Bringing Mom’s Meatloaf to the UK

Chris Hansen shares his mother’s secret for moist meatloaf, and adds the fabled -mite!

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One of the great delights of moving to an utterly new country is discovering new food that you have never eaten before. The second great delight is introducing your new friends to the delights of food you grew up with. One of these foods is the humble American meatloaf. Brits do not know what meatloaf is, unless they have spent time in the United States. The local equivalent is cottage pie, which is sauteed onion, carrot, peas, and crumbled hamburger, baked in a square pie dish and then topped with mashed potato.

Ready to bake
Meatloaf ready to bake

My mother was a great fan of meatloaf. She often spiked it with breadcrumbs in order to make a pound of hamburger go further. That was okay; it tasted good and you hardly knew it was there once the meatloaf was mixed. We’d have mashed potatoes and peas, maybe a salad. Voilà! Dinner!

I went to the local supermarket today and gravitated to the reduced-to-clear refrigerator case once I’d picked up the milk. Often in the morning I tell my spouse, HWMBO (He Who Must Be Obeyed—see Rumpole of the Bailey and Haggard’s She) that we will have one thing for dinner, normally something in the freezer. When I visit the reduced-to-clear section, we end up having something else altogether. We were going to have frozen chicken kievs tonight. But when I got to the supermarket and saw the two pounds of hamburger that would doubtless be used for cottage pies, I thought: “Aha! Mother Hansen’s Meatloaf!”. Just the ticket for a coolish evening.

Here are the ingredients. Feel free to improvise: I do!

2 lbs. hamburger (mince beef in Blighty)
1 medium onion, minced
1/2 a bell pepper, minced
2 stalks of celery, minced
1 cup of breadcrumbs (if you like)
2 eggs
Italian seasoning (or basil and oregano if you like)
1 tbl Worcestershire sauce
1 tbl Vegemite or Marmite (if you can get it—yeast extract is hard to source in the US but it adds a lot to a meatloaf)
1 tbl Tabasco (less or more depending on your taste)
Salt and pepper, but more pepper than salt if you’ve used Vegemite/Marmite
1 can condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup (Campbell’s has pulled out of the UK, so I used Batchelor’s)

Today I’d eaten the two slices of bread left over from the loaf I cut our Communion bread from last Sunday, so I left the breadcrumbs out.

A note on yeast extract: It’s not for everyone. I have never met another American who liked it on toast. It is a dark brown spread the consistency of peanut butter that is to be spread THINLY on your breakfast toast after buttering. It makes it savoury (in UK-speak). This is a taste hard to describe to Americans, but it is something like salty and meaty all rolled into one. In this recipe (I confess: my sainted mother had probably never even heard of Vegemite or Marmite) it adds salty goodness and a bit of colour. Someday I may blog on the various -mites you find in the world.

I took some pictures of the process I went through to make the meatloaf. It might seem like overkill, and for a traditional cookbook it would be. The Craig Claibornes of this world (and he was an exceptional food writer) take pictures of the finished product, while avoiding pictures of the messy intermediate steps. If you’re a student trying to replicate Mom’s meatloaf, though, you may get frustrated if all you see is the perfect meatloaf at the end, and don’t realise what the middle steps look like. So here on the Internet you can get it all. I will begin with the onion, celery, and bell pepper.

Minced onion, yellow bell pepper, and celery
Onion, yellow bell pepper, and celery

Do mince it well. If you leave the pieces too big, the meatloaf will fall apart after cutting.

Then put your hamburger in a large bowl. The meat should be cool but not very cold as you’ll be digging your hands into it soon. Don’t think you’ll get away without a bit of dirtywork.

hamburger, also called mince beef
First take your hamburger…

Now add all the other ingredients except the soup. Just pile ’em in, don’t bother to mix ’em up. Yet. Here’s what mine looked like this afternoon. Note especially the brown blob in the lower left hand corner: this is the fabled Vegemite.

Raw meatloaf ingredients before kneading
Quite a sight; don’t show this to your family.

Now, take your watches, rings, and bracelets off, wash your hands thoroughly, and start kneading. Roll the mixture around, squeeze it through your fingers, get really messy. If you have a young teenager, this is a perfect way to get him involved in cooking. Knead the mixture until it’s homogeneous. It’ll look like this in the bowl:

Mixture after kneading
Mixture after kneading

Now get out a loaf pan and pack the mixture into it. No need to grease it. Also, you won’t be cooking the meatloaf in it. Cover the pan with food wrap and pack it tight in every corner. If you want to prepare it in advance, this is the point where you put the mixture in the fridge and go have a rest.

In the loaf pan
Molded into a loaf shape

When you’re ready to start baking, turn your oven to Gas Mark 7 (425 deg. F). Note: If you’re ever confronted with an unfamiliar oven temperature, this web page has a handy-dandy conversion chart! Take the food wrap off the loaf pan and run a butter knife around the edges. Holding the loaf pan by the handles, quickly turn it upside down over the baking pan. If the meatloaf doesn’t immediately fall out of the loaf pan, give the bottom a gentle tap.

Ready to bake
Meatloaf ready to bake

Now put it in the oven for 45 minutes to start. Within 10 minutes a really lovely odour of cooking meatloaf will waft through your house. Make sure the spouse and kids are around for this. It’ll be the home equivalent of the in-store bread bakery.

Meanwhile, get your soup out. Remember, it has to be condensed, so in the US Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom is best. Campbell’s no longer exists in the UK, so I had to use this:

Cream of mushroom soup
Soup—never painted by Warhol

After 45 minutes, I took the meatloaf out (but left the oven on). This is what it looked like. I have to confess that I was a bit disappointed: the bargain hamburger I got was not as lean as I thought it was, and the meatloaf shrunk markedly from the shape I molded. This is not a fatal error, as the aim of meatloaf is to lose as much of the fat as possible. The important result is that the meatloaf does not fall apart when cut. That is still to be determined.

Meatloaf after baking
A shrunken but less greasy meatloaf

Now, open the can of soup, take a spoonful, and “ice” the top of the meatloaf. Use about half the can, and ice the entire top and as much of the side as you can. This was my mother’s recipe for moist meatloaf: add the moistness later on. I believe this was a 1950’s Campbell’s Soup suggestion. The idea was that you could get away with no gravy. Here’s what the meatloaf looked like before popping back into the oven.

Meatloaf after i9cing
Iced meatloaf before popping back into the oven

You’re now 20 minutes away from great meatloaf. While it is cooking, make the gravy either from scratch (making a roux from butter and flour, then adding some beef stock and stirring over a medium fire until the entire mixture is thickened) or from gravy granules. I used gravy granules yesterday, made it up according to the instructions on the box, and then added in the rest of the can of soup and stirred until it was thoroughly blended. If you wish, sauté some mushrooms and onions and add them to the gravy at that point. In any case you will have mushroom gravy for the meatloaf. My mom used to use canned Franco-American mushroom gravy, of course.

After 15 minutes, take the meatloaf out to rest. It sounds odd, but it is very important to do this to ensure that the meatloaf does not fall apart when cut. Once it’s rested for about 10 minutes (during which you could, for example, mash potatoes or heat up the frozen peas) use two hamburger flippers or Chinese wok spatulas, edge them carefully under each end of the meatloaf, and carefully lift it off the grating and place it on a plate. This is the plated meatloaf.

Meatloaf on the plate
Plated and ready to cut

Cut the meatloaf with a serrated bread knife. Do not use a sharp kitchen knife as it will catch on the pieces of vegetable in the meatloaf and rip the slice apart. The classic accompaniments to meatloaf are mashed potato and peas. I like to mash the potatoes coarsely, then rice the mashed potatoes with a hand ricer so that it is smooth. We actually had rice last night; as HWMBO is Chinese, rice is a big part of our diet and it’s just as good with Western meals.

Here is the finished meal on my plate.

Ready to eat
Soup’s on!

I like to think that Mom would be happy to eat my meatloaf. We certainly were.

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Author: Chris Hansen

Expat American living in London, now a British citizen as well. I was originally from Marblehead, Massachusetts, and that's where my mom raised me, so my momfood comes from New England.

48 thoughts on “Bringing Mom’s Meatloaf to the UK”

  1. Well, I must tell you that I don’t usually eat red meat, but that meatloaf looks pretty darn good! Well-written post, and I really like the fact that Chris included pics of his meatloaf-making progress :-D

    Visiting from SITS

    1. Thanks, Ann! To be honest, it doesn’t LOOK all that appealing to me once it’s baked, but knowing how much I love love love cream of mushroom soup, I’m sure I’d gobble it up. (And I bet you could use ground chicken for it, huh, Chris?)

      1. Ground chicken…hmmm…I would think that ground turkey might be a bit better. I must confess that I have never tried to make meatloaf with anything but beef. Some people put ground pork or lamb into it and mix them all three together. The only reason I’ve never done this is that Mom never did it (I confess…) Perhaps someone could try making this with ground turkey and report back? I would probably add more liquid (perhaps ketchup) and definitely use lots of breadcrumbs because I suspect that ground turkey probably doesn’t have enough fat to hold the meatloaf together after baking.

        @Serene: Other condensed cream soups might be just as yummy: cream of celery (if they had it here) would be one I’d try. If someone tries a ground turkey loaf, put condensed cream of chicken soup on it rather than mushroom?? Oh, and I also like cream of mushroom soup–so much that occasionally when younger I would just eat it out of the can with a spoon… :-(

        1. Since we’re having true-confession time, I still eat it with a spoon out of the can. :-) My old meatloaf recipe when I was transitioning to vegetarianism had ground turkey, oatmeal, and tomato juice in it — no cohesion problem at all. I kind of wish I still had the recipe, as it was really good.

  2. I love meatloaf! And it’s amazing that such a simple dish would have so many different ways to making it, as there are so many different meatloaf recipes. I also think it’s so interesting to try new foods as well as introduce new foods to family and friends!

  3. Hey…I did the “American living in England” thing too!

    It never occurred to me to introduce them to meatloaf (also, that’s a GREAT looking recipe.)

    I introduced them to a lot of Mexican food (made in the California style – I was not a fan of UK Mexican restaurants!) and that went over well.

    But when Thanksgiving came around and we invited friends over for dinner (which they thought was lots of fun) my homemade pumpkin pie was a bust!

    Turns out pumpkin pie might be one of those things you have to grow up with.

    Like Vegemite. ;)

    1. Oh, I’d be right at home in the UK, then. I don’t like pumpkin pie, either. :-) (Actually, I found I like it fine with the sugar taken out; my dad and stepmom don’t eat any sugar, so I make theirs without it.)

    2. @Lori: You are SO right about pumpkin/squash pie. I made some from scratch a while back and everyone here went kinda, “Um, well, thanks Chris, it was really…interesting.” Oh, well, all the more for me. OTOH, I made bourbon sweet potato pies for the wrap party of the production of Oklahoma! I was in 10 years ago and they went down well, but I suppose the alcohol helped a bit.

      I don’t know much about making Mexican food, I’m afraid. Why not post some recipes here? That being said, Old El Paso has quite a set of shelves full in my local Tesco. Of course, there is a huge Hispanic influx into the Elephant and Castle area so perhaps that’s why. There is a Venezuelan restaurant in the shopping centre that’s not too great.

      @Serene: I cook with Splenda now. I do like sweetish squash pie but hate the sugar rush…

      I will be getting in touch with Ethel this week to schedule our first interview. Perhaps a recipe for Spotted Dick? :-) Now to explain what sultanas are to a wider audience…

    1. Really and truly! My soulmate! Do you have a source for it in the US? Or do you have to import it from Oz?

      Have you ever tried Promite? That is the Kiwi version. Both of them are different from each other and also from Marmite.

      1. I haven’t! But I have a New Zealand store here; if it’s not Nestle and they have it, I’ll pick some up. I like Marmite, too. I think the last jar of Vegemite I got was at my local natural-grocery place, but I’m not sure. Even as much as I like it, a jar lasts a fairly long time. :-) Oh, and I almost always add it to beef stew.

        1. I add it to meatloaf, beef stew, and put it on toast. HWMBO puts Marmite (I find Marmite too salty so never use it on toast) in his homemade congee.

          1. Mmmmmmm, congeeeeeeeeeee. There’s a little Vietnamese/pan-Asian place — no, actually, WAS — they’ve been pushed out — at work that used to sell it first thing in the morning and call it “chicken rice soup” and oh my gosh, I love that stuff. Never had it before about a year ago.

            1. HWMBO makes it with just rice, water, an egg, and the Marmite. Then he tops it with some mackerel fillets. That’s what I don’t particularly like. My last partner took me to a congee joint in Singapore and I had preserved century egg and pork liver congee. Um…interesting. Remind me to blog on Singaporean food sometime….

  4. I love meatloaf, when it’s good! I have some mixed up in my freezer, ready to go.

    Questions/comments for you:

    No pan? Did you just use a broiler pan? I’m used to putting meatloaf in a loaf pan. I’m wondering if it was a bit drier, since the loss of the juice in the broiler pan.

    Can we get vegemite in the US? What does it taste like?

    Oh, and we LOVE Sheperds pie around here!

    1. I’ll answer one of these: We can get Vegemite here, but not that easily. A health-food store, or someplace with a good international aisle is the first place I’d look. And the closest I can come to what it tastes like is beef bouillon paste. :-)

      Mmmmmm, shepherd’s pie. I make a vegan version that even my meat-loving kid likes.

      1. Thanks for the description of Vegemite. Do you want a CARE package of Vegemite? I could send it to you…

        I would love to see your vegan shepherd’s pie recipe, please! While I’m not a vegan, I am always on the lookout for vegan recipes to try.

        1. I can get the Vegemite easily, but thanks!

          Let’s see, I’m pretty sure I’ve got the recipe around here someplace. It starts with the SUPER AMAZING Punk Rock Chickpea Gravy from Isa Moskowitz’s book “Vegan with a Vengeance”. I usually add chunks of seitan or tofu to the gravy, along with veggies, and just go from there.

          Okay, here’s her gravy:

          Here’s my variation:

          And here’s my post about the pie:

    2. I have never made it in a loaf pan; the reason is that the fat does make it very moist but is not my favourite ingredient. So, having breadcrumbs and liquid and egg in the mixture helps keep in some of the juices, enough to keep it moist, but the grossest part of the fat drops into the broiler pan. I suppose it’s horses for courses (as they say here; my Mom would have said “six of one, half a dozen of the other”.)

      The one I made last week was a bit dry because I didn’t put breadcrumbs in it. The cream of mushroom soup and the gravy substitute for the fat that dripped out of the meat. I would say that a drier meatloaf makes a wonderful sandwich the next day after it’s been refrigerated overnight. It holds together better and is denser and easier to cut. So, I suppose that if you wanted, you could make a meatloaf, refrigerate the entire thing after cooking, and use it for sandwiches for the family the next day. At that point, the drier the better.

      Oooooh, what does Vegemite taste like…..well……..if you toast some wholemeal bread, butter it, and spread a THIN layer of Vegemite on it, it tastes like salty malt. It’s made from the residue of yeast left after brewing beer. That’s the closest I can get to it. Serene? You like Vegemite…how do you describe the taste?

      The mistake that USans make with the various -mites is spreading them thickly like peanut butter. Eating a piece of toast like that is like eating … um … toast with a thick layer of salt soaked in beer. I’m reaching for words now, I fear.

      I don’t mind cottage pie (made with beef) but I’m not a lamb fan. Again, this comes from my childhood–since my dad didn’t care for lamb, we never had it. The first time I tasted lamb was in the Symposium Restaurant on 113th St. between Broadway and Amsterdam Ave. in Manhattan during 1970–it was one of the premier restaurants in the Columbia/Morningside Heights area. It’s still there, and the menu and the ambiance is little changed. I have never tried to make cottage pie as the strict recipe calls for a pastry bag to pipe the mashed potato onto the rest of the pie. I buy them from Tesco and freeze ’em–they cook fairly well from frozen.

      @Serene: I love answering comments!

      1. Oh, and I should tell you, and may as well do it in public, that the day of this post was the highest hit day in the blog’s history, with the exception of the one day we were on Reddit’s front page and got about ten times what we usually do.

        1. Good grief! I am honoured. Meatloaf hits all the deep places of the heart that Moms all over North America used to hit when they booked one. While meatloaf leaves Brits cold, I guess it makes North Americans wistful for days when it was cold out and Mom made meatloaf, mashed potatoes, peas, gravy, and a lovely cake for dessert. Just commenting on this post and thinking about meatloaf makes me very introspective for a time when Mom cooked rather than me and I was warm and in the bosom of my family. Thanks again for giving me the opportunity to write these posts.

  5. I love me some meatloaf. Cottage pie is also referred to Sheppard’s Pie here in the states. No matter what you call its it’s mighty good. My father used to put cheese and bacon on top….and a can of sloppy joe sauce in the meat. It wasn’t bad……..he also served popcorn with it. Cooking wasn’t his thing lol.

    1. Where I grew up, it was only Shepherd’s pie if it had lamb; cottage pie was beef. I love it, too. I’ll totally have to try it with cheese and bacon. My partner and kid will think they’ve gone to heaven. :-)

      1. As a shepherd herds sheep, it’s only shepherd’s pie if it is made from lamb (or, I suppose, mutton). The same pie made with beef is called a cottage pie. There is also a fisherman’s pie (you guessed it!).I never eat that.

  6. Hmm… I don’t normally like Vegemite (my brother brought some back from a trip to Australia years ago), but I can see how it would add to the flavor of meatloaf. My mom’s was a tomato based recipe with ketchup on the top. Cream of mushroom sounds pretty yummy as well. I don’t remember molding it and baking outside of the loaf pan. I think mom always baked hers right in the loaf pan and served from there. I have yet to try to make my own and I’ve been married 10 years! I think it’s time!

    1. My partner shudders at the thought of vegemite in meatloaf and even tried to tell me it’s not Mom Food if it’s in there. You just KNOW I’m gonna sneak some in the next one, don’tcha? :-)

    2. @Audra: I am so glad that the post has inspired you to make your own meatloaf.

      Most people I have heard from on the subject of meatloaf seem to think that unmolding it was out-of-the-ordinary. I would welcome some insights from people who are baking meatloaves in the loaf pan today just to see whether I should try that next time.

      1. I bake mine in the pan. Until recently, I didn’t know that was optional. I may try it out of the pan some time. (I pull it out of the pan and put it on a plate before cutting, rather than serving it from the pan as Audra’s mom did.)

  7. As a vegetarian, a meatloaf posting would normally be about the last thing I’d be interested in, but instead it was really a delight to read — very engaging and well-written and illustrated!

    1. The divide on this is interesting to me. My partners both think gravy on meatloaf is weird, but it makes perfect sense to me, and I think ketchup on meatloaf is weird, but to them, that’s how it’s done. We really pick up some food rules as kids, don’t we?

  8. Here in South Texas we use ketchup on top of meatloaf, but I think mushroom soup looks better. I’m going to try it. I cook mine in the crock-pot because it’s too hot to heat up the kitchen with my oven.

    The comments about Pumpkin Pie cracked me up. Growing up I never liked pumpkin pie. But when I got married my sister-in-law always made it for holidays so I tried it. It was delicious. Turns out I just didn’t like my mother’s pumpkin pie, anyone else’s is delicious.

    1. I’m like that about cheesecake. I can take or leave my mom’s, but I tend to love it otherwise. Hers is good; it’s just too dense for me.

  9. Wow, I never realized there were quite so many versions of meatloaf. I love meatloaf (gonna have to have some for dinner now) with mashed potatoes, steamed broccoli and corn (on the cob is my favorite). My mouth is watering just thinking about it. I loved your English version.

  10. It is interesting that in some parts of the country gravy on meatloaf is unknown, while in others ketchup on meatloaf is unknown.

    We would put ketchup (or more likely yellow mustard) on a meatloaf sandwich, but hot meatloaf always got mushroom gravy.

    During the First World War the modest hamburger was renamed “Salisbury Steak” to ensure that no one thought that eating a hamburger was unpatriotic. It would be naked on a plate with mushroom gravy. I wonder if that’s where the mushroom gravy thang originated.

    I can’t think of anything else one might put on a meatloaf, but if there is something else, I’m certain that a Momfood reader will tell us!

      1. Barbecue sauce…I might put it in the meatloaf but I don’t know whether I’d put it ON the meatloaf. The taste might swamp everything else. I don’t use A-1 (which I love) on meatloaf for the same reason.

        The bacon would probably be added to preserve juiciness (ie, add the fat to the loaf that was removed during cooking). It would also add (at least in the US) a smoky taste and some “bite”. I’m not opposed to it, but the bacon you can get here isn’t really conducive to this use. US bacon would be much better, but it’s hard to source here.

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