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Oct 11, 2010 04:23 PM

Transforming even the worst meatloaf moist and tender (and low fat!)

If you're stuck with a meatloaf recipe that turns out a bit dry and tough, or if you want to reduce the fat content in your meatloaf but still retain that juicy, mouth-watering effect of enough fat (e.g., your typical 80/20 ratio for meatloaf), then try this ... sea cucumbers.

For those of you unfamiliar with sea cucumbers, read up about them here (not only are they nutritious but they are eco-friendly for those who care about such things).

Ok, so now you know about sea cucumbers, and are probably a bit grossed out, because sea cucumbers are basically earthworms of the deep sea, right?

Fine, but bear with me here for a minute.

If you ever get your hands on re-hydrated sea cucumbers (they're usually sold dried and have to be reconstituted in water), you'll know that they have this gelatinous, jelly-like taste and texture. And, most importantly, they are essentially tasteless. Lovely, little tubers these things are!

Which is why, in my opinion, they almost perfectly replicate cooked fat. It's that soft, moist, gelatinous texture that they have in the mouth that makes them almost like a second cousin to fat.

So if you're still with me this is what you do.

Get some sea cucumbers, rough chop them up, puree them, and then add them to your meatloaf mix. I would use about 1/4 cup of pureed sea cucumbers for every 1 lb. of meat. But you can experiment a bit.

If you add the above ratio of pureed sea cucumbers, you can reduce the lean-fat ratio of your meat to something ridiculous like 95/5, or maybe even lower. I've only tried 90/10 and it's worked out so well I could swear I was using something closer to 75/25.

Anyhow, just something to consider for those who love meatloaf, but would (1) like to make their tried and true recipe more moist or (2) like to reduce the fat content without losing that all important mouth-feel of a normal-fatted meatloaf.

As that jingle used to say, "All the taste and none of the fat!" (Well, almost .... )


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  1. Interesting, and worth a try, I think. I am incredibly fortunate to be able to share in a freezer full of ground beef (and other cuts) from my family's cattle ranch every 6 months or so (organic, free range, grass fed, add'l buzzwords), but even though they are not skinny cows by any stretch, that ground beef is VERY lean. Walking around looking for the most tender of grasses results in a skillet full of potentially dry ground beef! For meatloaf, I usually mix with ground pork, but am much intrigued by the idea of replicating the mouthfeel of fat without the negative health impact. I will check the nearest Asian market for sea cucumber and give it a testeroo!

    1. Cool, can you describe what to look for (or ask for) at the Asian market?

      3 Replies
      1. re: ChristinaMason

        If this is your first time buying and cooking sea cucumbers, I would just recommend you buy them preferably pre-soaked. These would usu. be found in tanks and literally resemble the excrements of a large land-walking mammal. Buying them presoaked saves you the trouble of soaking, cleaning, and de-skinning.

        Good luck.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            That is a hilariously stomach flipping description. And while I adore funky ingredients, you'll have to take my ground pork out of my cold, dead hands.

        1. Pureed cauliflower works great to add veg and moisture. Sea cucumber seems intriguing...might save some to give it a try next time I make a sea cucumber dish. My mom always tells us it has antiaging properties...a plus. they are not cheap and need a couple of days of soaking.

          1. As tuuj said, the cost and the time would deter me. Meatloaf is a last minute meal for me. CI says you can duplicate the mouthfeel with gelatin but I've never done it. I've used a meat/shredded combo and it's good. The cabbage gives it a lighter, moisture texture. And, I use a lot of home made bread for filler. I guess I should call it meat-ish loaf.

            1. sounds intriguing to me as well. When I've made turkey meatloaf, I've gotten some of the moisture & mouthfeel back into by using regular button mushrooms that I've buzzed in the food processor for a similar purpose.

              1 Reply
              1. re: weezycom

                I add shredded squash and carrots to add mositure, cook up the onions for a bit, and use tomato sauce for richness.