I love eating the unusual and delicious parts of cows and pigs–especially when Chef Grant van Gameren turns his hand to tongues and snouts. But I can’t think of another occasion when I have cooked a skin-on mammal body part. I know for a fact that I have never used a Bic lighter to burn the hair off an ingredient. Only about a square inch between the two ears had a few hairs left so this was just a new experience and not drudgery.
Squeamishness didn’t affect me but I was struck by how odd it was to have two pieces of meat that very obviously are pig ears on my cutting board. I reminded myself that for every pork tenderloin we eat there is also an ear and respectful meat eating should incorporate an effort to balance our consumption of the “undesirable” parts with the “desirable” ones.
Step one in pig ear cookery (well, step two I guess after the hair-burning step) calls for poaching the ears in water, salt, herbs, and vegetables. I assume the poaching works to soften the collagen and the broth helps round-out the flavour. Actually, the broth that resulted from an hour of poaching was a very pleasant by-product of the whole process. I enjoyed a couple mugs of hearty broth whose flavour and aroma reminded me subtly of haggis.
I knew that I wanted to serve the pig ears in a salad with seasonal pears but this was supposed to be an appetizer that would have to be passed so I needed a serving medium. The internet came to the rescue with an authentic lyonnaise pig ear loaf. This tasted great and a was good, secondary showcase for thin strips of poached ears. I was only disappointed that the loaf didn’t rise like the one in the picture (even though I was using fresh baking powder and a loaf pan that matched the unusual dimensions given in the recipe) and had to perform some knife acrobatics to get slices of a suitable size and shape. As I say, this loaf tasted great but any bread that integrates melted cheese tastes great so I’m not sure the pig ear really added very much.
On to the salad. Recipes for pig ear salad are pretty unanimous in requiring that the poached ears are cut into very thin strips and then deep-fried. There must have been a lot of water trapped in these strips because no matter how much I dried them or how small the batches were the oil popped and spattered like I have never experienced. It was so bad that I had my arm extended fully holding the splatter screen while I pressed myself against the refrigerator in an attempt to stay out of the splash zone of splattering oil. For once I was thankful to not be cooking over a gas flame at the cottage.
Matchsticks of peeled bosc pears (slightly under-ripe), some crumbled blue cheese and an assertively mustardy vinaigrette completed the salad. The crispy, fried strips of ear taste a bit like bacon, but without the saltiness or smokiness of bacon the association is more a textural thing. In fact, I’d say that pig ear has a fairly subtle taste. It definitely balances nicely with pears and mustard and if I can find a cleaner method (and with less potential danger) for crisping the strips of ear I’ll definitely try this again.
For fellow Torontonians wondering where they too can find pigs’ ears the No Frills at Yonge and Steeles seems to be a gold mine for all parts porcine. The fresh meat selection varies drastically between No Frills but as per usual in Toronto the more vibrantly ethnic the area the better the meat selection.
Pig Ear and Pear Salad
- 2 pig ears
- 4 bosc pears, slightly under-ripe, peeled and cut into matchsticks and held in acidulated water
- 1 tsp dijon or other assertive mustard (I used Kozlik’s Harp mustard)
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- crumbled blue cheese (optional)
- canola oil for frying
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot, roughly chopped
- 1 rib of celery, roughly chopped
- bouquet garni of a couple sprigs each of thyme, parsley, and rosemary
- 1 TB black peppercorns
- 4 cups water
- 2 TB kosher salt
Carefully use a lighter or kitchen torch to burn any remaining hair off of the pig ears. If you don’t have a lighter and/or the hair is isolated to a small area in one of the ear’s akward folds it’s fine to just cut out that piece and discard it.
Combine all of the broth ingredients and the two ears in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for an hour. Allow the ears to cool (I refrigerated them overnight); discard the vegetables; and enjoy or reserve the broth. I used one of the ears for the loaf and the other for the salad but feel free to use both in the salad.
Shortly before serving bring a couple inches of canola oil to 350F in a heavy-bottomed pan. Some recipes call for an oil temperature of 375F and that will make for crispier strips but I am concerned that it would also increase the spattering oil danger. Fry carefully, especially in this case.
Slice the ears into very thin strips, cutting perpendicular to the ear’s longest dimension. Working in batches fry the strips in the hot oil for four or five minutes or until brown and crispy. Season immediately with salt.
Prepare the vinaigrette by combining the mustard, vinegar, olive oil, and optional blue cheese in a mason jar and shake. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper (less salt if using blue cheese which is usually quite salty). Drain and dry the matchsticks of pear from the water they were held in. Combine fried strips of ear, pears, and vinagrette and serve.