Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Homemade Scrapple for the Modern Kitchen

The fact that people consider scrapple lowbrow diner fare only makes it more surprising that foodies haven't completely gentrified it yet.

For the record, I liked scrapple before I even knew what cool meant, and it wasn't until I left the Mennonite bubble that I realized other people associate it with truck stops and spam. I remain unabashedly fond of it, and anyway, scrapple is a grand old Pennsylvania Dutch tradition and a perfect example of frugal whole-animal butchery.

Here's how it works: you make a stock from meaty pork bones and organs, grind the meat and add it back to the stock, and thicken it with cornmeal and buckwheat flour into a polenta-like porridge. You chill the porridge until thick, then slice it and fry it until crisp and deep brown on both sides. Eat it for breakfast with apple butter. Seriously, it's spiced bone-broth organ-meat polenta. It's whole-grain gluten-free brunch. It's all set to be somebody's gold mine one of these days, but I'd rather make it right now for myself. And I'm not going to say this recipe is perfect, because who knows, but holy moly, it sure checks all my boxes.

It took me a while to get here. I tried some dead-end recipes, and when I found a promising one I still did a fair bit of tweaking to get it exactly how I like it: smooth, spicy, meaty. Historian of Pennsylvania Dutch cooking (and distant cousin of mine) William Woys Weaver has in fact written the book on scrapple, and I have adapted one of his excellent recipes here.

One difficulty in my scrapple endeavors was getting the meat fine enough with home equipment. Most meat grinders are crap or $$$. In the end, I simply pureed the whole pot of meat and stock with an immersion blender. Super easy, and authentic insofar as it's extremely pragmatic.

Liver is crucial for getting the right velvety texture and depth of flavor, but if you have trouble locating pork liver, you can substitute another mild liver, like chicken or calf (but not full-grown beef, much too barnyardy).

If you have three quarts of pork stock already on hand--like after boiling a Christmas ham--by all means use it, but don't add any salt till you taste the finished porridge, and add a pound or two of extra meat to compensate for the meat you would have picked from the stock bones.

It freezes well, so you might as well make a full batch.

Homemade Scrapple

Makes about 10 pounds, something like 50-70 slices.

Bring to a simmer in a large pot:
4 pounds meaty pork bones, including a little something smoked, like a ham hock
3 quarts water

Cook gently until the meat is falling off the bone, 3 or more hours. Strain through a sieve, return the stock to the pot, and let the bones cool.

Meanwhile, add to the simmering stock:
2-3 pounds pork meat, cut into pieces, including at least 1 pound of pork liver.

The rest of the meat can be heart, kidneys, or any cheap cut of pork (even ground pork), though if it's a tough cut, you should cook it with the bones so it has plenty of time to break down. Also, don't trim the fat, but do make sure there's plenty of lean meat in the mix, or the scrapple will just melt when you try to fry it.

Simmer for an hour. While the liver is cooking, pick the meat from the stock bones and add it to the pot. Don't discard any fatty bits, like the rind from the ham hock: put it all in the pot.

Then add:
2 tablespoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
2 tablespoons rubbed sage or several sprigs of fresh sage leaves

Puree with an immersion blender. Alternatively, you can remove the chunks of meat and process them to a smooth paste however seems easiest to you. Mashed through a sieve? Minced by hand? Put through a meat grinder 14 times?

Sift in gradually, stirring between additions:
3 cups cornmeal
1 cup buckwheat flour

The mixture will thicken almost immediately. Cook it over very low heat for 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes. Leave the lid on when you're not stirring it. Caution: it will pop boiling porridge on you.

If all your meat was fairly lean, like heart and liver, or the ham hock didn't come with the rind, you may want to add half a cup or more of lard. If there isn't enough fat, the scrapple will not brown & crisp properly.

Taste the seasonings and adjust as needed--I usually add more salt. The spices will become more defined after chilling and frying, so don't overdo it.

Pour the hot scrapple mixture into greased loaf pans, or casserole pans. I find that this recipe fits into one 9 x 13" casserole and one loaf pan. Let cool, then refrigerate overnight. The next day, you may be able to unmold the loaf pans entirely, or you can slice the scrapple in the pan. If using a casserole, cut it into 4 "loaves" and carefully remove them. Wrapped well, you can freeze them, or keep them refrigerated for a week.

To serve:

It's very important to get the scrapple properly brown and crispy. It does best cooked slowly for at least 5 minutes per side.

Cut the scrapple into 1/4" slices. Heat a tablespoon of lard in a skillet over medium heat. When it's hot, add the slices and let gently fry until the underside is deep brown. Flip. If the scrapple is fairly lean, you may need to add more lard to the pan or it will not brown evenly. When cooking on the second side, I often press the scrapple to make it thin and even, then flip it again and cook the first side some more. It's ready when the exterior is deep brown and crisp all over. The inside can be varying degrees of creamy, depending on the thickness of the slices and your personal taste.

Monday, September 07, 2015

Wild-Fermented All-Buckwheat Bread

This recipe is perfectly elegant in the way I like best: few ingredients, magical transformations. Whole buckwheat groats, salt, and water ferment with ambient organisms to become a toothsome, nutty, wholly bready bread. 

Well over two years ago, Sandor Katz tweeted a link to this recipe by Conscious Catering. As far as I can tell, the Conscious Catering folks were the first to take the wild fermentation method used in making dosas and idli, and adapt it to buckwheat in a loaf shape. I've been baking it nonstop ever since, and it's gotten a bit famous among fermentation enthusiasts and wheat-avoiders.

I have used non-sourdough wild-leavened bread recipes in the past, and found them to give me inconsistent results. They often amount to creating a new sourdough starter at the same time as making the bread, which is a bit of a gamble, and can leave you with barely-leavened bricks for bread. Usually, I'd much rather have enough time to build up a powerful starter before trying to make bread out of it. So I would have foolishly ignored this recipe, except for knowing that dosas and idli do work.

The crucial part of the dosa method is that you soak whole grains, rather than starting with a flour-based dough. I've found that wild-fermented dough made of ground-up soaked whole grains is much more bubbly and active than a flour-based dough of the exact same age. The grains begin to sprout during the long soak, which unlocks the stored starches and makes them into more yeast-friendly sugars.

I did find that the recipe needed some adjustment, particularly during the colder months. Merely extended the dough's fermentation time (as the original recipe suggests) can give you some very fishy-smelling dough. Rather, I extend the soaking phase substantially.

Buckwheat Bread

Soak five cups of whole, raw buckwheat groats in a large bowl of spring or filtered water for 8-12 hours. Rinse and drain the buckwheat groats (the water becomes quite thick).

Add 2 teaspoons of salt and 2 cups of water. Puree with an immersion blender until a smooth batter forms. You can also mash them (minus the water) in a large mortar and pestle. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let the batter ferment until it's bubbly and swollen--it may reach 1.25-1.5 times its starting volume, but after that it won't improve. In the summer, this takes another 12 hours or so, but in the winter, it may be more than 24 hours. If it doesn't look risen at all, give it a stir every 12 hours to keep the surface from getting funky.

Very gently, give the finished batter a brief stirring. It will have some larger, loose bubbles, as well as very fine bubbles like beaten egg white. Scoop the batter into two well-buttered bread pans and bake at 400 degrees for 15 minutes (no need to rise in the pan). Turn the oven down and bake for 45 minutes more at 350. Let cool for 10 minutes or so before gently removing from pans. Cool on a rack, covered with a tea towel.

This bread is at its most convincing when fresh from the oven. It doesn't age very well. I keep one loaf out at room temperature, covered with a tea towel, and it doesn't dry out to too much in the few days it takes me to finish it. The second loaf I store in a plastic bag in the fridge and only eat toasted. Once it's stored in plastic, the crust softens in an unappealing way and is prone to mold growth.