I have a theory about why loaves and molds — ham loaf, molded shrimp salad, etc — were so popular during the mid part of the 20th century. It’s because they coincided with the hey-day of canned food. American housewives were finally untethered from the drudgery of having to cook everything from scratch. It was the dawning of the era of “dump and stir” — crack open a couple cans of meat and potatoes, dump ‘em in a pan and voila — dinner is served. Convenient? Yes. Delicious? Not always. Creative cooks compensated by whipping up gorgeous rings of meat studded with whimsical pineapple slices or towering molds of shrimp suspended in unflavored gelatin to make up for the fact that the ingredients themselves weren’t always so tasty.
This recipe is essentially a meat loaf. I like meat loaf. Meat loaf can be absolutely tasty. But it isn’t a meat loaf, per se. It is a HAM loaf.
The recipe calls for 1 1/2 pounds of ground, salty cured pork. I happen to have about a thousand pounds of ham, courtesy of our old neighbor Sam, whose very name is synonymous with ham. Sam is never without ham. Every time we see Sam…he slips us more ham. Now I don’t even really like ham but I just take it because that is the way I am. And if you feel like you are reading a Dr. Suess book right now, that is my plan.
I don’t even know where to buy ground ham so I chopped mine up and pulverized it in the food processor.
I combined the ground ham in a bowl with the other loaf-y ingredients: Milk, egg, “catsup,” mustard, 2 cups bread crumbs and onion. The recipe also called for a half pound each of ground pork and ground veal. I don’t eat veal so I substituted venison, another protein I tolerate because it’s taken over our freezer.
The bowl was so full of ground meat I had a sinking feeling we were going to be eating ham loaf for a long, long time. Solha sensed it too and continues to stay close.
The thing about making loaves and molds is that they require some kind of vessel to bake (or chill) them in. I discovered very quickly that mold pans are not readily available anymore. I didn’t feel like shelling out $25 for a new one so I picked up the first suitable one I saw at Goodwill for a $1.95.
The only glitch: It’s shaped like a fish.
There is a salmon loaf in my future.
I stuffed the ham mixture into the fish mold and packed it super tight because I thought it would be neat to be able to see fish gills and eyeballs in the finished ham loaf.
I stuck it in a 350 degree oven and baked it for 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, I cracked open a can of pineapple rings and drained the juice into a saucepan that I combined with brown sugar, ginger and apple cider vinegar to make a glaze.
(I have a close relationship with canned pineapple. My mom was very into the four food groups growing up so practically every meal she made featured this canned fruit staple: “Tonight we’re having Super Nachos, a green salad and canned pineapple.” “Tomorrow we’re having Chicken a la King, a fresh salad and canned pineapple. For breakfast, we’re having Cream of Wheat with wheat germ….and canned pineapple.” When she was here in December helping out with the baby she served canned pineapple. Now here I am making a ham loaf with…canned pineapple.)
I pulled the ham/fish loaf from the oven.
I turned it over onto a baking sheet and carefully slid a spatula down the sides to loosen it.
Then I tipped it over and gently tried to pry the pan from the mold.
I was a bit nervous pulling it off as I was afraid my loaf would crumble and fall apart.
I couldn’t make out any gills or eyeballs but the shape itself sufficed: A fish loaf that tastes like ham. Psyche!
Then I drizzled the pineapple glaze over the top and stuck it back in the oven for another 40 minutes. Halfway through, I pulled it out again and made incisions into the loaf into which I nestled little rainbows of pineapple.
It this not the klassiest fish ham loaf you’ve ever seen? A handful of parsley gives it that finishing pizzazz.
I showed my creation to Jake and whispered these simple words: “Time to eat, sucker.”
The things we do for love.
We’ve been eating on that damned loaf for the past week and a half.
The first night, we both agreed it was somewhat tasty. Like I said, it’s basically a meat loaf. Unfortunately, it contains so much ham that both of us woke up at 3 o’clock that morning gagging for water, we were both so dehydrated from all the salt. My face is still bloated.
So if I make this ham loaf again — like, if I’m reincarnated as a fat king during medieval times – I won’t use so much ham. I’ll substitute with ground pork, beef and/or venison and make it a standard meat loaf. Shaped like a fish.
UPDATE: The ham loaf is still in our refrigerator. We slip some to Solha each night for her dinner.
(Previous I Ate Thats: Ham and Banana Hollandaise, Pink and Yellow Coconut Apples)