bone broth so full of collagen that it turns gel-like when refrigerated.
Serve the meatloaf with your favorite mashed potatoes, ladling a little of the gravy over everything. It’s diner food fit for a king.
Lamb Meatloaf with Mushroom Pan Gravy
2 pounds ground lamb
1 pound ground pork
3 cloves garlic, pounded into a paste with kosher salt
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon ground toasted black pepper
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 cup panko
1/2 yellow onion, grated on the small holes of a box grater
1 tablespoon neutral vegetable oil
For Mushroom Pan Gravy:
Neutral vegetable oil
1 pound mushrooms (oysters, chanterelles, or morels all work well), cleaned and cut into bite-sized pieces)
1 shallot, minced
2 thyme sprigs
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups Rich Beef Stock (recipe follows)
1/2 cup Porcini Butter (recipe follows), cut into cubes
To make the meatloaf, combine the ground lamb and pork, garlic, mustard, sea salt, pepper, fennel seed, panko, onion, and oil in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for 4 to 6 minutes. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Preheat a convection oven to 250 degrees (or 275 degrees for a regular oven). Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Cut a length of parchment paper long enough to line the long sides and bottom of the pan with an inch hanging over the top of the pan’s long sides (these will act as handles later to help you ease the loaf out of the pan).
Use your hands to form the mixture into an oval and place in the prepared loaf pan. Bake for 30 minutes, rotate the pan 180 degrees. Bake for another 40 minutes or until a thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf registers 120 degrees (the meatloaf will continue to cook while it rests). Remove from the oven and let the loaf rest for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the mushroom pan gravy. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until the liquid that the mushrooms release has completely evaporated and the mushrooms are beginning to caramelize, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the shallot and season with 1 teaspoon salt. Cook for another minute, stirring occasionally, then add the thyme and cook for 1 minute more. Stir in the wine and use a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan by scraping up any browned bits on the bottom. Let the wine reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and cook until the mixture is reduced by a quarter, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the butter, stirring as it melts to emulsify. Let simmer for 3 minutes. Season to taste with additional salt.
You have two options: You can slice the meatloaf and serve it after it has rested, or, if you have time to spare, make the meatloaf one day in advance. When you are ready to serve, remove it from the pan and slice it into 8 pieces. Heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon oil, then add 2 slices of meatloaf and sear, turning once, until they are dark brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate and repeat with the remaining slices. Top with gravy and serve.
Rich Beef Stock
(Makes 2 quarts)
2 pound beef soup bones
2 tablespoons double concentrate tomato paste
2 cups red wine
2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil
2 onions, each cut into 8 pieces
2 heads garlic, sliced across the equator
1/2 pound carrots, roughly chopped
1/2 bunch celery (about 6 stalks), roughly chopped
1/2 ounce dried black trumpet mushrooms
1 teaspoon black pepeprcorns
8 medium thyme sprigs
1 fresh bay leaf, torn
Preheat a convection oven to 400 degrees (or 425 degrees for a regular oven). Grease a rimmed baking sheet with neutral vegetable oil. Place the bones on the pan and coat with the tomato paste. Transfer to the oven and roast for 25 minutes. Transfer bones to a cutting board, and, while the baking sheet is still very hot, pour 1/4 cup of the wine into the pan, using a wooden spoon to scrape up any browned bits. Set aside.
In a large stock pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, cut side down, and cook, undisturbed, for 2 minutes. Stir and cook for another 3 minutes, until the onions are caramelized. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring to caramelize, another 6 minutes. Add the trumpet mushrooms and stir to coat. Add the roasted beef bones, the liquid from the baking sheet, the remaining 1 3/4 cups red wine, the peppercorns, the thyme, and the bay. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally until the liquid is almost completely evaporated, 20 minutes. Add 6 quarts water, bring to a boil, and reduce to a gentle simmer. Cover and cook on low heat for 6 to 8 hours (or overnight).
Uncover and reduce until the strained liquid measures 2 quarts, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Strain the liquid and let cool completely. Store in lidded containers. The stock will keep in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days, or frozen for 6 months.
(Makes about 1 cup)
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
In a small saucepan, combine the dried mushrooms with just enough water to cover them. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. There should still be a bit of liquid left in the pan. If not, add a splash of water.
Transfer the mushrooms and any remaining cooking liquid to a blender and puree on high speed until a thick, smooth paste forms. Spread the puree on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and refrigerate until completely chilled.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and mushroom puree until thoroughly incorporated, about 5 minutes. Scoop the butter into a lidded container and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or freeze for up to 3 months.
From “Poole’s” by Ashley Christensen
More Lamb Recipes to Try: Jamie Oliver’s Lamb Fricassse