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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Making Scrapple: Adventures in Goody Guts

I have to publish a correction to this post...Mom corrected me- it was one chicken and two dinners for ten people.

When I was a kid, Mom would take two one chicken and get two dinners from them for ten people.  In a way it was kind of magic, but in reality, it was just careful resource management. She'd buy a large chicken, cut it up (later on that job fell to my older brother, who eventually showed me how to do it, including digging out the kidneys from the back under running water with your thumbs- I think this is probably why I have no problem reaching into a dead chicken and grabbing the entrails by the gizzard), and bake everything but the back, neck, wing tips and goody guts, which you would know as giblets; all that would go into the stock pot.  For dinner the first night, she'd carefully portion out a piece of baked chicken to each person according to his or her size/age, and my older brother always got first dibs on seconds, because as my father repeatedly put it, "his body being a bigger machine needs more fuel".

Then after dinner while the chicken parts were still warm, she'd pick the meat off  and refrigerate it and the stock, and the next night, she'd make a gravy from the chicken stock, add the chicken bits and frozen peas, and serve that on noodles.  Daddy called it Sludge, and we loved it.  Except for the giblets, which we'd pick out of the gravy and leave neatly on the sides of our plates. Mom started giving the giblets to the family dog, who was ecstatic about them.  My older sister dubbed them Goody Guts. I thought they were revolting, especially in my gravy. I still do.  To this day, if someone says giblet gravy, I think oh, for your cat you mean?  Uck. (Involuntary shiver.)

Which is why if you'd told me five years ago that knowingly and for no reward I'd be slicing through a pig heart and kidneys with the intention of eating them I'd have probably punched you.

But this is how it happened: we'd had the various pig parts in the freezer ever since we brought home that ill-butchered pig in August of 2012 (honestly, what is it with the small-time butchers in Oregon? My friend Rae  told me that every roast she'd had from her pigs had a rib sticking out of it. Who in their right mind wastes ribs on badly cut roasts?), so they needed, had been needing, to be used up in something. Trouble was, I didn't know what to do with them.  There are still two pieces of pig liver in there, but I know what to do with them, and this autumn, they will finally fulfill their destinies.  But what with all this egg saving and trying to feed Steve on little to no eggs for breakfast, it dawned on me that I should make scrapple. Never mind that I've never made it before, much less even eaten it.  I duly added "neck bones or other porky parts for scrapple" to my grocery list.  And it was Steve who pointed out that this was an excellent thing into which to throw the pig heart and kidneys that were languishing in the freezer, so they eventually came out to be defrosted.

Then commenced the internet search for recipes.  There were lots and lots.  There were pictures of the finished product in the loaf pan and on the plate.  The stuff on the plate looked fine; the stuff in the loaf pan not so much.  It was gray.  I can't think of any food that is gray.  I wasn't so sure I should have embarked down this path, but at this point I couldn't not make it. It's like going to Paris: if you make a start and chicken out, it's better to go ahead so that you can say, "I went and didn't like it", which sounds better than, "I was going to go, but chickened out at the last minute." After all, you could go and find out you like it.

The internet says there are lots of different ways to make scrapple and some of the differences can be attributed to the region from which they come, but they are all pretty much the same in theory: boil pig parts to make a stock or broth; strain it and return the broth to the pan; grind up the pig parts and add those back to the stock; season and thicken with a combination of flour (specifically buckwheat flour, in some parts) and cornmeal; pour into loaf pans while hot, then cool and refrigerate, and slice and fry the next morning in some sort of pork grease.  So I did what I usually do when faced with multiple recipes and methods for a dish I've never tried: I used an amalgamation of everything.

One of the first things I did under my own volition was to roast the neck bones first to get a brown color going in the stock and get more flavor out of them, which is something that no recipe mentioned. Roasting the bones would go a long way toward getting the gray out. Later, when I'd found the buckwheat flour that's been lurking with the dry goods, I thought "Ah. That's probably why the stuff was so gray." But browning the bones couldn't hurt, and it did help a lot.  Actually, my stock was smelling pretty good while it boiled the meat into submission. The heart pieces went in with the bones; the kidney pieces went in a half hour before the stock was done.  Kidneys have to be extracted completely from their white membranes and soaked several times in different water baths until the water clears for them to be edible. Even after all that boiling, with the meat falling off the bones, the heart pieces still felt like little pieces of hard rubber.  I hesitated putting them into the food processor, but I figured, enh, in for a penny, in for a pound, so in they went.  The bones and organ meats worked out to be just a little over a pound of meat that I could use. I picked out the meat and the squishy parts (which would normally turn my stomach if my tongue happened upon them just as they are, but there's a lot of flavor in fat and I was going to grind it anyway), and left the bones and cartilage.  The other thing I did a little differently was to grind the spices together and mix them into the flour and cornmeal mixture so that they'd disperse and bind immediately to the mixture, rather than throwing them into the boiling stock and watch them float and then stick to the sides of the pan. Incidentally, the spice mixture smelled heavenly and I think I'll mix some up and try it in something else.  It smelled so good I was moved to bring it to Steve in his office and command him to smell it.

This morning I had a little trouble getting the first slice out of the loaf pan, but I'd guess that was my inexperience; all the subsequent slices I had no trouble liberating from the pan. In pictures online, I'd noticed most loaves were removed from the pan and then sliced, but I decided not to try to extract it whole from the pan; I just plain didn't want to ruin it. Some recipes said to flour the slices before frying; others said you didn't have to. I remembered my mother's fried cornmeal mush sometimes sticking to the pan so I opted to dust the slices.  I had zero trouble with frying it, and eventually called Steve to breakfast. I cut into my first piece with a little trepidation and put it in my mouth.  Hot and crunchy on the outside, hot and creamy on the inside and just plain tasty.  Even the goody guts had disappeared into the background and contributed to the whole overall delicious experience. Working from the receipts, and not even dialing down to the exact proportions of what I'd bought and what I'd used for the dish, it worked out to $1.18 per meal.  And I mean meal, not per serving. Super cheap.  We'll be making this one again.

Scrapple

This takes a lot of time, so plan on making this with on and off attention one day, for eating the next.

3-4 lbs neck bones or other porky parts
salt and pepper
4 quarts of water
1 giant or two medium onions, skinned and quartered
bouquet garni of celery (I used lovage), bay leaves and thyme sprigs
1 large, peeled carrot, cut into three chunks
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp each sage, mace, thyme
1 tsp marjoram
½ tsp black peppercorns
½ cup buckwheat (or whole wheat) flour
2 cups cornmeal

Grease the bottom of a large oven proof frying pan and lightly salt it. Place the neck bones in the pan and lightly salt and pepper them. Slide into a 375 degree oven and roast until brown, about an hour.

Fill a large pot with 4 quarts of water and put on to boil.  Remove the bones from the oven and place the bones in the water, setting the roasting pan aside for the moment.  Add the onion, carrot and bouquet garni to the stock pot.  Ladle some water from the stock pot into the roasting pan and deglaze the pan.  Pour this into the stock pot.  Simmer the stock until the meat is fork tender, about two hours. (If you have softer organ meats to add, wait to add them to the stock during the last half hour of the boil.)

When the meat is fork tender, turn off the heat and pick the porky parts out of the stock.  Strain the stock and return to the stock pot.  Pick the meat from the bones and discard the bones.  Grind the meat with a little bit of the broth.  Return the ground meat to the stock.

Mix the flour and cornmeal in a separate bowl.  Whirl up the salt and spices in a spice grinder (or work with ground spices) and add to cornmeal mixture and mix.  When the stock is boiling, whisk in the cornmeal mixture to keep lumps from developing.  Turn down heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for twenty minutes or until thick.

While hot, pour finished scrapple mixture into loaf pans (this should make two each 5x9 pans) and tap to shake out bubbles if any. I found that my ladle, greasy from moving stock around, was great for this.

Cool the loaves and refrigerate overnight.

Slice in quarter inch slices the next morning for breakfast and dust with flour.  Fry in hot bacon grease or lard.

Serve with one or two of the usual suspects: ketchup, maple syrup, applesauce or apple butter. Yes, you can use Siracha.

Scrapple freezes well; slice and freeze individually on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and then wrap for storage.

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