The other thing I picked up last weekend down on Arthur Avenue (along with the tongue) was a package of pig’s ears. Hard to pass these up after reading Michael Symon’s Live to Cook, and I’d love to try them (along with his beef cheek pierogies) at Lola in Cleveland at some point. I made the ears last year for a party and they were a big hit. (I also mentioned them recently to a colleague, who chided me for using the word “unctuous” to describe something so glowingly, but I’m not quite sure how else to put it. They’re crispy on the outside, with a pleasantly fatty/chewy/unctuous inside. It wouldn’t be great by itself, the unctuous part, but wrapped in the crispityness of fried skin they’re just right.) The ears also converted several skeptics at that party, which is always fun when you’re offering offal.
I decided to try a new approach in how I cooked them this time, and the resulting dish is part Michael Symon, part Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (background reading and general inspiration), and part Ideas in Food. I’ve done Symon’s confit technique before, but I’m a little low on duck fat to completely cover them, and I don’t feel like waiting 14 hours for them to cook. (I think I gave them 12 hours last time in an overnight low oven.) In a recent post on Ideas in Food, Alex and Aki mentioned using the pressure cooker for pork skin cracklings. This certainly cuts down on time, and I thought it might be a great way to do the ears. Hugh, on the other hand, takes the slow route. He simmers them along with the head and trotters when preparing headcheese, then he saves the ears to crisp up in a pan, bistro style (from The River Cottage Cookbook). That’s not a bad way to go if you’re simmering a head. And I really like his presentation style, fried ear on a plate, even though I didn’t go in that direction this time.
Mine got the overnight salt, coriander, crushed garlic, cinnamon, and lemon zest treatment (adapted from Symon’s Live to Cook), and that mix smells great. I cooked them under high pressure for 30 minutes (with natural pressure release) along with an onion, a carrot, a teaspoon of smoked sea salt, a tablespoon of cider vinegar, and 2 cups of water. The side benefit of cooking them this way is a nice bit of quick but rich pork stock with plenty of body from the connective tissue in the ears. “Rich” might an understatement here. “Pork jelly” is a better way to put it, and it’s going into cubes in my freezer to use in beans, chili, red sauce, pan gravy for biscuits…
My first crack at frying up the ears for breakfast yesterday was unsuccessful because they were a little wet, and I don’t think the oil was hot enough. It was hot enough to pop and splatter all over the stove, but not hot enough to crisp the skin before it stuck to the bottom of the pan. Round two: put them in a 200 degree oven for 30 minutes to dry out a bit. They were tacky to the touch, but not wet anymore. That, and using the candy thermometer for the oil worked just like it was supposed to. A quick sprinkle with salt when they came out of the oil, and these turned out great. I have a few remaining ears, and I’m going to smoke them first before frying. I’m pretty excited about that idea.
Next time I might make Hugh’s tartar sauce (from The River Cottage Cookbook) to go with them. They’d be great with homemade mayo, frankly. Or I might use Suzanne Goin’s parsley-mustard sauce from Sunday Suppers at Lucque. (Her whole St. Patrick’s Day Menu is worth trying next year — if you’re looking for recipes — including gentlemen’s relish on toasts, brown scones, corned beef and cabbage with aforementioned parsley-mustard sauce, and chocolate-stout cake with Guinness ice cream.)
As Hugh says, “The slightly gristly texture of a pig’s ear may present a problem for the squeamish… …You’ll either fancy it, or you won’t.” I say give them a shot.
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Update 3/20 – If you’re going to deep fry the ears, then 30 minutes under high pressure will do, but if you’re going to grill, broil, or pan-fry them, I think a few more minutes in the pressure cooker would be a good idea. I roasted one under the broiler, flipping every few minutes, and the flavor was great (especially the skin and the meatier parts), but the cartilage was still a bit tough. This technique would also work well for pieces of pork rind leftover from making bacon, and in that case less time under pressure would be fine (try 20 minutes so they don’t dissolve into nothing).