So here’s steps 2 and 3 of project pig’s ear, and a quick new favorite technique (well, old technique actually) for pickled peppers.
First, there’s the issue of the recipe. David Lebovitz’s recipe for pickled peppers is actually adapted from Ruhlman’s, which is actually Michal Symon’s from Live to Cook. But instead of making a vinegar pickle, I opted for a natural one:
I picked a mix of sweet and medium hot peppers, quartered the red bell pepper, sliced the hot ones, quartered an onion, and threw 5-6 whole garlic cloves all together into a 5% brine (seasoned with a tsp of coriander seeds, 1/2 t brown mustard seeds, a few cloves, a bay leaf, and 1 dry red chili), weighted them down in the jar, and let them pickle in a cool basement for 7-8 days. That turned out nice. Mildly pickley, medium hot, really good flavor. I removed the vegetables, rinsed and sliced them thinly, boiled and cooled the brine, and repacked them into a smaller jar, added a touch of red pepper flakes to boost the heat, and covered with cooled brine to store in the fridge. This doesn’t exactly strike me as relish, although that’s what it tastes like, but it looks more like a slaw, although there’s no cabbage. It’s fresh, cruchy, salty, and spicy. Maybe it’s a salad.
After the 24 hour salt and spice cure, the ears went onto the grill for smoking, and to dry out, since throwing wet or gooey ear strips into hot oil is a recipe for huge mess. (Lesson learned last year when I first made them.) I opted to smoke-roast these over hickory chips (indirect) instead of cold smoking because it was raining yesterday, and it was the easier of the two setups. And smoking is a good idea, by the way. I recommend it. Whichever method you do, dry them out. If you don’t smoke them, put them in a low oven for an hour or two on parchment. The dryer they are, the better they’ll fry.
The smoke was a huge hit from a flavor perspective. It should come as no shock that the flavors of salt, orange zest, coriander, cinnamon, hickory, and pork go together. The house smelled great when they were in the pressure cooker, and they smelled like barbecue again yesterday, like wood smoke and bacon. This is such a great cold weather snack. *Mental note to make this again in the fall when there are leaves on the ground and apples in the house.
I cut these into strips because they were more of an appetizer for a pot-luck party. You could also cut each ear into only 3-4 pieces if you wanted larger “chips.”
I fried these in batches in rice bran oil, then removed them to paper towels to dry. They’re best right out of the fryer, and I found out today that they don’t travel so well. It happened to be pretty humid, and although reheating them in the oven helped a little bit, they were not nearly as good as when they were hot and crispy. (The kids loved ‘em when they were fresh at home, and they were upset that I was taking them away to a party. Really.) The flavor was spot-on, but they got chewier with time, which not everyone was excited about. The combination with pickled peppers is straight out of Michael Symon’s Live to Cook. He loves pork and pickles in general, and the fatty/acidic combo of this dish in particular; the Crispy Pig’s Ear from Lola in Cleveland. I agree; these were really nice together.