A second recipe from Fergus Henderson’s Beyond Nose to Tail has been wooing me with its siren call (the first was trotter gear, which I’ll post about another time), and I had finally gathered enough pig’s ears together to give it a try. The dish is a pressed pig’s ear terrine, and Fergus describes it thus: “What you should have now is joyous piggy jelly, within which there is a beautiful weave of ear.” He promises that “when you bite into it, you should have that splendid textural moment of the give of the jelly and the slightest crunch of the ear cartilage.” That sweet description is spot on, and since many culinary cultures eschew both jiggly mouth-bouncy foods as well as the crunch of cartilage, be aware that the jiggly and crunchy bits are the whole delicious point of this dish.
I started by cleaning the ears thoroughly. To this task I brought a Bic razor and a thin-edged small spoon (think of the spoons meant to eat soft-boiled eggs with, a bit smaller than a teaspoon) to bear. It was a good deal of work, but finally the ears were all respectably clean and into a ziplock bag with four liters of good brine consisting of water, salt, sugar, juniper berries, peppercorns, bay leaves, and whole cloves. My fridge is full of pickles, preserves, and condiments, and it’s a small fridge, so I decided to keep my bag of brining ears in the cab of my truck. Luckily the weather has cooperated by remaining between 30F/1C and 45F/7C degrees.
When the ears had been brined for four days, I took them inside to the kitchen, rinsed them off, and soaked them in a large bowl of cold water for around 6 hours, changing the water whenever I went to make tea, maybe three times in all. I made one last inspection of the ears, shaved off a few stray bristles that I’d missed the first time around, and then I used a very sharp knife to score each of the ears a few times on the inner surface. I did this because some of the ears were more curled up or funnel-like, and I found that 3 or 4 vertical (with the tip of the ear being up and where it was attached to the head being down) scores just barely into the cartilage was enough to persuade the ear to flatten out a bit.
Then into my 13.25 quart enameled cast-iron pot they went, along with the following aromatics: celery, carrot, onion, leeks, bay leaves, rosemary, French savory, and a bundle of parsley stems. Fergus’ recipe calls for thyme rather than savory, but I had no thyme
at the time. Ahem.
Then I added enough light chicken stock to cover the ears and a dozen or so peppercorns.
..and then into a 275F/135C oven. Notice how the oven rack sags? I need to find sturdier racks for this tiny & ridiculous efficiency-sized oven. Any ideas where I can find such a thing?
I should note here that I diverged inadvertantly from Fergus’ recipe: I was meant to include three trotters in the pot, but I forgot! I didn’t discover this until three hours later, and I panicked for a moment, but then I remembered that I had lots of lovely trotter gear in the freezer, and if I needed more gelling action, I could add some of that to the pot liquor. In fact, I ended up having a lot of pot liquor, and it was more than adequately full of gelatine, and rather than needing to add trotter gear, I’ve ended up with enough fantastic pot liquor with which to make a nice soup, which I intend to do as it is really cold outside, and I’m feeling a bit of a sore throat sneaking up on me.
Onward: I fished the tender and floppy ears out of the pot and layered them as neatly and evenly as I could in my new enameled cast-iron terrine mold (which I’m completely smitten with). Fergus’ recipe calls for 14 ears, and I’d only had a dozen, but in fact I could only comfortably fit eleven into my terrine mold. Being both hungry and curious, I just ate the twelfth ear as it was, soft and sticky and warm, with the crunchy thin cartilage in the middle; it was delicious and promised a successful and yummy terrine once it was all pressed and cold.
I followed Fergus’ recommendation to cut out a rectangle of cardboard, wrapped it in two layers of cling-film, and pressed it atop the ears. It looked to me as if the terrine was already pretty juicy, so I decided to place the weights (tinned tomatoes and a medium-sized cast-iron pot) on top of the cardboard for an hour or so while the terrine cooled and then add more pot liquor if necessary. In fact I did add around 3/4′s of a cup more, though some of that spilled over the edge of the terrine once I reapplied the weights, but only a few tablespoons worth.
An hour or two later, the terrine was cooled to room temperature, so I removed the weights but left the cardboard cut-out in place, put the lid on the terrine, and into the fridge overnight.
This morning at 7:00 I lifted the pressed pig’s ear terrine out of the mold and just marveled at it. It was wonderfully solid and dense, and with a sharp knife I cut a thin slice off the end and popped it into my mouth. Delicious!
Another half-dozen slices on a plate with a few cornichons, and I was curled up on the sofa with breakfast.
I wonder if to a connoisseur my jelly might be a tad too firm or rubbery, but to me it tastes and feels wonderfully giving and bouncy. The delicate cartilage is really quite surprisingly crunchy, and agreeably so. I wondered if I’d salted the dish enough, and I think because I had to add so little reduced (and salted) pot liquor at the end that it didn’t get quite as much salt as I would like next time around. But all of these are very minor quibbles; I love this dish and will make it again next time I’m rolling in pig’s ears.
A few observations: these ears came from six Hampshire pigs, and some of these pigs were black and white, and therefore some of the ears were black (well, more of a dark grey). I scrubbed both versions very well, but some of the grey-black pigment remains and makes for a slightly darker cooked ear. One interesting consequence of this is that where the pig’s skin is white or pink, the bristles are white-blond, and where the skin is grey-black, the bristles are black. Though I did a very thorough job of shaving all the bristles off, each bristle has a follicle which penetrates into the flesh, and while this sub-skin bristle is entirely invisible in the pink ears, you can, when you slice into the terrine, see a few bits of black bristle between skin and cartilage. While this may be visually offputting to some (it didn’t bother me in the least), you can’t actually feel them either with a fingertip nor in your mouth. But if you wanted to make this dish for friends who are doubtful, I’d stick with pink pig’s ears.