Remember that animated film Ratatouille with the rat that sounded like Patton Oswalt? Remember that scene where the nursing home Nosferatu looking food critic eats a piece of ratatouille and is transported back to when he ate it as a child? The French apparently have an expression for that exact event, so claimed an old French teacher of mine. I tried to look up that expression, but I didn’t have any luck, so maybe my teacher was full of it? (BUT if you do know what I am referring to, please let me know in the comment section below).
The point being, food serves as a touchstone in our minds for various important memories. It makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint. Caveman Jeff would have 100% wanted pleasant memories associated with eating the plants and animals that didn’t poison him. Modern day Jeff however, has pasteurization and Grubhub and hasn’t in his life had to worry about his food killing him. The closest thing modern day Jeff ever got to eating poisonous food was when he puked in a ball pit after eating an order of McNuggets when he was five and subsequently refused to eat at McDonald’s for ten years. For modern day American Jeff, as for many other modern day humans, meals are pleasant reminders of halcyon days passed.
We all have that one meal. Our nostalgic guilty pleasure. The meal that reaches into the back of your skull with every bite and massages that part of the brain where your treasured childhood memories are kept. The crazy part? The meal doesn’t even have to be good. It can be a fast food combo from the first road trip you took with your wife. The Campbell’s soup and Sprite your mom served you when you were sick. Putting French fries in a grilled cheese sandwich because you just got home from your first college party freshman year and were entirely too drunk to know better.
As you read Anthony Bourdain’s Appetites, the memories behind each recipe waft off the page like the aroma of the meals themselves. Each recipe has an association with it, be it a treasured family recipe or a gem brought back from faraway lands as souvenir. Perhaps the most personal recipe Bourdain includes in this book is his recipe for meatloaf. Watch Bourdain’s shows and he repeated refers to meatloaf as one of his guilty pleasures (especially the Chicago episode of Parts Unknown).
The book’s introductory description of the meal makes it clear that this recipe represents several important memories of Bourdain’s life. In his own words: “This one is an amalgam, intended to evoke all the important meatloaves in my life – and there have been many.” It combines the quality of the homemade specimen with the nostalgic glow of the television on an empty microwave tray, the sounds of the grade school cafeteria, and the hectic lifestyle of cooking in restaurants as a young man. Personally, Cindy and I have never liked meatloaf. We always avoided it because we thought it looked weird and the named grossed us out. Clearly however, this recipe meant some to Anthony Bourdain, and if anyone could make a meatloaf we’d like, it’d be him. Now let’s get into how to make his most beloved dish.
- 2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 large yellow or white onion, peeled and very finely chopped
- 3 ribs celery, very finely chopped
- 2 sprigs fresh marjoram, leaves only, very finely chopped*
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only, very finely chopped
- Salt and finely ground black pepper to taste
- 2 pounds ground beef chuck
- 1 1/3 pounds ground veal**
- 3 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 cup panko bread crumbs***
- 1/4 cup tomato paste
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 pound cremini mushrooms, diced
- 2 large or 3 to 4 shallots, peeled and finely chopped (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1 1/4 cups veal stock****
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
* We were not able to find marjoram, BUT we found a spice mix that included marjoram
** Veal was also difficult to find, we substituted for ground pork instead
***We used Italian bread crumbs instead
****Beef stock ended up being our choice
- In a large, heavy-bottom sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat and add the onion, celery, marjoram, and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and cook over medium-low heat, stirring regularly with a wooden spoon, until the vegetables are soft and translucent but not browned. Remove from the heat and transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool.
- Preheat the oven to 350˚F.
- Once the vegetable mixture is cool, add the beef, veal, eggs, bread crumbs, and about 2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and mix well with scrupulously clean or rubber-gloved hands. Use the remaining 1/2 tablespoon oil to grease a loaf pan and transfer the mixture to the pan, packing it down gently. Cover the loaf with foil and place the loaf pan on a sheet pan. Cook in the oven for 1 hour.
- Remove the foil and spread the top of the meat loaf with the tomato paste. Continue to cook for another 30 to 45 minutes, until the instant-read thermometer inserted into the center reaches 150˚F. Remove from the oven and let the meat loaf rest, in the loaf pan, on a wire rack.
- While it rests, make the gravy. In a large, heavy-bottom sauté pan, heat the butter until it foams and subsides. Add the diced mushrooms and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until their released juices evaporate and the mushrooms begin to squeak against the surface of the pan when stirred. Add the shallots and salt and pepper to taste and continue to cook until the mushrooms get browned and the shallots are translucent or slightly golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle the flour over the mushrooms and stir well to evenly coat. Cook over medium heat, stirring more or less constantly, for about 2 minutes, to cook off the raw flour taste, then stir in the stock. Whisk the mixture to pull the stuck flour up from the surface of the pan and into the gravy. Add a splash more stock or water if necessary if the mixture seems too thick, then reduce the heat to low and stir in the cream. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed.
- Serve the meat loaf in slices, with the gravy ladled over or alongside. Accompany with mashed potatoes if you like.
This dish truly blew our taste buds out of the ball park! Like Jeff mentioned, we were never a fan of meatloaf. However, this recipe was able to change our mind. With every bite we took, we continuously kept saying “wow!”. If you either enjoy, are on the fences, or do not like meatloaf, we still recommend trying out this recipe! Anthony Bourdain was a man with a wealth of culinary experience and a chef that we trust, which is the main reason we this recipe a shot AND we have no regrets!
Thanks for taking the time to read up on our first recipe from Anthony Bourdain’s cookbook. If you do try it, please let us know in the comments below.
Cindy & Jeff
P.S.: As you can see in our first photo, we also tried out a mac & cheese and a salad recipe, more to come!