When you make meatloaf you think of your mother. When New York chef David Burke makes it he thinks of Donald Trump. It’s not because the Donald has showered him with unconditional love. It’s because Burke heard that Trump loves the dish so much he insisted it make the menu at his Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago. So Burke decided to serve his own version at his namesake restaurant at Bloomingdale’s in Manhattan. It’s topped with lobster mashed potatoes, gold leaf, and lobster bisque gravy. While you needn’t go that far, here are a few steps that’ll help improve upon the classic.
“You need good-quality ground meat,” says Burke, who buys grass-fed beef from Montana’s La Cense Ranch. “You want the right ratio of lean meat to fat. For a burger it’s 80:20. For meatloaf I’d say to go as high as 30 percent fat. The fat gets locked in with the bread, along with moisture.” He suggests adding precooked chopped bacon or spicy Italian sausage to the mix for more flavor. “Just rip open the sausage casings. Chop it up a little, and mix that in.”
Bind the meat with one egg and half a cup of fresh breadcrumbs (provides more moisture than store-bought) for every pound of meat. Add a handful of sage and rosemary, one stalk celery, a carrot, six cloves garlic, and two onions, chopped and sautéed for 10 minutes in butter or oil. Burke throws in extra heat: “Chipotle peppers, red pepper flakes, or Tabasco.” Cook the loaf on a layer of croutons to absorb juices and add some extra flavor.
Burke suggests a high-temperature oven, 375 or 400 degrees. “You do want some kind of crust, some caramelization,” he says. “You don’t want to overcook it, but because you’ve got eggs and other meats, you don’t want to go medium rare.” A meat thermometer – the loaf should have an internal temperature of around 160 degrees – keeps your meatloaf from crossing over the line from perfectly cooked to tragically overdone.
There are countless options when it comes to shape, structure, and look. Burke cooks duck meatloaf in a Bundt cake mold, filling the hole with sides. “I’ve played around with all kinds of shapes,” he says. Your best bet is to make individual loaves in small baking dishes or casseroles. They look nicer and cook off more quickly. “You can make a pound of meatloaf and make four different four-ounce ones,” he says. “Freeze two and cook two.”