Even when I was only cooking for one, I loved making large meatloaves.
As leftovers go it's hard to top meatloaf. And one of my favorite ways to have next-day meatloaf is in a sandwich.
But I'm not talking about just any random joining of bread and meat. I'm talking a well-crafted sandwich, where all the components add up to something that can be as tasty and impressive as a well-prepared meal.
For that formula to work, the sandwich must include varying textures and flavors that complement and contrast, and the ingredients must be purposefully arranged between slices of fresh bread, not your average squishy loaf.
Unlike turkey, which is invariably dry in rerun, the best meatloaf for day-after sandwiches must retain its moisture and flavor. I favor Mitchell Davis' recipe in his cookbook, "Kitchen Sense."
Great meatloaf is not a hamburger shaped in a loaf pan. Davis gets this. His version is full of flavor without getting too exotic (bacon, mustard and ketchup provide much of the flavor).
Meatloaves intended for sandwiches should be made in loaf pans, not freeform as some recipes instruct. A loaf pan produces a tight loaf that will hold together better in a sandwich than freeform loaves will.
Another thing I avoid when I make meatloaf with sandwiches in mind is overloading the recipe with shredded vegetables, another foe of a solid loaf.
But the component that pulls my sandwich together, elevates it really, is a topping of caramelized red onions finished with a splash of balsamic vinegar. They're sweet, tangy and almost jammy in texture.
Caramelizing onions is a method of sauteing until the onions' sugars turn to caramel, making them sweet, brown (red onions turn more deep purple than brown) and tender.
It's an idiot-proof process. Peel and trim the onion, then cut it in half and thinly slice the halves. The slices then are slowly sauteed in butter and olive oil (or just oil if you prefer).
Once the onions begin to brown, a splash of water is added to deglaze the pan and the temperature is lowered. The key to caramelizing is slow and low. It will take a half hour or more depending on the thickness of your slices.Just before coming off the stove, the onions get a splash of balsamic vinegar, which ups the tangy sweet flavors. But be careful. Steam will rush off the pan, and vinegar steam stings I know. So stand back.
COLD MEATLOAF SANDWICH WITH BALSAMIC ONIONS
Start to finish: 40 minutes
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Splash of water
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon whole-grain mustard
1 large clove garlic, finely minced or pressed
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
4 slices rustic white, sourdough or multigrain bread
2 slices cold meatloaf, about 1/2 inch thick
4 slices Monterey Jack cheese
In a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, combine the butter and olive oil, heating until the butter has melted. Add the onion slices and saute until they start to brown, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add a splash of water to deglaze the pan, then lower the heat to medium and continue cooking until the onions are soft and caramelized, about another 15 minutes. If the pan gets dry, add a bit more water.
Stir in the balsamic vinegar and remove from the heat. Let the onions cool to room temperature. The onions can be refrigerated for later use. If so, let warm at room temperature for 30 minutes before using.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, garlic and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper, then set aside. This also can be prepared ahead and refrigerated.
To assemble the sandwiches, lightly toast the bread. Let the bread cool for a minute, then spread some of the mayonnaise mixture on all four slices.
Top two of the bread slices each with a slice of meatloaf. Place half of the onions over each meatloaf slice, then top each sandwich with two slices of cheese, a leaf of lettuce and a final slice of bread.
If desired, trim the ingredients to fit neatly between the bread slices. Cut in half on the diagonal and serve.Nutrition information per serving: 873 calories; 579 calories from fat; 64 g fat (25 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 130 mg cholesterol; 42 g carbohydrate; 34 g protein; 4 g fiber; 1,375 mg sodium.
In case you want to use what I consider the ideal meatloaf for next-day sandwiches, here is Mitchell Davis' recipe from his cookbook, "Kitchen Sense."
Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes (10 minutes active)
Servings: 4 to 6
Unsalted butter or oil, for coating the pan
2 pounds 85 percent lean ground beef (or a combination of ground beef, veal and/or pork)
1 large egg
1 small onion, grated
1 small clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard or Worcestershire sauce
3 tablespoons ketchup
1/4 cup unflavored bread crumbs
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat a standard loaf pan with oil.
In a large bowl, combine the ground meat, egg, onion, garlic, mustard, ketchup, bread crumbs, parsley, salt and black pepper. Mix well with a wooden spoon or your hands.
Pack the meat mixture into the prepared loaf pan, rounding the top to form a nicely shaped loaf. If using the bacon, lay the strips along the top of the loaf.
Bake for 1 hour, or until the meatloaf has browned and an instant-read thermometer inserted at the center of the loaf reads 160 F. During baking, the meat will release liquid; it will subside and brown, giving the meat a nice crust.
Remove the meatloaf from the oven and cool for 15 minutes in the pan before unmolding and slicing. Recipe from Mitchell Davis' "Kitchen Sense," Clarkson Potter, 2006