116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The first mention I ever heard of scrapple was when I was reading a 19th century cookbook. It had other fun recipes like Turtle Soup and “how to get the fish smell off a knife.” Good stuff.
Scrapple is a breakfast staple from the middle of our East coast, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. The “Pennsylvania Dutch” communities from Germany brought the recipe with them when they emigrated to the American Colonies. The Pennsylvania Dutch are mostly German descended Amish and Mennonites. “Dutch” in this sense is a variation on Deutsch, which is what the Germans call themselves.
These days you can find scrapple at restaurants up and down the Eastern Seaboard, but it's becoming more and more popular at hip breakfast establishments, particularly around the Appalachian Mountains, as people try to dig into their regional roots and find American traditions to carry on and play with.
Scrapple is essentially a breakfast meatloaf made of pork scraps, herbs and spices that is bound with cornmeal and/or buckwheat flour. So it's more or less meatloaf glued together with polenta. Cook it, let it set up as a loaf, then slice it up and fry it in a pan.
It was originally made with whatever leftover scraps you can get, like the little bit ends of chops that won't make a proper cut and organ meats like liver. All those scraps can be hard to get a hold of these days, unless you're butchering and dressing a whole hog. The good scraps go into sausages, and the offal tends to end up in pet food. For this recipe, I used bone-in pork shoulder and unsmoked ham hocks. The ham hocks have a nice big bone in them, and I wanted the gelatin from the bone and cartilage to help bind and thicken the finished loaf. Neck bones work really well also, in place of the ham hocks.
The process is fairly simple. Simmer the meat for a couple hours, with just enough liquid to cover it. Strain the liquid off, and use that to make polenta. Pull the meat off the bones, get rid of the gristle, and chop it up into small pieces. Mix it all together, put it in a loaf pan, then chill it till it's solid.
Since this is a classic American recipe, that is the springboard that everyone jumps off before putting their own personal twists and turns on it. So when you want to go extra on it, there are a whole lot of things you can play with. A pinch of spices, like nutmeg, allspice, coriander seed or caraway can be fun. Fresh herbs like thyme, sage, savory or rosemary work well in there. Some folks use only cornmeal, some folks only buckwheat, some add wheat flour into the porridge binder.
Personally, I like using cornmeal with a little buckwheat for flavor, and I like using cider instead of water when cooking the meat. Apples and pork are always a good combination, and the acidity of hard cider helps pull nutrients and gelatin out of the bones and marrow, which helps the finished Scrapple hold together after it's set up.
When you're cooking the meat, there are a couple extra steps that I feel will help enormously, without requiring too much extra work.
To get some brown color on the meat and garlic, I like to fry the meat in a little butter before covering it with liquid to stew. Just lazily fry the meat in cast iron, turning occasionally until it's brown. Then add the garlic to the rendered fat until it browns before adding the cider or water. This will soften up the bite of the garlic a little, and generally deepen the flavor of the pork. Color is flavor.
Putting salt in with the meat while it's cooking also is very helpful. The salt helps breakdown some of the tougher bits. In this recipe, I calculated the salt amount for the finished loaf and included all of it in with the meat, right at the beginning. Scrapple wants to be mostly uniform in texture like a pate, so don't be worried about overcooking it and having the meat lose it's texture. If the meat seems a little salty right when it comes out of the pot, don't worry about that. It will settle down and balance out when the starchy cornmeal and buckwheat get added to it later.
The other trick is to make your polenta over a double boiler. The cornmeal wants to get cooked down until it loses it's toothy grit. We want it to be real smooth, like Al Green. The problem with this is that a cornmeal mush takes 20 or 30 minutes to get to that point at a simmer. It wants to scorch on the bottom of the pan, so it needs to be stirred constantly like risotto.
But the real problem is that cooking cornmeal this way is dangerous. It will bubble up from the bottom and pop! Spraying hot, sticky corn mush all over the kitchen. It will stick to you and burn like culinary napalm. We don't want that. Hard no on that.
The easy solution is to cook it over a “double boiler” with a cover on it. A double boiler is a bowl that fits snugly over a pot of boiling water. Boiling water is never going to get hotter that 212 degrees, so there are less worries about scorching and explosive burps. The drawback is that it takes an hour and a half to cook, instead of 30 minutes. The plus side is that you can do a lot of other things in the meantime, when you are not hovering over a dangerously hot and volatile gloop. In fact, you have plenty of time to pick the meat apart and chop it up to add in once the polenta is almost done.
Once the polenta part is cooked through, add the meat back to it, along with any fresh herbs you want to use. Let it all cook together for another 15 minutes. Check the seasoning, add more salt and pepper if you like. Then put it in your loaf pan, and chill it in the fridge. It will take a few hours to set up. I usually make it at night for the next day’s breakfast, and then I have plenty to spare for the rest of the week.
When it's set up and you are ready to eat, pull it out of the loaf and cut half to one inch slices off it. Dust the cut edges with regular flour. Heat up some butter in a cast iron pan and fry it on both sides until it's brown, crispy, and warm in the middle. Word to the wise?: don't flip it until it's well browned. That brown crust really helps hold it together. If you flip it too early, it might crumble apart and turn to mush on you. It will still taste amazing, but it won't have quite the same impressive texture and presentation on the plate.
Scrapple is usually eaten as a breakfast side. It's both the meat and the starch. Serve it with a couple eggs, maybe some baked apples. It's typically topped with ketchup or maple syrup. But hey, you do you. Most importantly, enjoy your slice of American history.
Chef Tibbs, also known as Joshua “Tibbs” Tibbetts, is a Cedar Rapids native who has been a professional chef for more than 30 years.
Makes one 9 by 5 inch loaf
2 1/2 pounds bone-in pork shoulder
1 pound ham hocks or pork neck bones
2 tablespoons butter
1 pint dry cider (or water, or milk and water, or buttermilk and water)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons salt
3 whole bay leaves
1 onion, quartered the long way, with the beard left on
1 ounce garlic cloves, peeled and split lengthwise, stubs removed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 pinch allspice (optional)
1 pinch nutmeg (optional)
3 cups broth from cooked meat, add water if necessary
2/3 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup buckwheat flour (or more cornmeal)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as thyme, sage, oregano or rosemary (optional)
A little all-purpose flour and oil or butter, for frying
9x5 inch loaf pan
Heavy wooden spoon
Dutch oven (or cast iron pan and Crock-Pot, or Instapot)
2 quart mixing bowl that nests on top of stockpot or Crock-Pot
Plastic wrap or lid that fits snugly on mixing bowl
Heat up the butter in Dutch oven or other cast iron pan on medium heat on stove top. When melted, add the meat. Turn it occasionally until it is browned on both sides. Add the garlic into an available corner and fry it until it starts to turn brown and smell good. Add the cider, water, salt, bay leaf and any dry spices you are using. The liquids should mostly cover the meat.
Put a lid on it and turn it down to a simmer. If you don't have a Dutch oven, transfer everything to a Crock-Pot or stockpot with a lid and turn it to simmer.
Cook until the meat easily falls apart, about 2 1/2 hours.
When the meat is cooked, drain the liquids off and let them settle in a container. Skim most of the fat off the top by gently dipping a spoon on the surface. Clear containers like glass or plastic are great for this, because you can see where the layer of fat has risen to the top and separated from the broth.
Get your double boiler set up. Get some water in your stockpot or Crock-Pot. Add 3 cups of the broth to the mixing bowl and stir or whisk the cornmeal into it. Put the bowl on top of the pot and cover with a lid or plastic wrap. After 10 minutes, stir it up and add the buckwheat. This is where you want that heavy wood spoon, the mix might be stiff and bend or break a plastic or metal spoon. Cover it back up. Do this again, every 15 minutes. After the first half-hour, you can slow down and stir it every 20 or 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, pull the meat off the bones. Discard the onion, bay leaves, whole spices and any fat or gristle. Chop the rest of it into small chunks. The smaller the better.
Pick your herbs and mince them finely.
After the polenta has been cooking an hour and a half, test it. Stick you spoon in the middle of it like a flagpole. When it stands up straight, it's ready.
Add the chopped meat and herbs to the polenta, stir it all up and cook another 10 or 15 minutes. Check the seasoning. Can you taste it on the back of your tongue? It might need a little more salt.
Lightly oil the loaf pan. You can add a lining of parchment paper if you want, that will help it pop out later, once it has set up. Spoon the Scrapple mixture into the loaf pan. Let it chill at least 3 hours in the fridge, preferably overnight.
The next morning, or whenever you are ready to make an awesome meal, turn the loaf pan over onto a cutting board. Cut slices off it, one-half to 1 inch thick. Lightly dust the cut surfaces with a little all-purpose flour to absorb surface moisture.
Fry the slices on both sides over medium heat in a little butter or oil. Don't turn them over until they are nicely browned or they might stick to the pan or fall apart. Look for a crust forming on the bottom edge while they cook. When you think it looks brown, lift a little bit of the corner of the piece to try to see the underside of it. If it's brown, flip it.
The buckwheat is going to make it look a lot darker than one would normally think, compared to a "golden brown," so don't worry if it's very dark. It's not burnt until it's straight black. Once cooked, it should be nice and crispy on the outside and soft, almost gooey, on the inside.
Serve with eggs for breakfast. Some folks like a little ketchup, maple syrup or gravy on top. I just eat it straight, runny egg yolks are all the sauce I need.
Oh, if you're still wondering how to get the fish smell off a knife, the crumbling old cookbook said “plunge the blade into good dirt four or five times.”
Source: Joshua Tibbetts