Pork roll, or Taylor Ham–it doesn’t really matter what you call it–has become as iconic to New Jersey food culture as cheese steaks have to Philly or pizza has to New York. It’s that savory and salty sliced sausage-like meat that you can find at almost every Jersey diner or deli for breakfast or on a late-night menu. People love it so much that there’s a website you can use to have it shipped all over the country, because it’s really hard to get your hands on it outside of the New Jersey/New York area.
I was born in New Jersey, but then lived in Florida for a few years as a young child. When my family moved back to the Garden State, one of my first “new” food memories was of my grandmother frying up some sunny-side eggs and Taylor Ham for lunch. The aroma filled her house and seduced me to come in from playing outside in the yard. My younger brother was captivated by the tangy flavor of the meat that was even more delicious after dipping it in the runny egg yolk on your plate. He was a toddler at the time when he would request “hats” for breakfast or lunch, since the round slices puff up in the center before the first flip when you fry them, reminded him of little sombreros.
My daughter’s first food that she was able to stab with her fork when learning to eat with silverware was pork roll. The familial love for pork roll must be genetic because she developed a liking for its salty satisfying flavor, too. One of my new favorite pastimes is walking up to the WaWa first thing in the morning and grabbing their version of a pork roll, egg, and cheese on a bagel, and bringing it to the beach with me in my bag. This way I can enjoy the sunrise over the ocean and hear the sound of waves crashing, as I sink my teeth into bite after buttery bite of breakfast at the Jersey shore.
A few months ago I came across an expansion of the Jersey deli delicacy’s use at the Riverside Grill when I tried their “Dirty Jersey Burger”–Taylor Ham, a fried egg, and cheese served on a bun with your burger. It’s now my favorite way to enjoy my beef on a bun. (As a side note, I’m learning that serving a fried or poached egg and savoring the yolk as it breaks open over many dishes enhances enjoyment of the experience: salads, pasta, and now even on a burger to boot!)
Pork roll. Taylor Ham. If you’re from "Jersey" it’s a pretty sure bet you know what this is. But, there are very staunch ideas about the "correct" way to prepare and enjoy it. My friends and I were having a discussion recently about just that point.
I think a majority agreed that the quintessential "pork roll, egg & cheese" (sandwich) all begins when you start out with one of those irreplaceable New York/New Jersey bagels you find in any coffee shop or deli throughout the state. The bagel needs to be lightly toasted and sufficiently buttered, though; and the butter needs to melt.
But the first point of contention was: do you serve it up with pork roll, egg, and cheese? Or do we omit the egg? I vote for leaving the egg on it. I’ve had it with a scrambled, fried, or an over-easy egg, where you bite into the sandwich and the gooey yellow yolk oozes out a bit and makes a wondrous flavorful sauce to the sandwich. Oh, and the egg, if you choose to put it in this classic New Jersey breakfast sandwich–must be in the middle, according to most NJ residents who have weighed in on the subject. The combination apparently dictates the order of the layers in its name. Who knew?
I say that true Jerseyites serve it up, warm and toasty, so the melty butter drips over the juicy pork roll, and the gooey cheese. However, there are those that doctor it up with ketchup, mustard, or both.
No matter how you enjoy it, this mouthwatering creation is so notorious; you don’t even need to explain that it is a sandwich! "Pork roll, egg and cheese" will suffice when placing your order at any roadside diner.
Some people like their pork roll served up on a bagel, others vote for a roll, some say the roll needs to be very specific: a Kaiser roll at that, and yet there is another camp of Jerseyites who says that an English muffin is the way to go.
Then we have the cheese argument. The most popular choice that I’ve seen people agree on is use American cheese when possible. Coming in second place in the informal survey was cheddar.
Pork roll also comes in two thicknesses: regular and thick–and I recently learned you can even slice your own. However you slice it or have it sliced, it didn’t seem to make a difference when composing a pork roll, egg and cheese. As long as you have it on your sandwich, you’re good to go.
Beyond the sandwich, I find frying it up and enjoying it with some eggs on the side works just fine. And now that I know a burger can be improved upon when adding a slice or two, why not add that to the repertoire of recipes as well!
For those testing out the pork roll waters for the first time, here’s what I recommend to do.
Fry an egg side by side with two slices of pork roll in a pan with melted butter. Flip the pork roll once while cooking. Lightly toast a bagel. Slather the bagel with butter. Stack the pork roll, egg, and then a slice of American cheese in-between the top and bottom of the sliced bagel, and voila! It’s a few slices of heaven in your hands.
Several slices of pork roll come in a box and sometimes you may not use them all. Or, if you order your pork roll online, you might be wondering what to do with the extra amounts you receive. Did you know that you can freeze the extra packages of pork roll that you don't want to use up right away? Just throw them in the freezer as soon as they arrive–package and all–unopened. And once you open a package of pork roll, just re-wrap the unused slices in some waxed paper followed by some foil, and it will keep in your refrigerator deli bin for three to four days.
What’s your favorite way to enjoy pork roll? I’m sure it has a lot of versatility and enjoyability!