I’m Just Here for the Food Version 2.0 is Alton Brown’s compendium of cooking techniques with recipes included as illustration and demonstration. The recipe for meatloaf is in a chapter on roasting, not a collection of main dishes or meat dishes or dinners; other chapters treat grilling, frying, braising, sauces, and microwaving, among others. His purpose is not just to show you how to make particular dishes, but to teach you the principles, the science of cooking.
I like Alton Brown. I’m a big fan of “Good Eats,” and I really like his enthusiastic, detail-geekery approach to cooking and cooking instruction. But I hadn’t used this book before, except to double-check a few process questions (and I don’t remember either the questions or the answers).
I decided to make meatloaf because I thought it would offer an interesting comparison between Alton Brown and Martha Stewart’s styles of cooking, and they do take different approaches. Where Martha has you blend three different meats, Alton directs you to use just beef chuck — and, preferably, to select a chuck roast and ask the butcher to grind it for you. (Which I did, at Whole Foods, and they were very nice about it.) Martha’s recipe includes carrot and celery among the add-ins; Alton’s does not. Martha directs you to process the bread and the vegetables to crumbs, making for a very fine distribution through the loaf; Alton has you mince the onions and bread into fine dice, so that they are slightly more noticeable within the mixture.
The biggest difference, though, is that Martha has you bake the loaf exposed, atop a rack, so that the fat renders out as it cooks and the glazed surfaces brown. Alton’s recipe in I’m Just Here for the Food has you bake it in the pan, then pour off the rendered fat after the loaf has rested. This surprised me. I distinctly remembered a “Good Eats” episode in which the loaf is exposed for baking and glazed, very similar to Martha’s, and I was a bit taken aback to see the in-pan version in the cookbook. But I followed it, because part of the point of this whole project is to see what happens when I follow the instructions and don’t try to second-guess or improve on everything.
The preparation process for Alton’s meatloaf is pretty similar to that for Martha’s. I used my hands to blend the meat with the ingredients — in this case beaten eggs, diced onion, minced garlic, bread crumbs, ketchup, paprika, red wine vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper and parsley — and then shape it into the loaf, but in a pan rather than on a rack. I baked it for an hour and 15 minutes, then let it rest for 15 minutes. At this point I poured off the fat and liquid that had rendered out; that took up more than half of a 16-ounce can. Then I turned out the loaf, which, predictably, was not browned. I cut a few slices for serving; they were soft and prone to falling apart.
As I did last week, I served the meatloaf with roasted Yukon Gold potatoes and Brussels sprouts. The meatloaf was good: flavorful and rich, but not greasy. I missed the browned, glazed edge a bit. The onions were fairly noticeable, but were well-cooked enough for my taste; in the recipe notes Alton says he likes to sweat the onions before mixing them in, and I think I’d do that if I make this again, just to make them a little softer and less of a contrast with the texture of the meat. But I’m not going to be in any hurry to make more meatloaf; it’s still not my comfort food, not something that I’d go out of my way for.
Verdict: Success. Flavorful, hearty, and very easy to make, if a bit messy to clean up after.