Nostalgia With a New Mexican Kick
I grew up the oldest of six kids in a Japanese-American family. My mom honed her cooking skills working at her aunt and uncle’s diner in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo, where she met my dad, a truck driver who delivered produce. It was 1940, and she was 18.
Later, as a young mother feeding her family in postwar Detroit, she served an amalgam of Japanese home cooking and truck stop fare. From this hodgepodge I found my comfort foods—sausage gravy on white bread, fried rice with scrambled eggs and bacon, raw egg and soy sauce mixed into a bowl of steaming-hot rice, and mom’s own version of scrapple. I can still whip these up on a moment’s notice, except for the scrapple—a dish that takes time and a lot of patience.
Scrapple for breakfast was a treat—sliced and fried, it was sometimes served with an egg on top or drenched in a pool of maple syrup. It was cheap food, born of a tight economy and the need to stretch ingredients. Mom stopped making it when I was about 6 or 7 years old. There were three kids by then and a lot of food in the fridge. The very lean years had passed and scrapple was replaced with Frosted Flakes and piles of cinnamon toast.
Several years ago, I called Mom and asked for her scrapple recipe. She couldn’t imagine why I wanted to revive this dish, but we pieced it out and I made a batch the next day. I savored the crispy, fried slices and the taste of bacon fat—the way the sunny-side egg yolks flowed like gravy and how good it all tasted with lots of black pepper.
This scrapple resembles polenta with hearty pork flavor. Adding chopped green chile makes it a toothsome entrée, especially served with a pile of frijoles and a salad. For anyone who’d like to try it, here’s the recipe.
3 pounds pork neck bones
4 quarts water
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 cups Cream of Wheat
1/2 cup peeled, seeded and chopped green chile (optional)
Vegetable oil or bacon grease
1) Put the neck bones, water and salt into an 8- to 10-quart pot. Bring contents to a boil, then lower to medium heat and simmer, uncovered, for 4 to 5 hours, or until the meat comes easily off the bones. (This can also be done in a slow cooker but will take 6 to 8 hours.)2) Remove from heat. Transfer the meat and bones to another dish until they are cool. Skim off the fat and strain broth. Set aside.3) Carefully separate the meat from the bones. Shred the meat with your fingers and set aside. Discard the bones or save them for another use.4) Put 8 cups of the broth into a 6-quart saucepan. (If there isn’t enough broth, add water.) Bring broth just to a boil and lower the heat to simmer. Add 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then add the Cream of Wheat to the broth in a slow stream, whisking constantly to avoid lumps.5) When the porridge has thickened, 6 to 10 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the shredded meat and optional green chile. Spoon mixture into 2 nonstick loaf pans lined with plastic wrap. Cover and place in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes. Once chilled, turn the cooled porridge onto a board and cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. 6) Put 3 tablespoons vegetable oil or bacon grease into a nonstick skillet and bring it to medium-high heat. Layer scrapple slices in the skillet, salt and pepper to taste, and fry on both sides 5 to 6 minutes, or until crispy and golden brown. 7) Serve portions with a fried egg on top or with maple syrup. Unused portions can be frozen, thawed and fried as needed.