Sunday, February 05, 2012

Snacking State-by-State: New Jersey III: Triple Bypass and make it snappy! (or "Now we're on a [pork] roll")

Once you cross the Mason-Dixon Line, you enter a world of meats that you don't really see too often in Baltimore.  There's scrapple (ick), which is not uncommon in Baltimore but still more of a Pennsylvania thing.  And there's the pork roll (the South Jersey name for what is known in North Jersey as "Taylor ham").  Pork roll is a New Jersey original, which I had seen on occasion at the Eddie's of Roland Park.  But apart from that, I had absolutely no clue what it was.  It was time to find out.

Official Name: State of New Jersey
State Nicknames: The Garden State
Admission to the US: December 18, 1787 (#3)
Capital: Trenton (10th largest)
Other Important Cities: Newark (largest), Jersey City (2nd largest), Paterson (3rd largest)
 Northeast, Mid-Atlantic; Middle Atlantic (US Census)
Bordered by: Delaware and Delaware Bay (southwest); Pennsylvania (west); New York (north and northeast); Atlantic Ocean (east)
Official State Foods and Edible Things: honeybee (for the honey, not the bee); brook trout (fish); knobbed whelk (shell)
Some Famous and Typical Foods: Italian, Italian, and more Italian; diner foods; pork roll (aka Taylor ham); "ripper" dogs and various preparations thereof; very diverse cuisines (including Italian, Indian, South American, etc) around Philadelphia (southwest) and New York City (northeast); Did I mention Italian?

What exactly is this "pork roll" thing?  Well first of all, as Jane & Michael Stern point out in their 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late (I love this book), not all Jerseyites call it "pork roll":  In fact, they refer to it by the North Jersey name of "Taylor ham"
Taylor ham, which is what Spam would be if it went to the gym on a regular basis, is a big, coarse-textured sausage that arrives in burlap and is sliced thin like bologna - but not too thin - and pan-fried like bacon... [It] is a wanton comfort food that no high-on-the-hog pork can match. [Stern & Stern 2009:111]
Surprise of surprises, there is actually a pork roll page.  And they point out that the "pork roll"/"Taylor ham" divide is pretty much through the middle of the state, with folks closer to Philly calling it "pork roll" and those nearer to New York City calling it "Taylor ham".  The Jersey Pork Roll page suggests that maybe Middletown (actually in North Jersey but you can draw a line northeast-southwest to Trenton from there) is the dividing line?  From their page:
A few weeks ago [Me: around 2005, week unknown] I heard from two different people originally from Brooklyn, NY, and they both called it Taylor Ham, but a woman in Queens knew it as pork roll. [ 2005]
If anyone has any thoughts about where the pork roll/Taylor ham mini-Mason-Dixon Line lies, the author Kate gives her email on the same page if you want to let her know.

The Jersey Pork Roll page also has many recipes for this first cousin to Spam and bologna.  But I was inspired by the Sterns and the Roadfoodsters, as I have been with so many sandwiches (note: Illinois' Horseshoe sandwich, Indiana's breaded pork tenderloin sandwich, Iowa's loosemeats, Missouri's St. Paul sandwich, etc, etc. Hey, why are all these sandwiches from the Midwest anyway?)  They talk about a diner favorite, the combo of pork roll, egg cooked however you want it, and yellow cheese in a hard roll.  This sandwich is known as the "Triple Bypass" in diner speak [Stern & Stern 2009:111].  And why not give a nod to the diner, seeing as how New Jersey is the diner capital of America, if not the world?

The Recipe: Pork Roll (Taylor Ham) "Triple Bypass"

For this sandwich - which you must eat in moderation, since three slices of pork roll amount to about 200 calories - you will need just a few ingredients:

* pork roll/Taylor ham (one sandwich typically has three slices of pork roll, pan fried.  It is becoming more common to see it here in Maryland, though I've never really seen it except in the Eddie's of Roland Park or Graul's (where one enthusiastic cashier told me how he grew up on the stuff in Jersey and just loves it.  Apparently they sell it in large loaves that you can slice yourself.  I've only ever seen it in the pre-sliced format through the Taylor pork roll company, for about $4.  Also note: Jerseyites point out that "Taylor pork roll" is just a brand name, while "Taylor ham" is the North Jersey name for pork roll).
* eggs (a sandwich may have two eggs, cooked to specification.  I default to "scrambled" in this situation)
* yellow cheese (two slices, or more if angioplasty sounds like a good thing for the future)
* butter (this isn't health food here, people.  Just give up and fry the damn thing in butter.  I used a tablespoon)
* hard roll (one per sandwich)

Take out three slices of pork roll...

...and score them.  This is what cooks in New Jersey typically do to their pork roll slices to keep them from curling at the edges.  My mother, who hasn't heard of pork roll before, used to fry up bologna when I was much younger and wrap it around a hot dog.  However she never scored it, so it did indeed curl up around the edges.

Melt your butter in a pan.

Scramble those eggs (or cook them some other way that is conducive to being placed on a sandwich)

When the eggs are done, put the pork roll in the pan (really, I don't think it matters if you do the eggs or the pork roll first).

See the scoring?  I see why they do that now.

Fry until it is done to your liking.  This looks good for me.

Melt the cheese, preferably not in the pan like I did.  If for some odd reason you do this leave it in the pan literally for three or four seconds before removing.  Or just melt it on the roll in a toaster or microwave.

And now for the assembly: slice your hard roll and put the cheese on one side.

Place the pork roll slices on top.

And then add the eggs.  This is my guesswork here.  Perhaps it's layered in a different way.  I don't know.  It's all going to look the same going in.

I felt a little guilty eating this.  It was so buttery and fattening, and the pork roll does taste like a cross between Spam, bologna and Canadian bacon, and about half as soft as Spam.  I'm probably not going to buy lots of this stuff in the future, but at least I know what the pork roll tastes like!

UPDATE - As Minx pointed out, she has never had any trouble finding pork roll locally.  So I tried to find it at my local Giant.  BAM! There it was, AND not just the pre-sliced Taylor brand but also the unsliced blob.  I guess I just never knew to look for it, so I didn't know it was there.  Silly me!


Accidental Scientist (Exploratorium).  "Saltwater Taffy Recipe".  Date unknown.  © The Exploratorium,, 2011

Cristaldi, Justin R.  "Little Italy Across the Hudson".  PRIMO Magazine, September/October 2001.  Copyright Cristaldi Communications 1999-2001.

Giudice, Teresa, with Heather MacLean.  Skinny Italian: Eat It and Enjoy It - Live La Bella Vita and Look Great, Too!  Hyperion: New York, 2010

Jersey Pork Roll (  "What is pork roll?"  Published 2005.  Copyright JerseyPorkRoll 2011.

Schwartz, Arthur.  Naples at Table: Cooking in Campania.  HarperCollins: New York, 1999.

Stern, Jane, and Michael Stern. 500 Things to Eat Before It's Too Late. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt: Boston, 2009.

Virtual New Jersey Shore (  "Salt Water Taffy at the Jersey Shore". Published 1999.  Copyright New Jersey MetroNET, Inc., 1999.

Some information also obtained from Wikipedia's "New Jersey" page and other pages, and the Food Timeline State Foods link to "New Jersey".


theminx said...

We bought Taylor Pork Roll regularly at both Superfreshes at Towson Place and Timonium, and I'm pretty sure they have it at most other non-gourmet grocery stores. I don't remember ever *not* seeing it in Baltimore.

Anonymous said...

The Safeway in Canton has pork roll -- both in roll form and 8-slice boxes. Unfortunately they don't have the thick sliced 4-slice boxes!

John said...

Really? I don't ever remember seeing it! Maybe I just wasn't looking for it :\