I recently got invited to a chef’s potluck party at Commerce restaurant in New York. A lot of great chefs were going to be there, I could only assume, and since the LaFriedas are also friends of the place, I knew I wasn’t going to get any points by bringing meat. What can you bring to a potluck? You know somebody is going to bring macaroni and cheese, various casseroles, meatballs, and the like. At a chef’s potluck, all bets are off. I knew that there was only one thing for me to make.
The meatatta, as it name might indicate, is a frittata made almost entirely of meat. Now, I know that a classic frittata will often have meat in it; essentially it’s a big baked omelette, and there an ideal place to stick sausages or ham. But the meattata is almost entirely made of meat, with just enough egg to hold it all together. (Which amount, it turns out, is a lot.)
I invariably make the meattata in my cast-iron pan; it just looks and feels right in there. But more than that, doing it as a one-pan dish allows you to combine and concentrate your flavors through the miracle of onion deglazing. It’s essentially the same principle that animates a great cheesesteak. You cook meat on high heat and, inevitably, some small part of it sticks to the pan. Then, when all the meat has been cooked, you take it out and add some finely sliced onions to the pan. Onions have a lot of water in them. That water tends to come out when you cook them. As the water comes out, it absorbbs and unsticks those black bits, a process they call “deglazing” in cooking school. Since it doesn’t happen
fast enough when you drop the onions in, I hasten the process along by keeping the diced onions in a bowl with some warm water to cover them. Over the course of a few minutes, that water essentially becomes onion juice, and acts powerfully as a deglazing agent. As that burned-on meat gets picked up, it’s absorbed into the onions, which provide a kind of undergirding for the flavor, and all of the moisture, for the dish.
Add some eggs, some greated cheese, and some toasted breadcrumbs on top, and you have a fantastic dish that looks great and tastes better, and which, I believe, has one of the coolest names in home cooking. The meatatta I did for Commerce, by the way, was a Jewish version, which uses deli meats and is topped with a layer of chopped up seeded rye. But an Italian version with salumi, or an all-American version with roast beef and ham would also be good. (Just not as good.)
½ pound thinly slice corned beef
½ pound thinly sliced pastami
½ pound thinly sliced kosher beef salami
½ pound thinly sliced polish kielbasa
½ pound bacon
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped and covered with warm water
½ tsp good quality paprika
1 tb butter
¼ pound gruyere or some other kind of mild cheese
1. Melt the butter in the pan and spread it evenly. Put in the meat. Cook the meat at medium high heat. Take most of the meat out.
2. Turn up the heat and burn little bits of meat into the pan. Add the onions and onion water. Stand back!
3. Scrape up the black pits while the onion water is boiling. Turn down the heat. Saute the onions until they are golden, soft and sweet, which will take a while – at least ten to fifteen minutes.
4. Add the meat. Mix everything up. Sprinkle liberally with paprika. Turn everything around with a wooden spoon.
5. Beat up a dozen eggs and add them in. Mix most of the cheese in as well. Put in a 250-degree oven. In 10-12 minutes, as it has just begun to set. Sprinkle remaining cheese on top. Cook just until set., another five or ten minutes tops. Pull. Let sit. Eat.