Rick Cooks Home Goetta
Cincinnati pork-oatmeal scrapple

The origins of Goetta, a popular Cincinnati Oh./Covington Ky. breakfast food, are obscure, but it may be another excellent example of how regional cuisine is influenced by the blending of immigrant groups. Cincinnati is a laboratory for these effects. (This is not the same as "fusion" which describes the product of a Japanese chef who studied in Tuscany.) Some say Goetta (originally pronounced "gœ'-ta" but today pronounced "gedda") comes from Scrapple, a Pennsylvania "Dutch" (German) dish from a neighboring state. Others say it's a frontier form of Haggis, brought into the Ohio Valley by Scots-Irish migrants via Kentucky. Adding to the mystery is the fact that the name "goetta" is not used anywhere outside the greater Cincinnati area.

It's reasonable to believe that the Irish-oats pancakes (actually, a polenta, or pan-fried thickened oat porridge or mush) eaten by the Scots-Irish in Kentucky, and sometimes richened with humble pork (or organ meat) scraps to make a hearty Haggis substitute, was adapted by an Amish/German Scrapple recipe in Cincinnati or Covington, using the Irish polenta in place of the corn meal polenta to thicken and stretch the meat scraps into a cheap, high-energy meal.

But if you have a better theory, let me know. Don't tell me it came from Germany. In spite of its German-sounding name, and its popularity in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky's German community, I found a recipe for it in only one German cookbook, and it lists its origin as mittleren Westen der USA -- the U.S. Midwest. So it could be German-American, but not German. It's true that you can find a specialty sausage in Germany and Poland called grützwurst which contains oats, but grützwurst bears no resemblance to goetta.

The basic ingredients are meat scraps (leftover pork, beef, or organ meat such as hearts) and steel-cut oats (called "pinhead oats" in Cincinnati). Modern recipes call simply for supermarket ground pork or ground pork and beef, but traditionalists will use the meat from boiled pork neck bones, a tribute to Cincy's pork-processing heritage.

The steel-cut oats may be hard to find. You can not substitute Quaker Oats or rolled oats or any other kind of oats (except pinhead oats) and get correct results. Some specialty food stores, "health-food" stores, and yuppie supermarkets carry Steel-Cut Irish Oatmeal, or you can find it online. Of course, if you live in the Greater Cincinnati area, you can find original pinhead oats marketed under the Dorsel brand.

There is a traditional (long) way and a shorter way to prepare this dish. The traditional way is to start two days ahead of time (unless you have cooked pork meat and broth at hand) using pork neck bones. The shorter way can be done in a couple of hours, but on the day prior, using leftover cooked pork or ground pork or pork sausage, ground beef, and prepared stock. The traditional way is no more difficult, but requires more planning, and is cheaper. The shorter way must still be prepared the night before, since the mixture must be refrigerated before pan-frying. (Yes, you can buy or mail-order prepared goetta, but then you wouldn't have read this far.)

This is also a good dish for a crockpot or slow cooker. Read the recipe and decide which way you want to do it based on how much time you have and your shopping preferences.

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*Serves 6*

2 lb pork sausage, ground pork and/or beef
or 4 lb neck bones
5 c pork broth or chicken or vegetable stock
or 8 c water
1 c finely chopped onion
(1 large onion)
3 t salt
t pepper
t sage
t thyme
4 bay leaves
2 c pinhead or steel-cut oats
c cornmeal to thicken

In a large stockpot or saucepan, brown the neckbones. Add the chopped onion and sauté until soft. Cover with at least 8 c water, season with salt and pepper, add spices and bay leaves, and simmer for 2-3 hours until meat is tender. Strain broth and reserve 5 cups. Pull off meat from bones and return to stock. Return onion to stock. Degrease stock (best method is to chill overnight and remove solidified fat from surface).

If using ground meat, sauté meat and chopped onion in large saucepan until meat is brown. Season with salt, pepper, and spices, stir, add the chicken or vegetable stock, and heat until boiling.

Heat the base until boiling. Add the oats, stir, reduce heat, and cook slowly, stirring occasionally, one hour or until thickened. If too thin, add cornmeal as necessary to achieve desired consistency.

Spoon the mixture into lightly greased loaf pans and allow to cool. Refrigerate overnight.

Slice or form into patties. (Surplus may be frozen.) Dredge in flour if desired. Fry in a small amount of hot fat. Do not allow the slices to touch in the skillet or they will run together. Brown each side until crisp and golden. Serve with eggs for breakfast, or as a polenta-like side dish, or use to make sandwiches.