With the exception of the occasional kofta or vat of chili, it’s not often that you’ll see me using ground meat as a base for recipes- no Hamburger Helper-type menus in this household. But my dad gave me several pounds of ground venison a few months ago and I’ve been working my way through them, trying new things and expanding my ground meat repertoire. My first two installments of the Venison Diaries were more experimental, but this time I decided to go thoroughly retro and make a meatloaf.
A typical “meatloaf mix” usually consists of 50% ground beef, 25% pork and 25% veal, giving a good balance of fat and flavor. For my meatloaf mix, I used 50% venison and 50% pork. I wanted to make sure the leanness of the venison was balanced out with the fattier pork so I didn’t end up with a dry loaf. However, I definitely think I could have used some veal and gone with a 50-25-25 mix as well. The recipe I used, from Cook’s Illustrated, uses a sweet and tangy (almost like BBQ sauce) glaze on the meatloaf, and also has you wrap it in bacon *drool*. To make this meatloaf extra-special, I bought some Nueske’s bacon to do the job. I first heard about Nueske’s via Matthew Amster-Burton in his book Hungry Monkey, and then my local grocery store started carrying it so I gave it a try. I wondered what could be so special about it to justify an almost $9 per pound price tag… until I tried it. Ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary bacon. I typically buy Niman Ranch bacon because of their sustainable practices*, and their bacon is certainly good quality, but Nueske’s is on another level- it has a different texture and “feel” than most supermarket bacon, and it doesn’t shrink up nearly as much as other brands. Finally, the flavor is nothing short of sublime. (And no, I didn’t receive any freebies from Nueske’s to write this blog post… but if someone at the company is reading this, I’ll be glad to take anything you send my way!! )
I figured as long as I was making meatloaf I may as well go totally traditional in my side dishes as well, so I made some mashed potatoes and peas. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve made mashed potatoes, but I do own a potato ricer, which I put to use on some white Michigan potatoes for an unbelievably light and creamy result. The potato ricer is, yes, an extra step and an extra item to wash, but the difference is well worth it. I wish I had made a bigger batch! Even though this wasn’t a typical type of menu for me, Marvin and I both really enjoyed it and I would definitely make it again if and when I get another venison windfall.
*I was disappointed not to find anything on the Nueske’s website about how their pigs are raised. The only info I could find online was that the pigs Nueske’s uses are “raised to their specifications” in Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota and Canada (not in Wisconsin, where the company is located) and fed a diet of a barley and corn mixture.
1 lb ground venison or beef
½ lb ground veal
½ lb ground pork
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 large eggs
½ tsp dried thyme leaves (or use fresh and increase to 1 tsp)
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
few dashes Tabasco or similar hot sauce
½ cup plain yogurt or whole milk
⅔ cup crushed saltines (about 16) or quick oatmeal, OR 1 ½ cups fresh bread crumbs
⅓ cup minced fresh parsley
6-8 oz thin-sliced bacon
½ cup ketchup, preferably organic/ without high fructose corn syrup
4 Tbs brown sugar
4 tsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
Make the glaze: Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and stir over medium low heat until the sugar has dissolved. Set aside.
Heat the oven to 350°. Heat the oil in a medium skillet. Sauté the onion & garlic over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Mix the eggs, thyme, salt, pepper, mustard, Worcestershire, milk or yogurt, and hot sauce in a medium bowl. Put the meats in a large bowl and combine with your hands (if you didn’t buy a pre-mixed meatloaf mix). Add the egg mixture, onions, parsley, and crackers or breadcrumbs; mix until evenly blended and mixture is not sticking to the bowl. If mixture sticks, add more milk 1-2 Tbs at a time until it no longer sticks. (Note: I chose to go a different route and blend the meat in my stand mixer with the paddle attachment. This gave a totally different texture to the finished meatloaf, but one that I personally prefer.)
Place the meat mixture on a work surface. Wet your hands and pat the mixture into a loaf shape, approximately 9″ x 5″. Place the loaf on a foil-coated rimmed baking sheet. Brush the loaf with half the glaze (be sure not to double dip your brush since you’ll be serving the remainder of the glaze). Arrange the bacon slices crosswise over the top of the loaf, tucking the ends underneath.
Bake until the bacon is crisp and the internal temperature registers 160°, about 1 hour. Let rest 15-20 minutes before serving. Warm the remaining glaze and serve on the side.