There are multiple levels of offal eating with which people are comfortable. Personally, I had not had a pig’s ear that appealed and I am adventurous, but I knew that how I had eaten them, boiled and cold, produced the most challenging texture. As a nose-to-tail devotee, I was bound and determined to figure if I could prepare the ear in a way that I liked.
I had a few requirements for doing this. First, the ears had to be crispy. The texture of ears is already very difficult, accentuating that gelatinous, chewy texture is a dangerous move. Second, the ears would need to be balanced with something spicy and acidic. With the amount of richness, it may be too much without balance. Third, the ears would need to come from a pig that was raised well. The periphery on factory hogs is typically questionable and if I am going through the process, I want them to be very good.
From last to first, I picked the ears up from Butcher and Larder having them come from Slagel Farms. They came relatively fur free and blemish free. I gave them a shave after curing. Next, I had jars of okra and turnip kimchi that would join the ears in a lettuce wrap to make ssam. The timing was perfect. The kimchi was just at the effervescent phase which really balanced the extreme rich and sticky qualities of the ear.
As for the texture of the ears, I wanted to confit them in pork fat, but instead of salting early with bayleaf, garlic, thyme, and black pepper, I opted for torgarashi, kochukaru, ginger, and garlic. I used the vacuum bag/water bath method to limit the amount of fat needed and after storing the confited ears in the fridge for a few days, the challenge was to unlock the ears from the carbonite-like ear jello mold. With the amount of gelatin in the ears, the brick in the bag had set up to a point where I had to heat the bag to separate them. After an hour in the oven crisping between two sheet pans, I cut the thick ears into strips and added them to the ssam. Each bite had so much happening. The ears were crunchy and chewy with a lot of stickiness. The kimchi was crispy, bubbly, and very spicy. The okra kimchi had become even more sticky with time. The fresh crunch of the lettuce leaf was a interesting contrast to the crisp edge of the ear.
The appeal of the ear has been made clear. As the others with me noted, who opted to simply try the ears by themselves, the texture is challenging when eaten alone and ears are clearly in the echelon of to like them, you have to be willing to be challenged by texture. When served with some opposing flavors and textures, life gets much better. I love more challenging textures when flavors pay off and there aren’t many cuts with more varied textures than the humble ear when you take your time to make it delicious.
Pig Ear Confit
- 4 pig’s ears – shaved
- 1 teaspoon torgarashi
- 1 teaspoon kochucaru
- 45 grams kosher salt
- 1/2″ piece of ginger – minced
- 2 cloves garlic – minced
- 1/2 cup pork fat