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Meatloaf Sliders Deserve R‑E-S-P-E-C‑T

Meatloaf Sliders

It’s easy to make fun of meatloaf. Way too easy. Lazy parents make meatloaf for ungrateful kids, right? “Aw, meatloaf?” they whine as you slide a plate-sized slab in front of them. It’s no wonder they smother it in cheap ketchup before begging to be excused so they can go learn half-truths on the internet. One of those half-truths they’ve picked up online is the ridiculous notion that kids hate meatloaf. Nobody hates meatloaf. At least not my meatloaf.

So I hope you’ll set aside all those standard meatloaf jokes, like: “Yo mama’s so fat, on Halloween she says Trick or Meatloaf! Because my Meatloaf Sliders (like yo mama) deserve a little respect.

I’ll start by paying my own respects to the slow tomato-bacon ketchup I like to use on (and in) my meatloaf. The emphasis here in on slow. The recipe requires you cook the onions and bacon in olive oil until they’re deeply golden brown and quite jammy. Smashed tomatoes are then added to the mixture and it continues to cook for another couple of hours until it transforms itself into a deeply rich sauce that I call ketchup. It’s a time-consuming process, but the reward is a big swipe of umami flavored R‑E-S-P-E-C‑T. It’s this ketchup that differentiates these Meatloaf Sliders from the overcooked “loaf” of meat to which Antonin Scalia compared marriage equality. Don’t ask — I can’t understand that metaphor any more than you can (I can only guess that it’s one of those half-truths I told you about).

Meatloaf Sliders

Despite its terrible reputation, when it’s done right, meatloaf is the quintessential comfort food — the antithesis of fancy restaurant fare. You can serve it hot (with creamy mashed potatoes), or eat it cold (crammed between slices of white bread). I’ve decided to shape it into cute little burgers and call them sliders. The first reason I chose this direction is that I believe meatloaf has a better chance of showing up on respectable menus at fancy restaurants if you serve it in slider form. Have you noticed the slider craze at fancy restaurants these days? If tiny-sized burgers can bring glory to SPAM, then I’m sure the format can make Meatloaf Sliders respectable too.

Secondly, sliders appeal to kids. When it comes to the internet, kids hold all the power. Since few things delight young eaters as much as kid-sized food, I think Meatloaf Sliders can finally give meatloaf the kind of juvenile Google cred it’s been missing. At the very least those half-truths about my favorite comfort food might finally be put to rest. GREG

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Meat Loaf Sliders with Tomato-Bacon Ketchup

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Meat Loaf Sliders with Tomato-Bacon Ketchup

Ingredients

  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 pound raw bacon (roughly chopped)
  • 3 onions (peeled and finely chopped, divided)
  • 11 clove garlic (peeld and minced, divided)
  • ½ cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup cider vinegar
  • ½ cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 (12 oz) cans whole peeled Italian tomatoes
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3/4 pound ground beef
  • 3/4 pound hot Italian sausage (casings removed)
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 large egg (lightly beaten)
  • ½ cup panko bread crumbs
  • kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper (as needed for seasoning)
  • 8 soft slider sized buns (split)
  • mayonnaise (as needed)
  • fresh lettuce leaves (to taste)
  • bread and butter pickles, sliced crosswise into discs (optional)

Directions

Make the ketchup: Place a large dutch oven over medium heat, add the olive oil and chopped bacon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bacon begins to become crisp; about 8 minutes. Add 2 of the chopped onions and 8 of the minced garlic cloves and reduce the heat to very low. Stir frequently until the onions caramelize and become the color of golden raisins; about 2 hours depending on water content of onions.

Add the brown sugar and cook 5 more minutes until dissolved, but not burned. Add both vinegars and cook, stirring frequently, ½ hour.

Add the tomatoes and basil and continue to cook, stirring and crushing the tomatoes with a wooden spoon frequently, until the mixture is thick and saucy; about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Set aside to cool.

Blend in small batches. The ketchup may be covered and and refrigerated up to 5 days. Makes about 2 cups.

Make the meatloaf sliders: Place the oven rack in the center position and heat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil, set aside.

Melt butter in small skillet over medium heat and sweat remaining onion and remaining 3 cloves garlic until translucent. Scrape the onion mixture into a large bowl and let them cool slightly. Place ground beef, Italian sausage, parsley, 1 egg, panko, ¼ cup prepared tomato-bacon ketchup, salt and pepper into the bowl with the onion mixture and loosely mix with your hands.

Shape meat into 8 slider-sized patties, about 2 inches in diameter and 3/4‑inch thick. Use your thumb to make a small indentation in the center of each patty. This will ensure that the meat maintains its form as it plumps in cooking. Season generously with salt and pepper on both sides. Place on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the patties with more tomato-bacon ketchup and bake about 20 minutes.

While the burgers are cooking place the buns cut sides down onto a large heated grill pan, skillet or griddle, rotating as needed, until lightly browned. Remove from heat spread a little mayonnaise onto the bun bottoms, followed by lettuce. Top with cooked burger and a few pickle slices (if using), then cover with top bun and serve warm.