— “Cincinnati Dancing Pig” by Al Lewis and Guy Wood
More than a century before Vic Damone bucked up our flagging hearts with that stirring testament to the swiney terpsichore, Cincinnati was already known as Porkopolis for its place as America’s pre-eminent packer of hogs. Indeed, Cincinnati magazine reports that, back in the day, “slurping, grunting, reeking pigs infested every yard and alley.” Yeesh. I guess that explains the phrase, “as common as a Cincinnati street pig.”
The abundance of bacon-y beasts and their consequently cheap cuts contributed to one of the The City of Seven Hill’s most sublime culinary creations. No, not Cincinnati chili, you … you … philistine. Goetta.
Ah, goetta (GED-da), that oaty, meaty breakfast loaf, sliced into slabs and fried in fat to tobacco brown. If Cincinnati is indeed, as Longfellow rhapsodized, the Queen of the West, then surely goetta is her scepter.
Why you need to learn this
Unless you’re personal friends with Pete Rose (who owes me 50 bucks, by the way), none of your deadbeat pals are going to be familiar with this Cincinnati treat. Not only is this your chance to be the first on your block to know what the hell it even is, but just wait till you slap together a steaming, crunchy batch for the gang at your next big brunch. Oh, my land, Madge will be positively chartreuse.
The steps you take
For the more culturally indigent among you who have never enjoyed this particularly toothsome gem, goetta is simply steel-cut oats cooked with ground or minced meat, then set up — congealed, if you will — in a loaf mold. As mentioned above, thick or thin slices are fried and served alongside your over-easy eggs for a breakfast fit for Johnny Bench.
Now, although the Glier’s Goetta company started mass-producing the stuff back in ’46, goetta recipes are still prized among home cooks, and many Cincinnatians are as proud of theirs as they are of The Big Red Machine. As such, every Pete, Joe and Johnny is going to have his or her own method for making goetta.
Some people cook everything together. Others cook the meat and oats separately. Still others look at the cooking time and conclude, “Screw it, let’s just go to the Kroger’s and get a package of Glier’s.”
Regardless of how you do it, there are some things you should keep in mind as you embark upon your magical journey.
First, it’s important to use steel-cut oats, also called “pinhead oats,” rather than rolled oats or, heaven forbid, the packages of microwavable instant oatmeal upon which we grew so dependent when our spawn was young.
Steel-cut oats take longer to cook — a lot longer, if the truth be known, but they’re worth every precious minute for their more appealing consistency. And while the resulting comfort may be as cold as a penguin’s cheating heart, because you’ve got to chill the goetta overnight, it’s a two-day process anyway. Take your time with it on Saturday, and Sunday morning you can invite over Madge and the gang and let the piehole stuffing begin.
As far as the meat goes, pork is traditional, of course, though you can make it with just about anything, including sausage or beef. Word on the street is that, out Cincy-way, there is more than one hippie hash house that serves a vegetarian goetta. I’m guessing that’s probably just oats flavored with disappointment.
Also, remember that, like other related dishes (scrapple from neighboring Pennsylvania, or the dreaded black pudding from dear old Erin’s Isle), this was a way to stretch scraps or cheaper cuts of meat — what my lovely wife likes to call “the grotty bits” — with inexpensive and belly-filling grains. Originally, you might have simmered tougher cuts of pork until it was fall-apart tender. Then you’d simmer the oats in the flavorful cooking liquid and add the shredded meat to that. Now, while this certainly is tasty (especially the oats cooked in pork water), it is a bit more labor-intensive. Still, if you’d like to go that route, by cracky, don’t let me stop you.
Today, though, we’re going to take advantage of the fact that it’s 1932 no longer and things like ground meat and packaged broth are as common as Cincinnati street pigs.
Here’s what you do to make two loaf pans of yummy, yummy goetta.
1. On Saturday, bring 2 quarts of water, stock or a mix of both to a boil. Add 2 1/4 cups of steel-cut (pinhead) oats, a tablespoon of salt and a couple of bay leaves. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring every so often, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
2. While the oats simmer, sear 2 pounds of ground pork, pork sausage, beef or any combination thereof along with a small dice of 1 large onion in a little bit of fat. When it’s cooked through, drain it and set aside.
3. When the oats are done, stir in the drained meat mixture and simmer another 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally, to unite the flavors in holy matrimony. It should be spoon-standy thick, like something you’d use to encase the feet of your enemies before dumping them over the side of the wharf. Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
4. Pour the mixture into plastic- or parchment-lined loaf pans, cover and refrigerate overnight.
5. Sunday morning, turn out loaves onto a cutting board. Slice into quarter-inch to half-inch thick slabs (thinner for crispier, thicker for mushier) and sear both sides in a little butter, oil or bacon fat. Serve with ketchup or maple syrup, depending on your personal predilections. Finally, check the housing prices in Cincinnati.
James P. DeWan is a culinary instructor at Kendall College in Chicago and the author of “Prep School: How to Improve Your Kitchen Skills and Cooking Techniques,” a collection of his columns, and “The Zwilling J.A. Henckels Complete Book of Knife Skills.”
Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: Up to 3 hours
Makes: 32-36 slices
8 cups water
2 1/4 cups steel-cut oats (aka pinhead oats)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 bay leaves
1 pound ground pork breakfast sausage
1 pound ground pork or beef
1 large onion, cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
Vegetable oil, butter or bacon fat for frying
1. Bring water to a boil in a large pot. Add oats, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, until oats are cooked and very thick, 90 minutes to 2 hours.
2. Meanwhile, cook ground meat and onion in the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat until cooked through, 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper; mix to combine. Drain and discard fat; reserve meat.
3. When oats are thick, stir in the meat and onion; continue cooking over medium-low heat to combine flavors, 45 to 60 minutes. When done, mixture should be thick enough so that a wooden spoon will stand up in it.
4. Pour mixture into two loaf pans (8- or 9-inch) lined with plastic. Fold plastic over top and refrigerate overnight.
5. Invert loaf pans on cutting board to remove goetta loaves. Remove plastic and slice into 1/4-inch to 1/2-inch slabs. Fry in the fat of your choice over medium heat until browned on both sides. Serve immediately.
Nutrition information per slice (for 36 slices and using vegetable oil to fry): 87 calories, 4 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 11 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 1 g sugar, 5 g protein, 375 mg sodium, 2 g fiber
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