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How does a panade make a meatloaf tender?

I have always heard that adding a panade (a couple of pieces of white bread torn into chunks and soaked in milk) to a meatloaf makes it more tender. From my experience, I would tend to agree that it does.

So how does it do that or am I misinformed?

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  1. The starch holds onto water forming a gel that lubricates the protein, similar to the way fat or gelatin behaves.

    1 Reply
    1. re: rockfish42

      Would grating a raw potato into a meatloaf do the same thing?

    2. the acid in the milk helps tenderize the meat, and as the bread bakes & dries out it also expands a little and helps keep the meat tissue from compacting together too tightly in one dense mass.

      or i could be way off...but it sounded good, didn't it? :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: goodhealthgourmet

        If you added a few fancy words, you could be an expert!

      2. I don't know if their explanation is on their website, but Cook's Illustrated explained this on their America's Test Kitchen show a while back using that cartoon that they do. It has something to do with the starch molecules coating the protein molecules though.

        8 Replies
        1. re: John E.

          Thanks, John. I went to Cook's Illustrated's site and found this article: http://www.cooksillustrated.com/howto...

          This is a quote from that article: "Starches from the bread absorb liquid from the milk to form a gel that coats and lubricates the protein molecules in the meat, much in the same way as fat, keeping them moist and preventing them from linking together to form a tough matrix. Mixing the beef and panade in a food processor helps to ensure that the starch is well dispersed so that all the meat reaps its benefits."

          That sounds pretty close to Rockfishes explanation.
          I can just see him smirking right now. hehe

          I found another article there about panade variations: http://www.cooksillustrated.com/howto...

          This article basically tried wheat bread panade and they didn't like it.

          1. re: Hank Hanover

            Do you think this panade thing (I've only used it with meatballs) would be helpful in an Italian meat sauce (spaghetti sauce)?

            1. re: John E.

              Considering what we just learned, the only thing I would think it could do is, perhaps, thicken the sauce. I don't see how you can make a sauce tender but the starch could possibly thicken it slightly.

              I don't think I would waste my time trying it.

              1. re: Hank Hanover

                If you're making a bolognese-type sauce, then yes. The addition of a bit of milk (without the bread) does a similar thing as the panade and allows the ground meat to cook to a finer consistency rather than clumping up. See Marcella Hazan's bolognese recipe.

                1. re: morwen

                  I just looked at her recipe. I realize it's a little different than your typical Americanized spaghetti sauce, but where are the herbs? The recipe does not include any basil or oregano. I suppose I should make the recipe as it was written, but I might have to have someone hide the basil and oregano until after it's done.

                  1. re: John E.

                    I just skimmed 30 or 40 of her pasta sauce recipes and the only herb I see her using is fresh basil, used at the very end. Occasionally. Guess she doesn't figure it's necessary. She uses fresh ground, black pepper and rarely a little nutmeg. I then looked at Molto Italiano. I also didn't see any oregano at all and basil only fresh and mostly at the end. He uses more crushed red pepper and also some fresh thyme. I find both authors recipes very successful and an Italian Chow-buddy thinks that Batali book is most like what she grew up eating.

                    1. re: c oliver

                      I _never_ put dried herbs in pasta sauce. I discovered some time ago that dried basil is one of the tastes that makes me not like some tomato and meat sauces. And I've never found value in either kind of oregano.

            2. re: Hank Hanover

              My middle name is smirk

          2. This is interesting. I wonder if this technique could make me like meatballs more. Do you put the bread in the food processor?

            6 Replies
            1. re: jvanderh

              No, I don't bother with a processor for this--just tear white bread (no crust) into bits (about 1/2 to 1 inch.) Approximately one cup of these and 1/4 cup of milk for each pound or so of ground meat. Let the break soak 5 minutes or so, then stir/mash into a smooth paste.
              Have the meat broken into small pieces, mix the paste and any seasonings/other ingredients with your hands or a fork into the meat just until everything's incorporated. Form meatballs/patties the size you like and cook.

              1. re: blue room

                Thank you! :-)

              2. re: jvanderh

                Meatballs. Yes. Use a slice of stale bread (real bread not American bread) , wet it, squeeze out most of the moisture and toss into meat mixture. Continue to mix with hands. No food processor, would compact the mixture too much and create sinkers. Point is to have moist tender meatballs.

                1. re: myaco

                  Interesting that you should mention using good bread. That Cook's Illustrated article I quoted upthread specifically called out white sandwich bread. It seems a panade is pretty much the only thing they recommend cheap white bread for.

                  I assume it is because starch is starch?

                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                    I bet sandwich bread because it falls apart easily. I imagine my stale french bread would have to soak longer, but I don't have a use for the rest of a loaf of white sandwich bread, so I'll have to find out.

                    1. re: Hank Hanover

                      Coulda sworn they said "good" white sandwich bread on the show.

                2. Pureed cabbage works better, and it's healthier.

                  6 Replies
                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    This sounds like something I'd like to try! Almost all of my ground meat is venison and the leanness of the meat is always some degree of challenge. The cabbage sounds like a new avenue to go down, flavor-wise, too. Straight-up puree of raw cabbage? What sort of ratio, puree-to-meat? I'd appreciate knowing!

                    1. re: cayjohan

                      Straight up puree. As far as ratio, you really have to play around with it a bit. A lot will depend on the fat ratio of the meat you're using.

                      Also, a previous thought I had about using sea cucumbers in meatloaf: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/739904

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Thanks! Must try, as there's always a ton of cabbage around here. And a ton of venison.

                        And now you've got me intrigued on the sea cucumber possibility - gelatinous and I get along very well. Extreme lean (while I like it in ven chops) is always my problem with ground venison, and adding, say, pork fat makes it taste more like, well...pork, instead of venison. Gelatinous with a neutral taste sounds great.

                        Can't wait to spring this one on the household.


                        1. re: cayjohan


                          Between us chickens, the sea cucumbers work like a charm. I just don't tell people, because, y'know, those less enlightened would find anything with sea cucumbers completely revolting. :-)

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Just tried the pureed cabbage trick, but with kimchi. Worked wonders on the ground venison's texture, and the flavor was marvelously addictive! (Still encountering utter intransigence on the sea cucumber front, however.)

                      2. re: cayjohan

                        ATK also puts some bloomed gelatin in meatloaf. I tried it for ground turkey and was pleased with the result. You might consider that for venison as well.

                    2. How can ground meat not be tender? Dry; yes, but 'tough'??

                      18 Replies
                      1. re: mucho gordo

                        If you brown it and then not braise it long enough it will be tough. The high heat during browning tightens up the protien and then a braise is needed to loosen it up again. More stuff learned from ATK.

                        1. re: John E.

                          Brown/braise meatloaf??? I always thought you just stick it in the oven and bake it. I've never experienced a tough meatloaf.

                          1. re: mucho gordo

                            I think in this case we are using the terms "tough" and "dry" synonymously.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I have noticed that overly cooked/browned ground meat can be kind of chewy or rubbery. Maybe it's dry from that but I get the description of "tough". Can't say I've noticed it in meatloaf or balls but definitely in loose browned ground meat. Don't know if a braise would loosen it up once overcooked. Certainly hasn't when I've screwed up Yankee barbecue (aka Sloppy Joes).

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                That's what I'm thinking, too

                              2. re: mucho gordo

                                I guess I still had the bolgnese in mind when I wrote that. I think instead of 'tough' maybe 'dense' would be a better way to describe meatballs and meatoaf that aren't tender. We almost never have meatloaf (I'm not a fan) and meatballs rarely (again, me...I don't care for the Swedish variety and don't think they're necessay with pasta since we already have a meatsauce).

                                1. re: mucho gordo


                                  The only thing I can think of when they refer to a tough meatloaf is a dense meatloaf like you would have if you used all ground beef without anything added to break it up a little.

                                  1. re: Hank Hanover

                                    The only thing I can think of when they refer to a tough meatloaf is a dense meatloaf like you would have if you used all ground beef without anything added to break it up a little.


                                    That's called a burger.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      We grind our own meat. A few months ago, the burgers went too long on the grill and were pretty much well done (we're RARE people). They were still moist and flavorful. We do about 80/20+/-. The last meatloaf I made I used 2/3 beef and 1/3 Italian sausage (both that we had made). No toughness or dryness.

                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        Thanks for the great idea, c. I never thought about using (hot) Italian sausage in my meatloaf. Sounds delicious.

                                        1. re: mucho gordo

                                          My pleasure. Definitely spicy. I use a Batali recipe and that includes red pepper flakes.

                                          1. re: c oliver

                                            Definitely with red pepper flakes. I use them on just about everything anyway.

                                            1. re: mucho gordo

                                              One of the things I travel with.

                                        2. re: c oliver

                                          Did not mean to suggest that burgers were tough or dry.

                                          Just saying that if it's all ground beef (sans filler) then it's a burger in my book, not meatloaf.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Yep, just the flip side of thread where people put all manner of things in their burgers but don't want to call it meatloaf :)

                                            1. re: c oliver

                                              Indeed ... or call it a "meatball".

                                2. re: mucho gordo

                                  I certainly have never had a problem with meatloaf being tough.

                                  1. re: c oliver

                                    Exactly. It seems that, as used here, 'tough' is synonymous with 'dry'.

                                3. Tough, dry, or dense to me the highlight of meatloaf is cold sandwiches; so dense is a good thing. I crush Goldfish in mine. If the sandwiches are too dry slather on more home made mayonnaise. Also it is easy to overbook it. That is why instant read thermometers are an essential tool.