It's beloved as comfort food, but this classic dish can hold its own at even the fanciest affairs.
When I moved to New York in the mid-1990s, there were so many hostesses and hosts who gave easy, elegant, fun lunches and dinners. They were well known for their parties, and though varied in their accomplishments and lives, they all seemed to understand the power of simple, chic, crowd-pleasing food: baked potatoes with caviar, crabmeat au gratin, gussied-up grits…even meatloaf.
The host most noted for serving meatloaf was legendary fashion designer Bill Blass. Truth be told, I didn't find his version nearly as delicious as it was famous, though he entertained so well that it couldn't have mattered less.
In the realm of memorable evenings, one of my standouts was a dinner around 1998 at grande dame Casey Ribicoff's Sutton Place apartment. There were 18 guests, and we were dressed to the nines — as was she, always! The waiters passed tiny blinis with a staggering amount of Russian caviar, French foie gras on brioche, and chilled vodka, pink Champagne, and Sauternes on silver trays while we waited for dinner. It was truly over-the-top.
When we sat at Casey's gorgeous table — set with ivory candles and antique porcelain, crystal, and linen — those same waiters had, offstage, put on white cotton gloves. They brought in platters of imported smoked salmon with perfectly chopped hard-boiled eggs, snipped chives, capers, diced red onion, and crème fraîche. A cold Chassagne-Montrachet completed the experience. The cumulative effect of all that elegance was a palpable, pinch-myself pleasure that practically screamed: "Sit up and take notice, kid! This is one special evening."
And then the most extraordinary thing happened. The main course was served, and those same white-gloved waiters brought out meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and peas with pearl onions. The guests' delight was an audible, giddy sigh of relief: Enough of the twee; keep it real! I admired Casey's sure hand so much. No science-fair pyramid of ingredients with foam for her — just the best-ever meatloaf, mashed potatoes, and peas, honey! And chocolate sundaes with maraschino cherries for dessert. If you maybe don't find meatloaf to be the pinnacle of stylishness, it's time to think again. That was, quite simply, one of the chicest evenings I've ever experienced.
Let me know how it goes!
Happy cooking! Love, Alex.
Yield: 8 servings
4 tablespoons salted butter
2½ cups chopped onion
4 tablespoons minced shallots
1 pound sliced mushrooms
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt, divided
2 tablespoons brandy
2 large eggs
1 pound ground beef chuck, at room temperature
1 pound ground pork, at room temperature
1 pound ground lamb, at room temperature
3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 cup white bread crumbs, firmly packed
½ cup beef stock
1 cup grated mild cheddar cheese, firmly packed
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper
2¼ teaspoons dried thyme
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon allspice
1½ teaspoons dried oregano
⅛ teaspoon minced dried bay leaf
4–6 slices parcooked bacon, for garnish at cooking time
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Melt the butter in a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. When the foaming has subsided, add the onion and shallots and sauté until just soft, about 2 minutes.
3. Add the mushrooms, ½ teaspoon salt, and the brandy. Continue to sauté until the mushrooms are just soft, another 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
4. Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Add the beef, pork, lamb, and all remaining ingredients except the bacon.
5. Add the mushroom mixture to the bowl, along with the cooking liquid from the skillet. Knead the meat mixture to combine, but do not mix too much or the meatloaf will be tough.
6. Form the mixture into a loaflike shape on a heavy baking sheet lined with parchment, or transfer it to a buttered loaf pan and bang the bottom of the pan against the counter to deflate any air bubbles. Place the parcooked bacon in a crosshatch fashion on top of the loaf and bake until the internal temperature has reached, but not exceeded, 155°F, about 1½ hours. (You will need to use a meat thermometer for this, but be sure to insert it before beginning to cook the meatloaf — if you poke a thermometer into the cooked loaf, all the juices will run out.) Let the meatloaf rest for at least 15 minutes before you slice and serve.
Happy cooking! Love, Alex.