A delicious turkey meatloaf requires a bit of innovation

Mini turkey meatloaves Jill Blanchette/The Day

It’s all well and good to eat healthier, to decrease the processed foods in your diet, substituting fresh fruits and vegetables and swapping high fat proteins for healthier ones. That is, it’s all well and good until someone decides to make turkey meatloaf. 

What a world it would be if you could use ground turkey in all of your mother’s beef recipes and have them come out tasting just the same. 

But the very reason we want to use ground turkey — its lower fat content — is what makes it difficult to simply substitute for beef. If you just swap it, one for one, the texture of your final dish likely will be dry and grainy, and the flavor will be off. Unless the dish is heavily spiced — it works fine when used instead of hamburger in a boxed taco mix — it’s going to taste like turkey, not like beef at all. 

Take meatloaf, for example. A typical recipe would start with ground beef, breadcrumbs, an egg and some milk, to which a cook may add chopped onions, green pepper, garlic, Parmesan cheese, ketchup, barbecue sauce, or whatever flavors mom used to use. 

But it just doesn’t work that way with turkey. With such a lean, nearly flavorless meat, a cook really has to ramp up the moisture-retaining, flavor-enhancing ingredients to get a good result. For myself, I’ve read a lot of recipes and taken a lot of TV chef advice on the subject. And I’ve made a lot of turkey meatloaves, all of them dry, all of them disappointing. 

But then I found a Martha Stewart recipe that called for half a cup of finely chopped dill pickle — flavor and moisture all in one. I was intrigued. The online version includes a video by Sarah Carey, the editor of Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine. The original recipe calls for two slices of fresh bread and some grated cheese, both to add moisture to the mix. In the accompanying video, Carey says she normally would soak the bread in milk but, in this recipe, that’s not necessary. Well, I beg to differ. Although these little loaves, baked in muffin cups, are adorable and quite tasty, the texture was not so good. 

I decided to try again, but this time I added a second egg and went to three slices bread that I indeed soaked in a cup of milk. The original also called for brushing the tops of the mini loaves with ketchup before baking but I skipped that step. I like to apply my own portion of ketchup later. Otherwise, I stuck with all the remaining ingredients from the original. 

And voila! Same great flavor and much improved texture. I’d like to tell you that when it’s cold, this meatloaf also makes a great sandwich, but I can’t because I couldn’t stop eating it hot. I served it with some roasted butternut squash but it would be great with more summery accompaniments, a tangy green salad, perhaps, or a selection of summer squashes cooked on the grill. 

One other thing. The recipe calls for cooking the loaves to an internal temperature of 170 degrees. This is important. No one wants to eat undercooked ground turkey. If you don’t have a digital, instant read thermometer, do yourself a favor. Go buy one. I think you’ll find it quite liberating.  

I was so happy with my mini meatloaves that I decided to rename the recipe. But call it what you will. Ultimately, you’ll be calling it delicious. 

Enjoy!

Jill’s Version of Martha’s Mini Turkey Meatloaves 

Serves 6 

3 slices sandwich bread (if the slices are very small or very thin, use more, up to 6) 

¾ to 1 cup milk 

½ cup ketchup 

2 pounds ground turkey 

1 cup chopped onion (about 1 medium onion) 

1 cup grated cheddar cheese (Monterey Jack would be fine as well, and a jalapeno Jack just might be divine) 

½ cup finely chopped dill pickle (about 1 medium) 

1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce 

2 large eggs, lightly beaten 

2 garlic cloves, minced 

2 teaspoons dry mustard powder 

1 teaspoon salt 

½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper 

Tear the slices of sandwich bread into a bowl and add ¾ cup of milk. Squish the bread down into the milk so that it starts to soak up the liquid. If it looks as though the bread will take up the remaining ¼ cup of milk, go ahead and add it. Set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. 

Put all the remaining ingredients into a large bowl and mix together loosely to combine. Add the bread, which by now should have soaked up most of the milk, and incorporate it into the mix using your two clean hands. 

Divide the mixture among six cups in a 12-cup (4-ounce) muffin tin or in a mini loaf pan. Gently compress the mixture into the cups and mound up the tops of each loaf. Leave the remaining cups empty. 

Transfer the tin to the oven and bake the mini meatloaves until the inside temperature registers 170 degrees on an instant read thermometer, about 45 minutes. 

Remove the pan from the oven and let the loaves rest for about 5 minutes before removing them from the tin. 

Original recipe from www.marthastewart.com. Share comments and recipes at j.blanchette@theday.com.

Instant-read thermometers

You don't have to spend a lot to get a good thermometer that will quickly tell you whether your mini turkey meatloaves are done.

I use the CDN ProAccurate Quick-Read Thermometer, which cost me between $15 and $20. It has a good-size screen for reading the temperature, an automatic shut-off so you won't burn through batteries, and a nice plastic cover for the probe, complete with a pen clip, so the thermometer won't fall out of your pocket when you bend over to open the oven.

As a cook, a good thermometer can be a real confidence booster. You'll no longer have to guess when steaks or chops or roasts are done. You'll know for sure.

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