Raise your hand if you grew up in New Jersey. Or anywhere in Eastern Pennsylvania. Now, what comes to mind when you hear “pork roll?”
“I am amazed at how much nostalgia people have for pork roll,” says Jenna Pizzi, author of the Pork Roll Cookbook, just released by Cider Mill Press, with recipes by Susan Sprague Yeske, food writer for both the Times of Trenton and the Bucks County Herald. When Pizzi, reporter at the Times of Trenton for the past three years, was researching the cookbook, time after time she heard stories of childhood – pork roll at grandma’s table, at the local diner, or served up by mom with egg and cheese for Sunday breakfast.
I did not grow up eating pork roll and have always been a little suspicious of it, in the way I am wary of scrapple.
“No, no,” says Pizzi. “It’s not like scrapple!”
In fact, pork roll is usually made from pork shoulder or ham. The meat itself is low in fat, according to Pizzi, between 85 to 90 percent lean.
There are only two companies that make pork roll, and they both began in Trenton and continue to make the product in Trenton. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for much else from Trenton’s glorious manufacturing past – the beautiful ceramics (think Lenox) and the Roebling steel that went into making the Brooklyn Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge.
But Taylor Provisions Company and Case’s Pork Roll continue to turn out this New Jersey favorite every day. Case’s produces about 65,000 pounds of pork roll per year. Although they both have their secret spice recipes, the process is simple. First the meat is salt cured with a mix of proprietary spices, then hickory smoked. The ingredients? Pork, salt, sugar and spices.
If you did grow up with pork roll, you have probably left off reading this, and started salivating thinking about an egg, cheese and pork roll sandwich, the quintessential New Jersey breakfast. Maybe your mom made it with cheddar, or maybe you just liked having it nestled next to your eggs on the plate. Either way, I have lost your attention.
And the rest of you are probably thinking, “Really? What’s so great about it?” You’ll have to just try it for yourself and the Pork Roll Cookbook – and Susan Sprague Yeske – have made that easy for you.
Following Pizzi’s fascinating history of Trenton’s favorite breakfast meat (which goes back over 150 years), are four sections of recipes using pork roll: Starters and Snacks, Breakfast and Brunch, Soups and Sandwiches, and even Main Meals, 49 recipes in all.
In addition to the classic breakfast sandwich, consider, also for breakfast, Pork Roll Hash with Fried Egg & Chipotle Aioli, Stuffed French Toast, and Pork Roll and Cheese Crepes.
For starters, how about Pork Roll and Red Pepper Quiche, or Pork Roll and Apple Flatbread? For soups, try the Potato Pork Roll soup, rich with heavy cream and sour cream, or the Butternut Squash Soup with Pork Roll.
For dinner, check out the Cheesy Pork Roll Casserole, a one pot meal that includes all the major food groups including vegetables (and you thought it was just about pasta, cheese and pork roll!).
Sprague also developed a Pork Roll Mac and Cheese recipe, and a Cornbread and Pork Roll Casserole, which works as a side dish for roasted chicken or pork chops. Sprague says the chopped pork roll in this recipe gives the cornbread more flavor and texture.
I could go on but why not just buy the cookbook and learn about this piece of local culinary history for yourself. I’m including two recipes from the book below, one contributed by Kevin Nagle, former executive chef of the Cock ‘n Bull Restaurant in Peddler’s Village.
Various other local chefs, including Chef Bill Murphy from Earl’s Bucks County and Executive Chef and Owner Will Mooney from Brothers Moon Restaurant in Hopewell, NJ, have also shared their recipes using this favorite local treat.
You can purchase the book online from Amazon or from the publisher, Cider Mill Press. You can purchase Taylor’s or Case’s Pork Roll in most area supermarkets, usually sold near the hot dogs. Jenna Pizzi will be signing copies of the cookbook at Trenton Social on Saturday April 11 from 5 – 8 pm.
The Classic Pork Roll Sandwich
1 soft sandwich roll
1 slice cheese of your choice
2 slices pork roll
1 egg, cooked to your preference
- Toast sandwich roll. If desired, add a slice of cheese and set aside.
- Lightly spray a medium skillet and add pork roll slices. Don’t forget to make small cuts around the edge of the pork roll slices so that they don’t curl during cooking. Cook over medium heat until nicely browned.
- Meanwhile, on the other side of the skillet, crack an egg and cook it the way you like – scrambled, over easy, or sunny-side up.
- When the meat and the egg are cooked, add them to the sandwich roll. Add mustard or ketchup if you like.
Charred Romaine, Pork Roll Lardons, Roasted Apples and Feta
By Executive Chef Kevin Nagle, Cock ‘n Bull Restaurant, Peddler’s Village, Lahaska, PA
Serves 4 – 6
4 Gala apples, unpeeled, with cores removed, quartered
1 TBSP freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 TBSP unsalted butter
½ cup vegetable oil
1 ½ cups brandy
1 lb. pork roll, cut into 1-inch dice
3 TBSP sherry vinegar
2 TBSP plus 1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 TBSP honey
2 TBSP water
1 TBSP olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
4 heads Romaine lettuce, halved lengthwise, rinsed and patted dry
¹⁄3 cup crumbled feta cheese
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Place apple quarters in mixing bowl and add lemon juice, melted butter, vegetable oil, and brandy. Toss apples in mixture until evenly coated.
- Place apple slices on nonstick baking pan, drizzle with remaining liquid and bake uncovered for 20 minutes. Turn apples and continue to cook 6 – 8 more minutes until apples are golden. Take out of oven and let cool to room temperature.
- Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil over medium high heat and cook diced pork roll until crispy but not burnt. Remove from pan and set aside.
- In a small mixing bowl whisk sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, water, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Chill in refrigerator.
- Heat gas grill or a cast-iron grill pan to medium heat. Place romaine halves cut-side down ono grill and cook, turning once until charred and slightly wilted, about 4 minutes.
- Transfer lettuce cut-side up to serving platter, season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle pork roll lardons, feta cheese, and roasted apples over romaine and drizzle with dressing.
NOTE: Just made this for dinner last night and it was great. The sweetness of the apples, the tartness of the feta, the salty and smoked taste of the pork roll and the Dijon vinaigrette all came together very nicely. I recommend it.
Copyright for all recipes is by Appleseed Press Book Publishers LLC.