Table for One

A Single's Meatloaf: The Strongest Case for Ground Turkey

Ground turkey has a bad rap. This week, columnist Eric Kim uses its clean flavor to his advantage: as a canvas for cream, oats, and aromatic spices.

by:
February  7, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


Most meatloaf recipes feed a crowd. You’re taking ground meat and stretching it—in volume and in flavor—by adding fillers like eggs, onions, and bread crumbs.

But there are nights when the "crowd" is just you. When you've spent an hour on a packed train after work and know that a warm plate of food is not waiting for you at home.

Though making an entire meatloaf for yourself is a great excuse for sandwiches with the leftovers, it's nice to have the option to eat something new the next day should you be craving something else. It's a practice I've adopted since living alone in a big city: cooking small-scale. If there’s anything I hate more than forcing myself to eat something just because I've made too much of it, it’s wasting that very food.

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Top Comment:
“Ground turkey is fantastic - as long as it's ground thigh meat. Stay away from ground breast - it's like sawdust. I have used ground thigh meat in every application where I'd use ground beef and it's delicious.”
— Louise C.
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Dishes like meatloaf prove more difficult with this kind of cooking, as it can be hard to find packages of ground meat smaller than a pound—but then again, why would you want to? Ground meats like turkey (which I find myself buying more and more these days because it’s leaner and has a smaller carbon footprint than beef) are the perfect foundational ingredient to bring home, divvy into individual portions, and store in the fridge to do with however you like throughout the week.

Maybe one night you make yourself a burger. The next night: spicy, fish-saucy larb. This single-serving turkey meatloaf fits the bill, as well.

An individual turkey meatloaf is like an edge-piece brownie: extra caramelization. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

The whole dish comes together in under an hour, 30 minutes of which the meatloaf is quietly baking in the oven. This leaves you time to pour yourself a glass of wine, crack open an E.M. Forster novel, or boil a handful of new potatoes to mash with heavy cream and nutmeg.

As for the meatloaf, it's filled out, as most loaves are, with a wet thing and a dry thing. The wet thing here is an umami bomb of a mixture (onions sautéed, almost caramelized, in a pan with ketchup and heavy cream, plus lots of salt and pepper), which later seasons the meat deeply and provides moisture. The heavy cream in particular adds fat, which lean turkey desperately needs.

The dry thing in this recipe is rolled oats, which expand as they cook, offering structure to the loaf without the need for eggs. You could use bread crumbs instead if you have them, but I love the old-fashioned quality of an oat-bound meatloaf (and that it happens to be gluten-free). The turkey, anyway—especially as you work in the wet thing and the dry thing with your hands and form it into a loaf—releases myosin, a meat protein that acts as its own binder.

A solo portion of ground turkey is the perfect canvas for strong, bold flavors. Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Ground turkey gets a bad rap, but I relish in its clean flavor. It’s the perfect canvas for richer seasonings like cumin, which adds warmth, and celery seed, which provides an herbal pepperiness. A simple glaze of ketchup, yellow mustard, and brown sugar lends that comforting, familiar sweetness that draws me to meatloaf in the first place.

Each flavorful component works together with the base protein to make this the kind of dish you'll want to eat over and over. And should you have more ground turkey in the fridge, you can.

But you can decide that tomorrow.

Is there anything you'd like to see Eric write about in this column? Send your Table for One tips to [email protected], or tell him yourself on Twitter.

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Eric Kim is a senior editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the managing editor at Food Network and a PhD candidate in literature at Columbia University, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

15 Comments

Louise C. February 10, 2020
Ground turkey is fantastic - as long as it's ground thigh meat. Stay away from ground breast - it's like sawdust. I have used ground thigh meat in every application where I'd use ground beef and it's delicious.
 
Chris February 9, 2020
i actually use my muffin tin for meatloaf "cupcakes".
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 10, 2020
Fun idea and good for portioning!
 
Shane L. February 8, 2020
Thanks for making me crave meatloaf - always one of my faves as a kiddo; especially the next day, as a sandwich, on mom's homemade bread. Toying with ideas for making this plant-based ;)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 8, 2020
Mom's homemade bread?? Tell me more, i.e. is there a recipe.
 
Shane L. February 10, 2020
It’s just a simple white bread recipe. Here’s how it started in the 70’s:
Mom’s original bread recipe

1 cup milk
6 Tbs sugar
4 tsp salt
6 Tbs margarine
3 cups warm water
1 1/2 Tbs yeast
10-11 cups flour (better for bread)

Scald milk, stir in sugar, salt & margarine, cool.
Warm water in large bowl, sprinkle in yeast, stir until dissolved, add the slightly cooled milk mixture, and 7 cups flour, beat until smooth, add enough flour until you can knead. Knead 10 minutes.
Let raise 1 hour in warm place, divide and let rest 15 minutes. Make into 3 large loaves and raise 1 hour, or until nicely shaped loaves.
Bake at 400 for 15 minutes, then cover with foil and bake another 15 minutes at 300.
Brush with butter while still warm.

She changed it to use butter instead of margarine, almond milk, and has played with different flours. For a long time, I remember her using 2/3 bread flour, 1/3 spelt flour.
Pretty basic, but fresh out of the oven and topped with her homemade strawberry jam, it was delicious :)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 10, 2020
Oh my god, I can't wait to try this! Thanks for the family recipe :)
 
Rosalind P. February 8, 2020
Can't use anything dairy so tried it with some homemade mayonnaise. Perfect. Commercial would work just as well.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 8, 2020
Thanks for that tip, Rosalind. Now I wish I had used mayo instead. Great idea.
 
Rosalind P. February 9, 2020
:-)
 
AntoniaJames February 7, 2020
I haven't made meatloaf in ages, but look forward to trying this recipe. I agree with Smaug that shredded zucchini works beautifully. I first discovered that in a Diana Kennedy recipe I stumbled on many years ago https://tinyurl.com/AlbondigasDKennedy , and then was happy recently to see Yotam Ottolenghi also using ground turkey in meatballs that include shredded zucchini and no bread, oats, crumbs, etc. of any kind. https://ottolenghi.co.uk/recipes/turkey-courgette-burgers-with-spring-onion-cumin-a I highly recommend both. ;o)
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 8, 2020
Delicious. Thanks for sharing all these other recipes; can't wait to try them.

And exactly--oats actually aren't that out of the ordinary in ground-meat dishes. But I do think it may be a regional thing (Midwest, etc.).
 
M February 7, 2020
Interesting. How does the texture/chew change with oats?

Might have to try this, if I can get over my constant urge to turn all ground meats into banh mi meatballs and burgers.
 
Smaug February 7, 2020
I sometimes use oatmeal (quick) with more standard types of meatloaf- it's pretty much subsumed into the texture of the loaf as it absorbs moisture. Any filler will have it's own texture to some extent, but it's not a startling change from things like bread cubes; you'd have to try it yourself to get a more exact idea. A good one to try if you haven't- shredded zucchini.
 
Author Comment
Eric K. February 8, 2020
Hey M, it just kind of tastes like meatloaf? Though, I will say, depending on the oats you use, if you don't soak them in the cream and cook them enough, there is a bit of chew in the final product. But actually that's a quality a lot of my colleagues like in meatloaf, when there's some texture. But I'd say overall, in this recipe the oats really just plump up and fills out the loaf; you can't tell that it's even there.