I have a perfectly justifiable weakness for any recipe that comes to me passed on through someone else's family. This is not just sentimentality; I hope not even sentimentality, actually, since I have always been contemptuously convinced that sentimentality is the refuge of those without proper emotions. Yes, I do infer meaning from the food that has been passed down generations and then entrusted to me, but think about it: the recipes that last, do so for a reason.
And on top of all that, there is my entrancement with culinary Americana. I just hear the word meatloaf and I feel all old world, European irony and corruption seep from me as I will myself into a Thomas Hart Benton painting. And then I eat it: the dream is dispelled and all I'm left with is a mouthful of compacted, slab-shaped sawdust and major, major disappointment. So now you understand why I am so particularly excited about this recipe. It makes meatloaf taste like I always dreamt it should.
Even though this is indeed Ed's Mother's Meatloaf, the recipe as is printed below is my adaptation of it. My father-in-law always used to tell a story about asking his mother for instructions on making pickles. "How much vinegar do I need?" he asked. "Enough", she answered. Ed's mother's recipe takes a similar approach; I have added contemporary touches, such as being precise about measurements. But for all that, cooking can never be truly precise: bacon will weigh more or less, depending on how thickly or thinly it is sliced, for example. And there are many other similar examples: no cookbook could ever be long enough to contain all possible variants for any one recipe. But what follows are reliable guidelines, you can be sure of that.
I do implore you, if you can, to get your meat from a butcher. I have made this recipe quite a few times, comparing mincemeat that comes from the butcher and mincemeat that comes from various supermarkets and there is no getting round the fact that freshly minced butcher's meat is what makes the meatloaf melting (that, and the onions, but the onions alone can't do it). The difficulty with supermarket mince is not just the dryness as you eat, but the correlation which is that the meatloaf has a crumblier texture, making it harder to slice.
I am happy just to have the juices that drip from the meatloaf as it cooks as far as gravy goes, and not least because the whole point of this meatloaf for me is that I can count on a good half of it to eat cold in sandwiches for the rest of the week. (And you must be aware, it is my duty to make you aware, that a high-sided roasting tin makes for more juices than a shallow one.) But if you wanted to make enough gravy to cover the whole shebang hot, then either make an onion gravy and pour the meat juices in at the end or fashion a quick stovetop BBQ gravy. By that, I mean just get out a saucepan, put in it 1.76 ounces/50g dark muscovado sugar, 4.23 ounces/125ml beef stock, 4 tablespoons each of Dijon mustard, soy sauce, tomato paste or puree and redcurrant jelly and 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, to taste. Warm and whisk and pour into a jug to serve.
Ed instructed me to eat kasha with this, which is I imagine how his mother served it, but I really feel that if you haven't grown up on kasha - a kind of buckwheat polenta - then you will all too easily fail to see its charm. I can't see any argument against mashed potato, save the lazy one, but I don't mind going cross-cultural and making up a panful of polenta; I use the instant kind, but replace the water that the packet instructions advise with chicken stock.
And as with the beef stock needed for the gravy suggested above, I am happy for this to be bought rather than homemade.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a saucepan of water to a boil and then boil 3 of the eggs for 7 minutes. Refresh them in cold water.
Peel and chop the onions, and heat the duck fat in a thick-bottomed frying pan. Cook the onions gently sprinkled with the salt, for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the onions are golden and catching in the fat. Remove to a bowl to cool.
Put the Worcestershire sauce and ground beef into a bowl, and when the onion mixture is not hot to the touch, add to the bowl and work everything together with your hands.
Add the remaining raw egg and mix again before finally adding the breadcrumbs.
Divide the mixture into 2, and in the pan, make the bottom half of the meatloaf by patting half the beef mixture into a flattish ovoid shape approximately 9 inches long. Peel and place the 3 hard-boiled eggs in a row down the middle of the meatloaf.
Shape the remaining mound over the top of the eggs and pat into a solid loaf shape. Compress the meatloaf to get rid of any holes, but don't overwork it.
Cover the meatloaf with slices of bacon, as if it were a terrine, tucking the bacon ends underneath the meatloaf as best you can to avoid its curling up as it cooks.
Bake for 1 hour, until the juices run clear and once it's out of the oven let the meatloaf rest for 15 minutes. This should make it easier to slice. When slicing, do it generously, so everyone gets some egg. Pour meat juices over as you serve or do what you will gravy-wise.
From NIGELLA KITCHEN by Nigella Lawson. Copyright 2010 Nigella Lawson. Published by Hyperion. Available wherever books are sold. All Rights Reserved.