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The Secret to Moist (!) Meatloaf Is Hiding in Your Breakfast Cereal

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Oh, meatloaf, how do I love thee? Let me happily count the ways. You’re one of the first dishes I learned to make all on my own, you freeze beautifully, you feed a crowd, you taste great on the first day (but even better the next), you make easy friends with buttery mashed potatoes as well as two slices of bread (or if I’m lucky, both mashed potatoes and bread, all at once!). Your versatility, affordability, and comforting qualities catapult you to the top of my favorite foods list—and I’m confident my love for you won’t wane any during my lifetime.

I’ve honestly never found a meatloaf I didn’t like, and have also never been pressed to find a “better” or “ultimate” version. Hey, it’s an easy-to-love dish for this very reason!

But when the person responsible for one of my favorite, “ultimate”-level meatballs came out with his version of a meatloaf, my ears perked up. Award-winning chef Rocco DiSpirito, whose mother’s famous meatballs (“Mama’s meatballs,” to be precise) became a marquee draw at one of his restaurants, knows a thing or two about tasty meat mixtures, and I was drawn to the Espresso Meatloaf from his latest book, Rocco’s Healthy + Delicious: More than 200 (Mostly) Plant-Based Recipes for Everyday Life.

Who doesn’t love a good meatloaf??
Who doesn’t love a good meatloaf?? Photo by James Ransom

You might be thinking, espresso in meatloaf? DiSpirito explains further: “Yes, just 2 teaspoons of espresso powder in the topping to amplify the beefy flavor of meatloaf. This recipe is gluten-free, too, since it uses puffed rice (instead of bread) as a binder.” Come again? Puffed rice? As in, Rice Krispies? If I was curious before, I was dying to know now.

"In meatloaf, bread is the go-to stretcher-filler and texturizer," he tells me. "But it turns out that puffed brown rice does a better job, with the mixture of meat, stock, and puffed rice producing the best final flavor and texture."

Well I’m here to report that the puffed rice adds great texture to the meatloaf, keeping the whole lot very tender moist. (There. I said it!) DiSpirito recommends using a lean ground beef, but we’d venture that a blend with a bit more fat would lend the meatloaf even more juiciness.

Another pro tip for avoiding a tough meatloaf (or meatballs, for that matter): Have a light hand! "Overmixing is a chronic issue. When you overmix meat and other ingredients, you can guarantee it will turn out tough. Use a light touch. Mix until it looks and feels like the sand and water in your pail at the beach looked. Once it cooks, it will all come together."

And as for the espresso? As promised, it brings deep flavor to the glaze, which isn’t cloying at all. A glaze for adults, if you will—even if the inside holds a favorite cereal from childhood.

Espresso Meatloaf

Espresso Meatloaf

Food52 Food52
Go To Recipe
Serves 4
  • 1 cup puffed rice cereal
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sodium beef broth
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened ketchup
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (such as Medaglia d’Oro)
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Tags: Beef, Meat, Tips & Techniques, Wellness