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Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Oxtail Scrapple

Scrapple gets a bad rap.  Full disclosure: I've never had any but homemade, so maybe it's on account of packaged store-bought versions.  Full disclosure: I'm not squicked out by the idea of making foodstuffs out of all edible parts (like ears, feets and tails), and in fact, I rather think it's irresponsible consumership not to.  Full disclosure: I'm not from Pennsylvania (whence hails scrapple as a regional dish), so I haven't a clue whether what I make is anything like "the real thing".

I think it's largely a linguistic problem..."scrapple" is a hideous-sounding word.  I've successfully served this dish as "breakfast meatloaf" to people who squeal like five-year-olds at the word "scrapple".  When you frame it as "fried herbed polenta with braised pork", it sounds like something out of Food & Wine Magazine.  Words matter, yo.

At its core, scrapple is nothing more than a grain (like cornmeal) cooked with broth and herbs (this is called "polenta" if you're Italian or "cornmeal mush" if you're Southern American, and I never hear "Jimmy's in my AIR SPACE!" squealing about those dishes) and some finely chopped meat, usually from a very bony part that's hard to cook in any way other than boiling (i.e. the "scraps" of the animal), then chilled in a loaf pan, then sliced and lightly fried.  The exact blend of grains (sometimes buckwheat is used), the particular herbs and what meat "scraps" are used may differ.  

I've made this recipe with pork neck bones, pork shoulder and beef oxtail. I like oxtail the best...the more bony the part, the more gelatin is extracted in the cooking process and the richer the final dish is.  I've not done it, but I would imagine this would be an ideal way to use parts highly gelatinous parts like trotters or pig ears without the dish being too, well, trotter-y or ear-ish.

I also like getting the meat part cooked in a crockpot because who has time to sit around for 2-3 hours babysitting a simmering pot o' oxtail?  Crockpot-ing also keeps the meat especially tender and easy to pull off the bones.

Oxtail Scrapple
Makes 3-4 loaves

1 beef oxtail, cut in chunks (about 3 lbs.)
1 cup yellow cornmeal
3 cups beef broth (from cooking the oxtail, plus additional stock as needed)
1 tbsp chopped fresh herbs (savory, thyme and sage are good)
salt and pepper to taste
Flour, for frying
Maple syrup, for serving

Brown the oxtail under the broiler for 5 minutes per side, until lightly browned.  Put the meat in the crockpot, cover with water and cook on low for 10-12 hours.

Remove the oxtail and reserve the broth.  Pull the meat off the bones (you might want to wait a few minutes to do this so you don't burn your fingers).  Discard the bones.  Finely chop the meat in a food processor or by hand.  You need about 3 cups of chopped meat.

Measure the cooking broth and add enough prepared beef stock to equal 3 cups.  In a small bowl, stir about 1/2 cup of the broth into the cornmeal until there are no more lumps.  Heat the remaining broth in a large pot over high heat.  Stir in the cornmeal slurry before it comes up to a boil.  Once the broth is boiling, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring frequently, for about 20 minutes.  Add the seasonings and meat and cook another 10 minutes.  Pour mixture into loaf pans and fridge.

Wrap well and freeze now if desired.  You can also wait until the loaves are cool, slice them thinly then freeze the slices.

To cook, thaw whole loaf if needed (do not thaw individual slices).  Cut the loaves in 1/4"-1/2" slices.  Dust with flour, if desired.  Fry in butter, oil, or bacon greased over medium-high heat 3-4 minutes per side until golden.  Serve with maple syrup.
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