When your breakfast meat forms the symbol for radiological danger, you’re probably in the American northeast.
Pork roll (or “Taylor ham”, depending on your locality) is a heavily salted and spiced piece of finely ground ham that is pressed together in a woven fabric bag not unlike canvas. It’s sold both in the bag and in small packages of individual slices. Outside of the New York/New Jersey/Pennsylvania area it can also be found in select deli counters, distributed by Boar’s Head.
Boar’s Head vendors are trained to offer the prospective buyer a slice of the lunchmeat for tasting purposes. If anyone offers you a slice of pork roll, they are either unfamiliar with the meat or they simply don’t like you. It is intensely greasy and salty, and unpalatable raw. It needs to be cooked.
During the cooking process, the meat shrinks because of the fat rendering. It will turn into a little cup of meat with a grease pool at the bottom. That is, it will turn into a cup of meat unless you anticipate the shrinking. That’s where the trifoil comes in.
Standard cooking calls for three notches about a quarter of the way through the slice. As the pork roll cooks, it shrinks into the aforementioned symbol of radioactive danger. Fear not, however; pork roll is not radioactive, although it is far from a healthy choice for your arteries.
If the notion of eating a food so heavily greasy and salted that it shrinks upon cooking seems grotesque, I call to mind a close cousin of pork roll: bacon.
There are two traditional ways this is served. Straight to the plate next to some eggs or pancakes like any other breakfast meat, and the pork roll sandwich. The sandwich is served on a kaiser roll, with ketchup, a few slices of pork roll, and usually an egg. A slice of cheese is an option.
But some people have to go against tradition, in this “foodie” era. Red Bank, NJ is about to have its first all-pork roll restaurant: Johnny’s Pork Roll, which includes Hawaiian Pork Roll (with Swiss cheese and pineapple), a Pork Roll Reuben, Pulled Pork Roll and PBLT (pork roll, lettuce and tomato) sandwiches, among others.
So, now that you’ve been introduced to one of the odd but ubiquitous delicacies of the NY/NJ/PA area, the Question of the Night: What’s a “local favorite” or restaurant-specific food that you love to eat?