No, really, nibble my ear!

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.

pressed pig's ear plated with cornichons

Pressed pig's ear plated with cornichons.


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.

pig ears in a pot with aromatics --carrots, celery, onions, bay leaves, peppercorns, parsley stems, savory, and rosemary.

The pig's ears in a pot with aromatics.

Then I added enough light chicken stock to cover the ears and a dozen or so peppercorns.

the pig's ears and aromatics covered in chicken stock and a dozen or so peppercorns

The pig's ears and aromatics covered in chicken stock 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?

The ears, aromatics, and stock into the oven --and a sagging oven rack

Into the oven for three or four hours.

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!

The pressed pigear terrine unmolded next to a jar of cornichon pickles.

Curvy pressed pig's ear terrine and a jar of cornichons to accompany them.

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 closeup of the end of the pressed pig's ear terrine

A closeup of the wavy pressed 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.


About mosaica

Ugly & fabulous, warm & obsessive, brilliant & dorkmeisterish: striving to be a warrior in her little context.
This entry was posted in extremities, nose-to-tail, pig's ears, pork, recipe. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to No, really, nibble my ear!

  1. birthemor says:

    Hej sweet-cakes, that was an amazing job you did here, lots of work and what a lot you have learned already on how to deal with presenting great food. Nose-to-tail from an animal you can grow yourself or get from a local farmer, fantastic Good job, I am proud of you!

    Din mor Birthe

  2. deb marshall says:

    clearly, you’re having entirely too much fun, but I could see that the other day!

    did I ever tell you about the time my mother went down to get something out of the freezer and found a whole raccoon staring up at her?

  3. Pingback: Guest Post: Pressed Pig’s Ear Terrine by Iliana Filby | Nose To Tail At Home

  4. Tom says:

    I’ve just been inspired by you to clean my local supermarket out of pigs’ ears (I live in Singapore, so it’s actually possible to do that), and will be serving this to friends at Christmas.

    The ears I got were a mixture of ear-flaps and complete ears with all of the gelatin-filled ear-sockets attached. (I’m sure there’s a better term, but I hope you know what I mean.) Can I ask which kind you had? I’m wondering whether you had full ears, and that’s why you didn’t need more gelatin – and hence whether I should whack another trotter in when I cook them down in case it doesn’t gel otherwise.

    Any suggestions would be gratefully appreciated – I love Mr Henderson’s loose style of writing recipes, but it’s great to have advice from somebody else who’s already done it. Parenthetically, moving away from butchery to vegetables, I’ve been completely converted to Green Sauce on absolutely everything.

  5. E. Nassar says:

    Got here through your guest post on Ryan’s blog. You did a great job with these puppies. They look delicious. Like I said on Ryan’s blog, these call for a good Banh Mi sandwich.

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