Let’s get something sorted out right off the bat: Grandmother Muskie, she of “Polish Meatloaf” fame, isn’t my grandmother. She’s Jane G. Muskie (Mrs. Edmund S.)’s grandmother, presumably, who submitted her family meatloaf recipe to the Portland, Maine Junior league for inclusion in their cookbook, “RSVP: An Invitation to Maine Cooking,” way back in 1982.
Though I never had the pleasure of meeting Grandmother Muskie, her name was certainly familiar enough growing up in my house in Tenants Harbor in the early 1980s, a name tossed around in causal conversation as often as her contemporaries, Mrs. Dash and Ms. Betty Crocker. In those days, the recipes in the RSVP cookbook were still thought of as fairly modern, if not exactly cutting-edge, making it a reference my mother turned to often.
There were plenty of recipes to terrify my childhood brain; recipes that covered cold beef filet in sour cream, or that contained scary foreign words like “teriyaki,” or that inevitably used the word “Surprise” in the title of any recipe that contained a brick of molten cream cheese stuffed into chicken or beef. But for all of these more exotic creations, the ladies of Portland’s Junior League knew their stuff; the staple recipes compiled in that trusted volume came to be what I thought of as “Maine Comfort Food,” and for that reason, there is still a dog-eared, mustard-stained copy on the shelf in my kitchen as an adult.
My mother would prepare many dishes from this cookbook over the years, some of which became family favorites that we still make to this day. Grandmother Muskie’s Polish Meatloaf was one of these recipes.
Grandmother Muskie’s meatloaf manages to eliminate most of the problems that some people have with traditional preparations of the comfort food classic. It’s never dried out. It never sits awash in its own fat. It’s never too bready, and it’s never mushy. How can this be? Because Grandmother Muskie basically treats a meatloaf like a giant hamburger, the minx.
There’s very little in the way of binders or fillers, and even less in the way of vegetables. Mostly, it’s a meatloaf recipe ideal for anyone in your family who fights over the “end piece.” Since it’s cooked in a cast iron skillet on the stovetop instead of in the oven, you get plenty of brown crusty exterior, and because it’s cooked in a water bath, the meat never dries out.
After an hour of cooking, you’re left with plenty of pan liquid to make a gravy, or if you’re trashy like me, to absolutely bathe the finished meatloaf in a quart of ketchup or chili sauce. There’s a basic lack of seasoning that I think owes to the dish’s Polish roots; feel free to augment with your favorites if you like, but for me? I turn to meatloaf when I want something comforting, basic, and filling, and on those days, I like this recipe just the way it is.
Grandmother Muskie’s Polish Meatloaf
Serves 4-5; Adapted from a recipe in “RSVP: An Invitation to Maine Cooking” [sc:ziplist]
- 2 pounds ground beef
- 3-4 slices of white bread, torn into small pieces
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well with hands, but be careful not to over-work the beef. Shape into a large ball, and set aside.
Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Drop meat into pan, and shape into a large patty. Cook until very brown and crusty, then flip and brown other side (Tip: You may need to flip the whole thing onto a plate, and then return in to the pan to cook the other side; it’s a little tricky to try and flip the whole meatloaf with just a spatula).
When meat is well-browned on both sides, reduce heat and add an inch of water to the pan. Simmer for one hour, adding more water as needed. Use pan liquid to make your favorite gravy, if desired.