This is an ongoing post… You can find the recipe below, but the recipe is not where good goetta is at. It’s the process employed to make it. Read on to learn more.
It took growing up to realize that growing up in Cincinnati was cool. As a boy, I didn’t know or appreciate its history or wonder. As an adult now interested in heritage and tradition, I’ve learned so much about the Midwest, my ancestors, and their lifestyles during a certain place and time. It’s still cool to live here… but only now, I live 30 minutes west of Cincinnati. There’s a saying around Cincinnati’s west side…. ‘West-siders always move west’, and that’s true.
First, a little background…
Cincinnati and Goetta
In a quest to make the best homemade goetta, one can begin, and also end in Cincinnati. The original Porkopolis! While some argue, that “Porkopolis” was not a compliment to Cincinnati, I say it’s all a matter of perspective. If you didn’t know, Cincinnati was the original hog butcher to the world until around around 1860, after which Chicago far exceeded Cincinnati in the number of hogs being killed each year. That along with the fact that the majority of Cincinnati’s population was of German descent looking to make sausage go a little further for their families, it’s safe to call goetta a rightful by-product of Porkopolis. “Like Pennsylvanian scrapple or North Carolinian livermush, goetta takes scraps of meat that would otherwise get thrown away—pork, sometimes beef, or offal—and combines them with grains. The resulting mixture is then spiced, smushed into a loaf, sliced, and pan fried to crispiness.”
For better or for worse… we ate goetta… and a lot of it. Goetta is as familiar as a dollar bill to me and anyone in the surrounding areas… But, drive more than 100 miles in any direction out of Cincinnati, walk into the next Waffle House and order goetta, and they’ll look at you like you had two heads.
Respect to the spice mix, but the magic is in the process
You can find many goetta recipes around the internet, with many clever variations, but there’s not a lot of talk about the creation process. I have a goal to make the goetta I remember eating in the 70’s-80’s. It was Glier’s… made just across the river in Covington, Kentucky. There were others too… but this is the one my parents bought, and so you might say I was indoctrinated. “Glier’s has the distinction of containing offal… pork hearts and pork skin, which appear as headcheese-like dark pink chunks in the otherwise pale gray raw patties and give Glier’s a noticeable funky smell before it’s fried. That funk, as pork enthusiasts are well aware, translates into wonderful depth of flavor.”
How it cooks, matters!
I cook my goetta in a cast iron skillet on medium heat and have a special splash screen I use to catch the many exploding oats. Goetta should cook up right, browning but not sticking or burning before it does. I shouldn’t have to oil or lube up the skillet either. Truly crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. When the oats snap and pop while cooking, you know it’s right, because they were not overcooked during the initial cooking stage. These things matter when you are trying to recreate nostalgia. I did reduce the amount of water in this recipe from the suggestion of some friends… but not enough! Before I add another note about the reduction of water (and credit to those who told me), see my original process below. I’ll speak more about less water after you see the results of this batch.
The recipe (and my process)
This would be considered a double batch, with the water reduced further.
- 3.75 cups of water
- 2 chicken boullion cubes
- 6 bay leaves
Put the above in a pot on the stove and bring to a boil, hold for a few minutes until the boullion is dissolved, then add:
- 12 oz. steel cut oats (pinhead oats)
Reduce heat to low stirring until the oats have absorbed all the water. In another bowl, measure and combine:
- 2 T cracked black pepper
- 3 T sea salt
- Any other spice variants you like (I added nothing)
I was going all out here and I ground all my meats for this one, but you can use ground if you don’t want to make a day of it. I had some good quality 50/50 pork back-fat, pig skin, and a large roast on hand. I cut the roast and the pig skin into chunks ahead of time and re-froze. The day of, I pulled it all out and ground it through a course die while it was still mostly frozen. I followed all the same rules as stuffing fresh sausages… making sure the meat, fat, and even my grinder attachments and trays were very cold to reduce any fat smear.
- 2.3lbs. ground pork (again, this was 50/50 pork/fat. I would have preferred it a bit leaner)
- 1.5lbs. ground beef
I have an abundance of pig skin. My childhood goetta calls for it, so… The skin should render out an amount of collagen during cooking that breaks down with the fat to help congeal the final loaves let the goetta lube up the skillet on its own. I added:
- .5lbs. of pig skin
I had a pork heart too… but since it wants to become a pork heart pastrami, I held off. I was thinking I’ll try chicken hearts in the next batch after this seasons chicken harvest.
Once the oats have absorbed the water, and have somewhat cooled, they should be pretty thick (see the pics). Mix the oats, the salt and pepper, and the ground meats, fat and skin together with your hands in a large bowl. I started with a potato masher, but ended up using my hands to get it all integrated. Once mixed, put it in a crockpot on the high setting for 2 hours. You want to stir well at least every 15 minutes during this time. Taste it after two hours to check your seasoning. You can make any adjustments here, if desired. I ended up cooking for a little over 2 hours.
Cut the heat and prepare your loaves. I opted to use these stoneware mini bread pans that my wife has. I lined them with plastic wrap, and spooned the goetta filling into each, packing a little with the spoon to get the air out. I wrapped the plastic wrap over the top and put in the freezer to set.
The cook test
I was really excited to slice and cook up the first piece of goetta. I sliced off a few pieces and tossed them in my iron skillet. It looked right. It seemed to lube up the skillet the way it should. It smelled awesome, both out of the freezer… and while it cooked. I waited a bit anxious to flip it and see how the other side browned up. To my dismay, it wasn’t right. First, the piece of goetta wasn’t holding together. It had a degree of crispiness that seemed to fall apart when I want to flip it. The goetta was soft all the way through, as if it were melting. Being very careful, I waited, and gently flipped. You can see I was able to get some pieces out whole, but others were just a pile or crumbles. It was delicious, but not right.
Thoughts and adjustments
The next batch, I may increase the amount of pig skin to .75 pound… and a certain amount of chicken hearts (it should be pork heart, but this is what I have, and hey… it’s goetta, with offal in it).
I will decrease the amount of water even more… per the advice of my friends. The reduction of water in the recipe makes it so you don’t find yourself cooking to get the water out, and in the meantime turning the whole batch into a starchy broken mess. Start with less water, and add more if needed. I want to thank my friend Chris N. for sharing a recent batch of goetta he made and also Johnny over at the Bakers Biscuit (recipe), who could totally relate to the goetta dilemma. Both of these guys had the advice of using less water… even only enough to swell the oats just so much before integrating with the rest of the ingredients. Many goetta recipes I have seen call for a lot of water.
Another change I’ll be doing for the next round is cutting off the heat entirely when the water boils and I add in the oats. In the first batch above, I continued to simmer because I was trying to get the oats to absorb the water faster. Maybe letting them sit in the hot water is the ticket. It seems we just want to soften the oats, and have it absorb all of the water before adding in the meats. I have also heard of people letting the oats soak overnight. I’ll try that on even the next batch and update here when done.
If you have any thoughts or comments about goetta, your experience, or just a story, I’d love to hear from you. In the meantime, I’ll be back with an update on my next attempts to see if I can come up with a tasty goetta, that cooks up the way it should! It’s my feeling that you need to be able to give a loaf of goetta to a friend and have them be able to cook it up and hold together without them having to be careful with it… or handle it a certain way. This is the goetta I’m seeking. It’s the goetta I haven’t made yet. So keep any tips coming.