Ok, so I’m a little bit gross this last Sunday of Lent asking you, dear readers, to not “pork this roll”. I’ll pray extra hard next weekend that I’m not damned to hell (even though I’m on my way anyways). I thought I’d spend a moment to introduce all our readers to a bit of culinary genius that is often considered fatty and ‘bad for you’ that is really only available in the New Jersey/Philadelphia area – PORK ROLL and SCRAPPLE. Now, you may be thinking, could it be true!? A ROLL of pork? Rolled Pork? Scrapple? What the hell are these things? This HAS to be another form of lips and assholes, right? YES, YOU ARE RIGHT! And they are both absolutely delicious.
I refuse to ‘sugar coat’ what pork roll and scrapple are. So if you’ve eaten it your whole life without knowing what it actually is, please stop reading now. To give you a bit of background, I grew up around Philadelphia, eating both of these tasty treats as a ‘breakfast side dish’, but only once a weekend since they were “bad for you”. Pork roll and scrapple were also often used in egg and cheese sandwiches too, which could possibly give you a coranary five minutes after you finished eating one. I never asked what exactly either of these two treats were – for some reason, I just knew not to ask. I remember my family telling me not to even look on the side of the package to read the ingredients because I may just never eat it again. Sometimes, I thought, it was just better not knowing.
But my desire to know a bit more has led me to write this post. I’m at a different stage with my eating than I was years ago. I now will eat cow balls if I’m in a country where cow balls are the local delicacy. I’m not afraid of knowing what exactly I’m eating – I’ll still try it. So, bring it… I’m not afraid anymore. Well, I wasn’t until I read this explanation of pork roll on one website:
What is pork roll made of, you ask? Well, it’s a secret concoction, which consists mainly of pork ground up with bits of fat and seasonings, and then hung and cured in cotton bags…the rest is best left unsaid.
Does that help you understand it any better? Me neither. According to one of the oldest and most popular pork roll manufacturers, Taylor Provisions, it is “a type of sausage-like pork product made from coarsely ground pork shoulder”. It is also smoked. Most people from New Jersey will call pork roll “Taylor Ham” after the Trenton-based manufacturer. Maybe they do this to make it sound more edible? Where I grew up, outside of Philadelphia, it was just simply called pork roll. It is supposedly called this because of the ‘roll’ or tube-like cotton sack that it comes in when you buy it. You can also buy pre-cut slices so you don’t have to figure out how to get it out of that damn sack. It looks like a big, long salami when it’s packaged whole. Pork roll is often grilled or fried (for a double heart-attack) and should be cut slightly with either 2 or 4 slits on the outer edges so that it cooks more evenly and doesn’t curl. Now, on to scrapple.
Scrapple truly is made up of “lips and assholes”, although they don’t actually advertise that on any of the websites. According to Wikipedia, scrapple is a savory mush (yes, that is what they said) of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour. The mush is formed into a loaf and that’s how it comes when you buy it. You must slice it, like pork roll, and fry it up till the outside is crispy and the inside is nice and soft and warm. Scrapple got it’s name from the fact that it’s made of scraps the butcher was either going to throw out (aka, lips and assholes) or parts that are too small to be sold. Wikipedia actually offers a really wonderful description of the cooking process (which actually sells the product to non-believers better than I can – maybe I’m being too harsh with the ‘lips and assholes’ thing?):
Scrapple is typically made of hog offal, such as the head, heart, liver, and other scraps, which are boiled with any bones attached (often the entire head), to make a broth. Once cooked, bones and fat are discarded, the meat is reserved, and (dry) cornmeal is boiled in the broth to make a mush. The meat, finely minced, is returned, and seasonings, typically sage, thyme, savory, and others are added. The mush is cast into loaves and allowed to cool thoroughly until gelled.
Sounds good, huh? Both pork roll and scrapple really are delicious. If you’re still not sold on either of them, think about all the other things that are made from seemingly ‘gross’ things but taste pretty darn delicious – haggis, tripe, fried sheep brains, marrow, pigs feet, pigs ears, etc. etc. Next time you visit the store, ask if they have scrapple or pork roll. It may be hard to find, but I’ve read it is sold in some places in Florida and California. If you really are interested in tasting pork roll or scrapple, check out some of these mail order websites:
Does your city or country have a dish that others may look down upon or think would be nasty if they knew what it was made of? I’d love to know!