Delaware’s favorite breakfast meat – scrapple -- is unique to the Mid-Atlantic States. Its roots stem from the Amish who clustered in this area and their marrying of German cooking traditions with New World ingredients. Scrapple is mostly unknown elsewhere across the US. Folks from other parts of the country are apprehensive about trying the dish thanks to its dubious reputation for containing every part of the pig except the squeal. But it’s the best kind of comfort food, perfectly paired with a plateful of fried eggs. Biting into a thinly cut golden browned slice slathered with ketchup is breakfast heaven.
Traditional scrapple is a humble dish, originating in rural areas where frugal farmers made imaginative use of their butchering scraps. But it’s a Delaware delicacy. Each maker’s singular choice of spices and seasonings yields a distinctive taste. Fans like my native Delawarean husband relish scrapple’s complex flavors and are tremendously loyal to their favorite recipe.
We would be perfectly happy to go on keeping scrapple a Delaware secret but yet, in response to all those skeptics out there who shudder at the dish, I think it deserves to be seen with a different lens. Scrapple uses many of the same ingredients and preparations as pates, rillettes and terrines. It certainly fits with Julia Child’s description of terrine and pate, being “ground or cubed meat mixtures with spices and organ meat cooked and molded in a baking dish”.Chef Robert Luhlier, right, in elegant Hotel DuPont Green Room
So I decided to support two upscale local chefs who took up the challenge of reimagining scrapple traditions using high end ingredients at the MidAtlantic Food and Wine Festival’s Scrapplegasme event last weekend. Hosted in Wilmington’s elegant Hotel DuPont Green Room, Scrapplegasme featured these chefs squaring off with their take on today’s scrapple made with goose, rabbit, antelope and chorizo paired with imaginative egg dishes.
In presenting his dish, Chef Robert Luhlier said that when the event organizers recruited him for an haute cuisine scrapple breakfast, he thought the idea was insane. But then he thought about how much Delawareans love their scrapple and he signed on along with his sous chef Drew Ramage. Ironically, Scrapplegasme turned out to be a very popular idea. Of the Festival’s 40 events, the scrapple breakfast was among the first to sell out. And that really put pressure on the chefs, he said.
He and Drew riffed on what would be cool to present. They came up with a version based on chorizo, which is also pork, but served with a Mexican mole made with chocolate, sugar and black pepper so that diners experienced a hot, yet sweet taste. He also prepared a rabbit scrapple whimsically paired with a carrot tartar quenelle. His egg dish was a quiche incorporating black truffles and mascarpone cheese. What’s not to love among that trio?
Chef Keith Miller, the Hotel’s executive chef, said he signed on to the breakfast to honor local heritage. “People think of scrapple is a low dish and I wanted to show that one could use truly high end ingredients to make this a dish that would blow peoples’ minds,” he said. His preparations included antelope scrapple and a scrapple made with goose, orange, sage and thyme.
The breakfast concluded with a clever surprise. Hotel DuPont executive pastry chef Michelle Mitchell’s desert was presented deceptively as a breakfast plate, but crème brulee made up the scrambled eggs and grilled pound cake took the place of toast.
At the conclusion of the meal, diners were asked how they liked the morning’s menu and they responded with rousing applause. The chefs glanced at each other ruefully. They had succeeded in rescuing scrapple’s reputation, but now they will be on the hook to do it again next year.