Crispy Scrapple with Sage

An economical but hearty dish, scrapple is satisfyingly crunchy on the outside and tender on the inside, very much like the texture of a hash brown, if hash browns were made with meat. The name is widely thought to refer to the dish’s origins as a way to use the “scraps” or leftover parts from the pig—offal and other trimmings. It turns out, however, that there might be more to the name than that. Because he loves me (and is a consummate linguist), my fiancé went down a deep rabbit hole to discover the true etymology of “scrapple,” and found that most likely came from the Yiddish kreplfleysh, the minced meat used to make kreplach dumplings. In Dutch, the word became krepples, and when the dish migrated to American in the 17th and 18th centuries with its Germanic consumers, it transmuted again into “scrapple.” Around Ohio and the Midwest, people still tend towards calling it krepples rather than scrapple; the East Coast’s penchant for calling the dish scrapple probably comes from juxtaposing the use of “scrap” meat with the term krepples. The Pennsylvania Dutch call their scrapple pannhaas (meaning “pan rabbit,” possibly indicating that early on it may have been made with rabbit and only later utilized pork).

Krepples/pannhaas mixed the protein, whether pork, rabbit, or otherwise, with buckwheat. I believe that when krepples/pannhaas was brought over to America, it became syncretized with what was probably an independent Native American dish, kohasik wiyus, which used corn meal or hominy with whatever protein was available (rabbit, bear, dear, turkey, goose, and other game—or, later on, pork and such proteins as were provided to reservations by government-distributed commodity boxes).[1] On the one hand, the Lenape may have taught the Germanic[2] settlers to use corn rather than buckwheat, or at least that the Germans realized the necessity of using native ingredients that were more readily available. On the other hand, the native peoples may have learned to cook this dish from the Pennsylvania Dutch and used the ingredients they had on had to do so. It’s difficult to know precisely who influenced who per se, since the traditional cooking of the original people who made kohasik wiyus, the Leni Lenapi and other Mid-Atlantic tribes, was typically not recorded until long after their removal from their native lands, creating massive changes to ingredients that were available to them and therefore necessitating a significant shift in the kinds of food they cooked.[3]

If you’re put off by the idea of an offal-based dish, I ask you to consider changing your perspective. In fact, George Weld, the chef and owner of Egg, is one of many chefs who is actively working on changing people’s perspective about such dishes, whether the diners realize it or not. Weld has learned that it’s not about what you’re selling customers, but rather about how you present it that gets patrons to order food like scrapple. “Getting people to eat scrapple is a pretty funny experience at the restaurant,” he says. “It’s probably the most commonly discussed thing in front-of-house meetings: How do you describe scrapple so that people aren’t immediately turned off by it?” Cornmeal and offal? Unappetizing. Call the cornmeal polenta, or even grits, though, and it’ll sell. Call the offal “pan-fried country pâté,” charcuterie, or even “tasty pork scraps,” and yeah, it’ll sell.

Scrapple with Crispy Sage

Adapted from Food 52’s Scrapple and Touching Leaves’ recipe “Kohasik Wiyus (A Scrapple-Like Dish)” in Leni Lenapi Cooking

I recommend making the scrapple itself the day before, in readiness to then crisp it in the pan with the butter and sage the next morning. If you like a little sweet-and-savory action, drizzle it with just a bit of maple syrup to finish.

Ingredients:

1 lb pork butt (bone-in, skin-on)

1 ¾ lbs mixed pork tongue, pig trotters, neck bones, etc.

1 TBSP peppercorns

4 bay leaves

6 garlic cloves, halved

1 large onion, peeled, topped and tailed, and quartered

1 TBSP dried thyme leaves

1 tsp dried ground thyme

1 tsp rubbed sage

2 tsp oregano

1 TBSP garlic powder

½ TBSP onion powder

½ tsp marjoram

½ tsp dried parsley

1 cup hominy grits (uncooked)

Salt and pepper, to taste

For frying:

1 cup flour

1 TBSP garlic powder

1 TBSP onion powder

½ TBSP salt

½ stick butter

½ cup vegetable oil

16-20 whole sage leaves

Instructions:

Place the pork, peppercorns, bay leaves, garlic, and onion in a large stockpot and cover with water. Add a couple tablespoons of salt. Bring to a boil, skim off the thick and dark foam that may come to the top,* then reduce to a bare simmer and cover. Allow the meat to cook until it’s falling off the bone and/or cartilage, two to three hours. Remove the meat from the water and place on a cutting; let cool.

Strain the water from the pot into a second large bowl and discard any remaining solids. Rinse the stockpot and add four cups of the pork stock and the herbs. Bring to a boil, add the grits, and reduce to a low simmer while stirring. Cook for 25-30 minutes, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom with a wooden spoon to make sure nothing’s sticking. Add a splash more stock as needed. The grits are done when they have a velvety, tender texture—they shouldn’t have a gritty mouthfeel (ironically).

Meanwhile, remove the pork meat from the bones and discard any extra skin, tendons, cartilage, etc. Really manipulate it with your fingers so that you can feel out and discard any hard bits. Put the meat through a meat grinder (a single pass through will do), then season with salt and pepper. Add the meat to the grits once they’re finished cooking and stir well to form a homogenous mixture, tasting once more to adjust the seasonings as necessary.

Line a 9×5” loaf pan with plastic wrap, then pour the mixture in; cover and allow to cool to room temperature, then let sit overnight in the refrigerator. When it’s set, upend the pan to remove the scrapple loaf and discard the plastic wrap.

To fry: Mix the flour and seasonings in a shallow bowl. Heat the butter and vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Cut the scrapple into slices, dredge in the flour mixture, and fry for 4-5 minutes per side, flipping only once. When you flip the scrapple, add 4 or 5 sage leaves to the hot butter and use a spoon to pour the sage-infused butter over the scrapple. Keep an eye on the sage and remove to a wire rack or paper-towel once it’s crispy. The scrapple will take just a bit longer in the pan than the sage; when it has a good brown on it and is crispy, remove it to a wire rack to drain. The frying step will have to be done in batches; about four slices of scrapple will fit into a large skillet at a time. You’ll want to add more butter, oil, and sage leaves as you progress through the batches. Be careful, as the butter and oil may pop and spray once the scrapple’s in it.

Serve hot, topped with the crispy sage leaves.


[1] The cooking of kohasik wiyus may go hand in hand with the tradition of dropping spoonfuls of cornmeal into hot bear fat, which is probably also the origins of the dish we know as fry bread—both dishes rely on the mixture of cornmeal with an animal product so as to get as much as possible out of few ingredients.

[2] “Germans” (i.e. the “Deutsch,” which is where we get the term Pennsylvania Dutch from) were a mix of Germanic peoples from various language groups and religions. “German” or “Dutch” at this time meant a loose ethnic group related to the Germanic tribes, still independent at this time.

[3] An excellent example of this is “fry bread,” dough that is usually made with flour, water, baking powder, and grease, then deep-fried to create a fluffy, bubbly loaf.

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