The Ear of the Pig

Crunchy pig's ear and egg salad.

There’s a cold braised pig’s ear in our fridge.

As you know from our last post, we butchered a pig, a whole pig, and now we’re eating the bits we brought home from the class. We froze all 55 lbs of the meat and have been eating the parts that should have been consumed fresh first. So one of the frozen bags was labeled shoulder and face. And what do we get when we pull it out of the freezer the other day? A huge ear! That ear sat in the fridge defrosting for a few days while we avoided the inevitable.

The butchering class didn’t freak us out so much but having a pig’s ear in the fridge is sort of weird. It’s not that we’re being overly squeamish it’s just that it’s a freakin’ big ear and we’ve never prepared a pig’s ear before or any animal’s ear for that matter.

The recipes we found on-line and in Bruce Aidell’s Complete Book of Pork all say how delicious pig ear is. Even while watching an episode about food in Spain on Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, which we watched in preparation of our trip in August, they featured pig’s ear as a rustic, mouth-watering, delicacy. We’re big fans of all things porcine and we were sure the ear was going to be just as tasty as, say, bacon, but we still had to come to terms with the ear before we could move on to the cooking of it.

Tasty crunchy pig parts.

Jason: I didn’t have any trouble poaching the ear. Although I really didn’t want to touch or pose it for any photos. We’ve showed enough gruesome images in the last post. The problem I’m having with the ear is more about what it represents than what it is. Whenever I think about it I become conscious of my own ears. I get a warm tingling sensation in my ears and then there’s a tightening in my chest and I think to myself that I’m forgetting to breathe, so I remind myself to breathe, and I take a deep breath.

Steve: I didn’t think anything of the ear until it was sitting there in the fridge, braised, chilled and ready for frying. We’ve seen pig ear on menus presented fried with a nice frisée salad. We watched a couple of videos of cooks frying pig ears and it looked like a lot of work. Deep-frying that ear was the last thing I wanted to do when I got home from work, but it had to be done and it was time for me to take my turn with the ear.

Jason: Alright, put on an apron and man up to the ear. Grab the knife and chop the cold ear up. It’s time to fry up some ear.

I couldn’t do it. I gave the butchering job to Steve for the night. I just couldn’t bring myself to chopping it up. I kept thinking of Vincent van Gogh and the whole ear thing.

Steve: First things first: trim the ears of any excess skin and meat at the base where it connected to the head. Then, lay it out flat and cut into half-inch strips. The strips are then tossed in a little flour and corn starch before going into oil heated to 375 degrees. I hate this part. We don’t have a proper deep fryer and the splatter of all that super hot oil freaks me out and I tend to start jumping around the kitchen like a nervous rabbit when whatever we’re frying hits that hot oil. The ear was no exception. They have a lot of water in them and it pops and spits in the bubbling oil. This kind of frying requires swim goggles and a splatter screen to avoid serious bodily harm (Jason thinks I’m nuts).

Jason: Frying doesn’t freak me out as much as Steve. I’m used to little burns and bubbling oil from my days working in professional kitchen. It’s just the smell and mess it makes that irks me. Some things, however, are worth the effort. This is one of those things.

Once we figured out the oil temperature and browning stuff, things moved quickly. We drained the crispy brown pieces on paper towels and sprinkled them with sea salt. Both their texture and flavor were perfect! We ate them over a lightly dressed salad of green leaf lettuce along with some thinly sliced pickled red onion. A soft-boiled egg nestled on top completes the dish.

Pig’s Ear Salad

Serves 2

1 pig’s ear
1 leek, chopped (or onion)
1 carrot, chopped
1 small sprig rosemary
1 clove
Canola oil (or another high burning oil)
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 tablespoon flour

1 head leaf lettuce

Pickled onions (see below)

2 soft boiled eggs (see below)

A quick salad dressing (see below)

Bring a medium sized pot of water to a simmer. Add the pig’s ear and simmer for 5 minutes to remove the scum. In another pot, add the leek, carrot, rosemary, clove and salt pour cold water over the vegetables. Remove the pig’s ear from the first pot of water and transfer to the other pot with cold water and vegetables. Place the pot on the stove and simmer for 2 ½ hours or until the ear is tender. Allow to cool in water. Once cool transfer to the fridge and refrigerate for at least 4 hours or over night. (Reserve the broth for another use. It can be refrigerated for about 1 week or frozen for 2 months.)

Heat about 3-4 cups canola oil in a medium sized stock pot until the temperature reaches 375 degrees. The oil should be about 2 – 3 inches high along the pot. In the meantime, cut up the pig’s ear (Steve, describe a bit more here). Toss with flour and cornstarch.

When the oil is up to 375 degrees, add a few ear parts at a time. Be careful the oil will splatter around. Cook for 2-3 minutes and dark brown. Remove from the pot and transfer to a plate with paper towels or a paper bag.

Pickled Onions

1 medium red onion

Using a mandoline, thinly slice the red onion. Add a non-reactive bowl and cover with your favorite vinegar. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to several days. Enjoy on tacos, salads, sandwiches, or with cheese and crackers.

Soft Boiled Eggs

2 – 4 eggs

Fill a small saucepan 2/3 full of water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Prick the round end of each egg with a sharp tack. When the water is simmering gently add them and reduce the heat to low. Cook the eggs on a gentle simmer for 7-9 minutes, depending on how runny you like your eggs.

Pour the hot water off and add cold water for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Crack the eggs and peel. If the egg is difficult to peel place under running water. Gently pat dry before serving.

Quick Salad Dressing

Vinegar (any flavor)
Olive oil (good quality, extra virgin)
Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper

Add 1 part vinegar to 2 parts olive oil with a small dab of Dijon mustard and salt and pepper to the bottom of your salad bowl. Whisk until smooth and taste with a clean, dried lettuce leaf. Adjust seasoning per taste. Place lettuce in the bowl and toss.

The Whole Hog!

Here piggy, piggy...

Confession time. Yes, we have been keeping a secret from many of you and it’s finally time to come clean. Jason was once a vegetarian and Steve, in his effort to impress Jason, was a vegan. That’s right, the two guys that cook and eat venison with passion were once PETA supporting, Birkenstock wearing, tree hugging, dirty hippies! We’re still a bit crunchy, and called dirty hippies by Steve’s co-workers, but now we have our vegetables with a side of meat. We know many of you may be shocked and dismayed and you have every right to be, but come on everything in moderation, right? Including pig.

Jason's birthday pig. It's time to BBQ!

Alas, we’ve long since abandoned the vegetarian lifestyle as we’ve embraced our inner carnivore with a bit of gusto. Now, make no mistake, we believe more than ever that a diet based on fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, beans and grains is the only means to a healthy, long life. But meat is so satisfying and so important to our nutritional well being that we can’t imagine ever forsaking it again. And nothing says carnivorous bliss quite like meaty, succulent pork.

4505 Meats at the Ferry Building's Farmers' Market. Yummy pork sausage sandwich.

We took our interest in all things porcine to a new level in April when we joined 7 other hog loving epicures at a 4505 Meats pig butchery class in San Francisco. The 9 of us, all scrubbed and in aprons, broke an entire hog down into various chops, roasts and steaks using the tools of the trade – boning knives, hacksaws, mallets, hatchets and cleavers. Indeed, this was as hands-on a butchery class as one could ever expect and it was amazing! Under the patient tutelage of 4505 Meats’ Ryan Farr, we learned to skin the pig, break it down into primal cuts, “French” chops, and de-bone hams. When we were finished with the work, we had many, many pounds of fresh pork to divide among us and virtually nothing went to waste.

Our first chop before the pan.

With our freezer full of pork we’re working our way through the different cuts. Our first meal from the pig consisted of just one  huge chop. The chops are so large that both of us are able to split one and still feel full. We grilled the chop on the stovetop and finished it in the oven seasoned with nothing more than salt and pepper. The flavor was nice and fresh, but not nearly as good as the other pig parts that we later brined before grilling. The blueprint for the brine recipe comes from 4505 Meats, with the addition of a few other ingredients and a reduction in sugar.

Pork chop with polenta.

We know we’ve been saying this often, probably too often, but it’s time for us to have a party. We’re thinking of a bbq in the park. But since summers are so darned cold in San Francisco, we might need to wait until the fall when the weather is more inviting in our foggy neighborhood. Of course, if any of our friends are up for  hosting responsibilities, we’re willing to bring the party, pig and all! Leave a note and let us know.

Spicy Pork Brine (2 – 4 pork chops or 1-2 pork loins)

Adapted from 4505 meats Spicy Brine recipe card

½ cup brown sugar
1 cup kosher salt
8 juniper berries
6 cloves
small handful of whole black peppercorns
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup red pepper flakes
4 cups water
4 cups ice

Mix all the ingredients except the ice in a sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a boil and stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Add the ice and refrigerate until very cold, around 40 degrees. Transfer the brine to a large bowl with a lid or a large zip lock bag.

For brining a pork loin leave in the solution at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours.

For pork chops leave in the brine for 4 – 8 hours.

Rinse the pork after brining and pat dry with paper towels before cooking. Grilling the meat and then finishing in the oven is the best way to eat the meat once it’s been brine, in our opinion. Be careful that the meat does not burn. The added sugar from the brine can cause a quick char to occur.