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In my family, goetta is a labor of love. It isn’t a difficult recipe, but it takes time.” I am speaking with Katie Fox, a dear friend with northern Kentucky and German family ties. Her emotional connection to goetta is clear, and there is no question it is inherent.
A hyperlocal tradition, the making and subsequent love of goetta—a mixture of sausage, beef and oats slowly simmered until thick as molasses and then fried until crisp—took root in northern Kentucky in the late 1700s, when German immigrants settled the land south of the Ohio River. Resources were slim and oats were blended with any and all parts of the animal, stretching the meat as far as possible, giving goetta that stick-to-the-ribs quality found in most workingman’s recipes. Also found with peasant-based dishes such as goetta is a lasting fondness, a sense of place that becomes strongly ingrained in a culture over time.
“For our family, goetta is a must-have on Christmas morning,” says Katie, who at a young age inherited her family’s goetta recipe, the specifics of which trace back to her great-great-grandmother, Euphonia Depenbroch Hunt. Euphonia shared the recipe with her own daughter, Annabelle Hunt Sanning, who then passed on this family tradition to her daughter, Ann, Katie’s grandmother. Katie tells me of the large metal meat grinder she would watch her grandmother haul out of storage every Christmas, clamping it to the edge of the counter to churn the meat, their dogs rejoicing in the heaven of pork fat that would drip to the floor below.
While Katie’s family recipe calls for only pork, I found the inclusion or omission of beef the primary divergence in otherwise similar recipes. My personal experience with goetta had been limited to a brief visit to Covington years earlier, where I sampled a thin, crispy patty of the local delicacy alongside eggs and potatoes. With a short ingredient list, I was confident that goetta had greater applications than breakfast, and I set about making my own batch.
Onto the stove went a large pot, and into the pot went nearly every ingredient on the list at once: stock, oats, meat and seasoning. These were stirred to combine and sent off to the oven for a warm, languid simmer. With each hour that passed, the mixture became thicker, more dense, until finally, at hour four, I found my arms straining slightly as I pulled my wooden spoon through this porridge of sorts. The only redeeming quality to the pot full of muted tones and unattractive stewed meats and oats was the smell. The scent of comfort and simplicity floated upward from my pot of goetta. It is as familiar a scent as that of bread dough rising, as nostalgic an aroma as freshly baked cookies. I know this fragrance. Goetta is comfort food at its core. It is a food born of necessity, a dish created with all of the extras, crafted using the age-old notion of waste not, want not.
In Germany, goetta traditionally was served straight from the pot, porridge-style, with torn pieces of bread for scooping and dipping. Storing goetta after cooking allowed a firmer texture to develop, and the habit of transferring goetta to loaf pans so it could set overnight to be sliced and fried the next morning became the preferred way of enjoying the dish in Covington and beyond.
While the debate of pork alone versus pork and beef remains fervent, goetta is the type of dish that lends itself to virtually any flavor profile you choose to impart upon it. A basic batch of goetta calls for little more than salt, pepper and a bay leaf, each of these simple yet essential seasonings coaxing out the natural essence of the beef and pork. Add a teaspoon of cayenne, a tablespoon of cumin and a healthy dash of garlic powder, and things suddenly will change, the formerly simple mix taking on a decidedly Southwestern tone. It is a recipe that needs no adjustment, yet presents itself as malleable.
My research into the world of goetta confirmed that there are two elements to the dish that shouldn’t be altered: the use of pork and frying the goetta until it is crisp and caramelized around the edges. As I placed my first slice on a warm skillet greased with plenty of butter, I understood quickly why the latter is especially key. My goetta seared and crackled as it began to heat through, the edges curling up and inward as they browned. As instructed in various goetta recipes, I carefully pressed my spatula onto the top of the meat, creating a thinner patty. After another minute, I did a quick flip and was delighted to see a beautifully browned, oh-so-slightly blackened crust greet me on the other side. It was screaming for the runny yolk of an egg, the crunchy edges the ideal base for a variation of my favorite breakfast combo.
I piled my first slice of hot goetta high with freshly shredded cheddar, layered it with bright green avocado, and topped it with a soft-boiled egg. After a quick dressing of sriracha and a shower of parsley, my goetta was all dressed up, delicious on its own but made even more so with the crack of the yolk in my soft-boiled egg. The caramelized edges being my favorite part of the goetta patty, my mind conjured a salad, fresh lettuce and a creamy blue cheese dressing, crunchy goetta croutons tossed throughout.
As I drift down the road of goetta possibilities, Katie reminds me that sometimes tradition need not be altered. “We fry until crisp and top with salt,” she says. “For us, that is it, plain and simple.”
A Goetta for Every Taste
Pork and Beef Goetta
Using various herbs, spices and other ingredients, the versatile dish can be prepared and enjoyed in a number of ways. Here are just a few.
4 cups beef stock
4 cups water
2½ cups steel-cut oats
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon marjoram
5 teaspoons kosher salt
3 teaspoons black pepper
¾ pound ground beef chuck
1¼ pounds ground pork shoulder
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Pour beef stock and water into a large cast-iron pot. Bring to a low boil on the stovetop and add the oats and spices, followed by the ground chuck and pork. Stir well, breaking the meat apart with a wooden spoon.
2. Cover the pot, place in the oven, and cook for four hours. Stir the mixture once every hour, continuing to break apart the meat and to blend the mixture. After three hours, taste the goetta and adjust the seasonings to your preference.
3. Transfer the goetta into greased loaf pans. Cover, allow to cool, and refrigerate overnight.
4. The next morning, warm a skillet over medium heat until hot. Cut the goetta into half-inch slices. Add one tablespoon of unsalted butter to the pan and add the goetta.
5. Fry on one side for two to three minutes until crispy and then flip, pressing down on each slice. Cook an additional two to three minutes until browned, and then transfer to a plate.
Goetta and Eggs
2 tablespoons cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1 slice of goetta, cooked until crisp and warm
4 slices avocado
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly cracked black pepper to taste
Sriracha and parsley for garnish
1. Place a medium pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil. Gently place the egg in the pot and boil exactly six minutes. Transfer the egg to a small bowl of ice water to “shock” it, keeping the egg from cooking further.
2. Place the cheese on the warm goetta and top with the avocado. Remove the shell from the egg and place it on the avocado.
3. Sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Top with sriracha and parsley.
Salad with Goetta Croutons and Blue Cheese
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup goetta, rolled into teaspoon-sized balls
¼ cup heavy cream
¼ cup mayonnaise
¼ cup sour cream
3-4 ounces blue cheese
Juice from half a lemon
Pinch of kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 package grape tomatoes
1 medium red onion, sliced
1 medium green pepper, diced
1. Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add the small balls of goetta to the pan and cook through, turning until the goetta is crisp and browned on all sides. Set aside.
2. For the dressing, place the heavy cream, mayonnaise, sour cream, blue cheese, lemon juice, salt and black pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and adjust by adding more blue cheese as desired.
3. Top the lettuce with the tomatoes, onion, green pepper and goetta croutons. Serve with the blue cheese dressing.
Annabelle Sannings Goetta Recipe
12 cups water
4 pounds pork (roast or tenderloin), cut into 1½-inch slices
5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
4 cups pinhead or steel-cut oatmeal
1. Pour the water into a pot and add the pork. Boil until the pork is well done. Remove the pork from the water (saving the water) and cool. When cool, grind the pork in a meat grinder or food processor.
2. Bring the remaining pork-flavored water to a boil, and add the salt, pepper and oats. Cover and cook oats over low heat for one hour, stirring every five minutes. The oatmeal will become thick and is ready when it becomes hard to stir.
3. When the oatmeal is ready, add the ground pork and mix thoroughly. Pour the mixture into greased loaf pans and allow to cool. When ready to eat, remove the loaf from the pan and slice. Cook in a skillet with butter. Allow the goetta to brown well before attempting to turn. Use low heat for best results.