Published September 1, 2012. From Cook's Illustrated.
Meatloaf packed with bland, starchy fillers hardly deserves its name. Could we put the meatiness back in this American classic?
A panade, or bread crumbs soaked in milk, has powerful moistening abilities, and it gives meatloaf necessary tenderness. But it also has one undeniable flaw: Its bland starch dilutes meaty flavor.
We wanted to find a way to ensure juiciness in meatloaf without masking its meatiness.
In order to get rid of—or at least minimize—the panade, we added some gelatin to the loaf. The unflavored powder is highly absorptive, and it helped keep the loaf juicy without creating a rubbery texture. This also enabled us to eliminate meekly flavored, gelatin-rich veal, getting us one step closer to a meatier-tasting meatloaf by allowing us to increase the amounts of more richly flavored beef and pork.
Incorporating savory, water-rich mushrooms into the loaf also helped maintain moisture and boost meatiness. Fungi absorb liquid and firm up when cooked, holding on to the absorbed moisture even more tightly than fruits or vegetables, which many recipes use for juiciness.
Our final measure for added moistness was introducing some panade—but only a fraction of it. Just half a slice of bread was all we needed to satisfy all expectations for meatiness, producing a loaf that was just as moist as one loaded with panade.list of recipes