Scrapple can be many things to many people, but in Philly, the breakfast staple is a point of pride, regardless of the haters.
But what if it can be so much more? I’m by no means an expert on the stuff — I will leave that to chefs like Adam Diltz, owner and chef of Elwood, whose family has a deep connection to its butchering traditions — but I have come to enjoy scrapple beyond its diner connections. It is flavorful and deeply savory, wonderfully textured with just the right amount of salt. Why can’t it be used as an ingredient in its own right?
As I researched potential recipes to incorporate scrapple, I came across a number of restaurant preparations that played with scrapple in ways that I think work for home cooks.
Starting in 2013, Ben Puchowitz of Bing Bing Dim Sum and Cheu would create a house scrapple made from duck stock, breast, and leg scraps mixed with matzo meal instead of the traditional cornmeal, flavored with spices like juniper, all spice, and Sichuan peppercorns. The scrapple would then be featured in delightfully springy steamed buns topped with jicama-apple slaw, or crispy matzo scrapple appetizer served with maple soy sauce and chow chow.
In 2014, New York ramen spot Ivan Ramen (helmed by chef Ivan Orkin) boasted a “Lancaster okonomiyaki,” a.k.a. waffled scrapple topped with charred cabbage, pickled apple, and maple Kewpie mayo. Taking cues from these dishes, I set out to create versions easily achievable at home.
First up, the okonomiyaki, a Japanese savory pancake with its most basic origins dating to the 1600s but evolving into its modern styles in Osaka and Hiroshima. It is an infinitely versatile dish (the word can essentially be translated as “what you like, grilled”), and is something I regularly make at home, especially during a fridge clean-out. The style I’m most familiar with, the Osaka-style, is most often made with shredded cabbage mixed into a simple batter held together with dashi broth or water, and you can bolster it with whatever you want: meat, seafood, green onions, other herbs, and then topped with a dealer’s choice of toppings (Kewpie mayo, a Japanese-style barbecue sauce, more scallions, and bonito flakes are among the traditional offerings). Okonomiyaki, then, is wonderfully forgiving and lends itself to improvisational cooking — throw in some scrapple for a filling pancake you can serve any time of day.
Cloud-like steamed buns are also a perfect canvas for showcasing crispy-crunchy scrapple. Store-bought steamed buns are increasingly available in frozen food aisles or bought online, but making it at home is also an easy process. All you need is time. This recipe, adapted from the popular Chinese family recipe blog, The Woks of Life, is as fun to make as it is to eat.
I prefer using bread flour to all-purpose, as I find the final product to be that much bouncier, a delightful contrast to the meatiness of scrapple. As with the okonomiyaki, the DIY fillings allow diners to choose their own adventure, especially for a dinner or brunch setting. Lay out an assemblage of herbs, sauces, and pickled items like cucumbers, onions, or carrots and let everyone craft their own buns. Just don’t forget the scrapple.
Traditionally, okonomiyaki is topped with squiggles of Kewpie mayo and savory tonkatsu sauce, a lighter counterpart to sugary American barbecue. Hot sauce like sriracha would also be a delicious addition.
Serves 2 large pancakes or 4 small
16 ounces scrapple, roughly diced
1 cup all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1½ teaspoon sesame oil
7 cups thinly shredded green cabbage (about ½ small head of cabbage)
1 cup chopped scallions, about ½ bunch, plus more for garnish
Tonkatsu sauce (Japanese barbecue sauce)
Aonori (dried green seaweed), cut into strips
Set a nonstick pan over medium-high heat and add diced scrapple. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until it starts to brown and crumble.
As scrapple cooks, combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in your largest bowl. Whisk the egg, and vegetable and sesame oils together with 1 cup water in another bowl. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until the lumps of dry flour are gone. To this mixture, fold in the shredded cabbage, 1 cup chopped scallion, and cooked scrapple until well-combined. (Depending on the size of your bowl, this step may need to be done in two batches.)
In the same pan used to cook the scrapple, spoon half the batter and spread into a ½-inch-thick layer. (Alternatively, if you want smaller pancakes, spoon a smaller amount of the batter.) Cook for 3 to 4 minutes, then use a spatula to peek underneath. Once the bottom is crisp and brown, carefully flip the okonomiyaki with the spatula. (Alternatively, hold a plate on top of the pancake and flip the pan; slide the upturned pancake back into the pan.) Cook for another 3 to 4 minutes, until the okonomiyaki is golden brown on both sides. The inside should be cooked through, but the cabbage will sweat out a bit of moisture — the exterior will be crisp, and the interior soft and a little moist.
Slide the okonomiyaki onto a clean plate and go to town with your desired toppings. Sprinkle with seaweed, scallions, sesame seeds, and a handful of bonito flakes, which add a touch of saltiness and contribute a sense of whimsy as it wafts in the air. Drizzle with Kewpie mayo and tonkatsu sauce. Serve immediately.
» READ MORE: The best places to get scrapple in Philadelphia
Steamed Buns With Scrapple and Pickles
Makes 12 buns
¾ cup warm water
2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon canola oil, plus more for brushing
2 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
24 pieces parchment paper (cut into 3x4 inch rectangles)
8 ounces scrapple, sliced and pan-fried on each side
Quick-pickled onions and cucumber
Special equipment: Steamer basket
In a small bowl, whisk together warm water, yeast, and sugar to dissolve. Wait 15 minutes until the yeast mixture becomes foamy. Stir in 1 tablespoon of canola oil, and set aside.
While the yeast mixture blooms, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl.
Stir in the yeast mixture using a rubber spatula. After the dry and wet ingredients are well-incorporated, knead the dough until smooth and soft. If the dough feels sticky, add a bit more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue kneading until the dough is smooth, soft, and pliable, but not sticky. Brush the top of the dough with 1 teaspoon canola oil, cover the bowl with a plate, and let it proof at room temperature until it has doubled in size (about 1 hour).
While the dough is proofing, prepare a steamer or steamer basket. Leave space between the water and the steam rack so the water doesn’t touch the buns during the steaming process.
Punch down dough and knead it for a few minutes to get rid of all the air bubbles. Portion the dough into 12 equal balls. Using a rolling pin or the heel of your hand, roll each ball into an oval shape, roughly 7 inches long and 4 inches wide.
Fold each dough oval in half, inserting a small piece of parchment paper in the middle to prevent sticking while steaming. Line the bun with another piece of parchment paper on the bottom and place it in your steamer to proof a second time. Repeat these steps until you’ve used up all the dough, cover the lid of the steamer, and let proof for another 20 minutes. (If all the buns cannot fit in the steamer, cover the remaining with a clean, damp cloth as they proof.)
Turn the heat on your steamer setup to high. Once steam is visible, reduce to medium, and allow the buns to steam for 10 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the buns rest inside the steamer for 5 minutes. Do not remove the cover — if you remove the cover too early, the buns will collapse and lose their delightful fluffiness.
After 5 minutes, the buns are ready to remove from the steamer. .
Sandwich the cooked scrapple and desired toppings into steamed buns. In particular, a mixture of maple and sriracha add a sweet heat.
You can use your steamed buns immediately, but any leftovers also freeze well. Just allow buns to cool completely before freezing, as condensation can cause sogginess. Fill them with anything from pork belly to braised veggies.