OK, I have three fourths of a bunch of parsley left. Now what?

Parsley was an unusual ingredient required by Joanne Chang’s split-pea soup recipe, but it only required three tablespoons. (I suspect I used substantially more than that, because, well, I had substantially more than that.) So on Monday afternoon, I opened up my refrigerator while making my shopping list — it being Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, a federal and MIT holiday — and contemplated what I might do with all the parsley I still had left over. (And that was having already bought the smallest bunch of flat-leaf parsley on offer!) I know of only one recipe that uses a significant amount of parsley: Ethan Becker’s meatloaf, from his much-maligned 1997 revision of Joy of Cooking; it calls for two thirds of a cup.

Aside on the history of this recipe: I have four different editions of Joy (which, for those furriners reading this, is one of the three Standard American Cookbooks, and the only one of the three my mother owned, so it’s the one I learned to use). The last revision made during Marion Rombauer Becker’s lifetime was published in 1974, and by the 1990s, it was clearly getting quite dated. The 1997 edition was a significant revision, with a lot of material taken out, and a lot of new material added in; it also changed some long-standing typographical constants. Joy-74 has two main meatloaf recipes, plus a third recipe, “Meat loaf cockaigne”, which used cream of mushroom soup as an extender. (“Cockaigne” was the name given to the Becker family home, and recipes so identified were Marion Becker’s personal specialties.) Joy-97 drops all three recipes, and adds a completely new recipe, with one variant (“Southwestern meatloaf”). The outcry over the 1997 revision was such that, in 2006, a new revision was published, restoring most of the material dropped from the 1997 edition, and now set in Frutiger rather than Joy-97’s Minion, the former being a sans-serif typeface similar to that used in Joy-74. Joy-06 includes the recipe from Joy-97 as “Meatloaf I”, and the “Meatloaf II” recipe from Joy-74, but not “Meat loaf cockaigne” nor Joy-97’s “Southwestern” variation.

In any event, I decided to make Joy-97’s regular meatloaf, as a way of using up all my remaining parsley. Unlike many other meatloaf recipes, this one is all-beef. (A common combination in historical recipes is equal parts beef, pork, and veal; I’ve also seen two-meat recipes, and some with lamb in place of the veal. There are also other single-meat loaves, like ham loaf and turkey loaf, which are much less popular than they once were, although the latter has made a comeback, as “turkey meatloaf”.) In addition to the parsley, it also takes breadcrumbs, ketchup, thyme, salt, pepper, a cup and a half of chopped onion (I actually used grated onion as I have little patience for mincing that much vegetation!), and a whopping three whole eggs.

Photo showing flat-leaf parsley on a cutting board

Is that 2/3 cup of parsley? (No, in fact, it was only half a cup. Good thing I still had some more!)

I didn’t care to make a mess of another piece of kitchen equipment, so I eschewed the food processor for a little knife work to finely chop this parsley, and then do the same for the thyme. (The recipe calls for dried thyme, but since I had fresh thyme already on hand for Sunday’s pea soup, I made the usual substitution.) Part way through the process, my mixing bowl looked like this:

Photo showing some of the non-meat ingredients in meatloaf

In the mixing bowl: 1-1/2 cups grated onion, 1 cup bread crumbs, 2/3 cup chopped parsley, about 2 tsp chopped thyme

The recipe doesn’t specify a precise order of operations, but I figured that the extender in this recipe was going to function effectively like a panade, so it would make sense to mix all the non-meat ingredients together before combining with the meat, to ensure even distribution. I’ve made this recipe in the past without doing that, and it can be very disconcerting to have a clump of parsley show up in the middle of the meatloaf. With three eggs and 2/3 cup of ketchup, this makes a very sloppy mixture indeed! The recipe cautions not to overmix (a caution I also recall hearing from Alton Brown), and the meat is mixed with the other ingredients by hand; whenever I’d made this recipe (and this time would prove no different), I’ve always failed by undermixing rather than overmixing, as the photos below will show.

The recipe makes enough to fill a standard 9″x5″ loaf pan. I follow the lead of numerous writers (Ethan Becker not included) in using the loaf pan only as a mold: I like the crunchy outside bits and prefer to flip the molded loaf out so that it cooks “upside-down” with three surfaces exposed to the heat rather than just one. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photo below, the loaf as prepared is simply too liquidous and slumps nearly instantaneously when unmolded:

Photo showing an uncooked meatloaf in a 9"x13" baking pan

Not really 9″x5″ any more, after unmolding

I am nearly certain at this point that there is simply far too much egg in this recipe; a drier preparation would not have flattened out quite so much. Perhaps I could also add some additional flavoring, like a tablespoon of mustard or a similar amount of chipotle in adobo. One other supposed advantage to this method of cooking is that the fat has a chance to drain away, rather than allowing the loaf to effectively fry in its pan. But with the cuts of meat called for in this recipe (half chuck, half round), there just isn’t that much fat to escape:

Photo showing a cooked meatloaf in a 9"x13" baking pan

Immediately out of the oven; note the fissures and the relatively small amount of escaped fat

The fissures in the surface seem to be an unfortunate consequence of this style of preparation. If I had not been using a fancy non-stick baking pan, I would have run this somewhat pale meatloaf under the broiler for a few minutes to darken it up and add some texture on the outside. After depanning, the bottom of the meatloaf looked even more pallid than the top; clearly, much of the excess egg had migrated south during the long cooking time:

Photo showing the bottom of a cooked meatloaf

That’s a rather unappealing looking bottom, better flip it back over!

That wasn’t the only problem. It became evident as I started to slice the meatloaf that I had (yet again!) undermixed it:

Photo showing part of a meatloaf, with one slice propped up to demonstrate the internal structure

The perils of under-mixing: note the eggy bottom, as well as chunks of solid meat, which the pseudo-panade extender should have prevented.

Perhaps I should have ground my own meat for this, as I have done in the past: home-ground meat is generally looser in texture and easier to mix with extenders than store-bought. But whatever this loaf’s other faults, it did slice up nicely:

Photo showing three slices of meatloaf on a plate

Three slices is clearly too much; I’m calling two slices a serving

The whole loaf was nine slices. I put them in the refrigerator for Tuesday night’s dinner (and good thing, too, as I got home very late thanks to inclement weather), and they took only a few minutes to reheat in the microwave. I accompanied the meatloaf with the traditional condiment (ketchup) and microwave-steamed baby spinach. It was OK, not the best meatloaf I’ve ever had; I think the excess egg also dulls (or at least competes with) the flavors of the meat and other ingredients. The “Southwestern” version, when I’ve made it, is certainly more interesting and also spicier (it is seasoned with chili powder). I suppose, if given the opportunity, the test cooks at America’s Test Kitchen would say it didn’t have enough fungus in it. It probably needed a bit more salt, too, although you wouldn’t guess that from the nutrition computation:

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 2 slices
Servings per container: about 4.5
Amount per serving
Calories 485 Calories from fat 204
% Daily Value
Total Fat 23g 35%
 Saturated Fat 5g 25%
 Monounsaturated Fat 0g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 219mg 73%
Sodium 802mg 33%
Potassium 311mg 9%
Total Carbohydrate 32g 11%
 Dietary fiber 1g 4%
 Sugars 11g
Proteins 34g 68%
Vitamin A 15%
Vitamin C 17%
Calcium 4%
Iron 26%
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3 Responses to OK, I have three fourths of a bunch of parsley left. Now what?

  1. Ah! You know America’s Test Kitchen! I thought nobody watched that…!

    • My understanding is that “America’s Test Kitchen TV” is the top-rated cooking show on public television. But note that it’s just one of the company’s numerous media ventures.

      • I don’t think anyone watches it in Canada.At least not anyone I’ve mentioned it to. I’m addicted. It’s a guilty pleasure, because I find it so damn cheesy.

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