Crispy Pig's Ear Salad
Photo: Crispy pig’s ear salad with a caper/mustard vinaigrette, from Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson. In the book the recipe is called, “Sorrel, Chicory, and Crispy Ear Salad.” We used mesclun mix from our garden and some leftover iceburg from making cheeseburgers.

When we lived in London, we were compelled to return over and over to Fergus Henderson’s restaurant, St. John. Everything about the place appealed to us: the utilitarian whiteness of the ex-smokehouse room (not so much minimalism as clean negative space), the unpretentious and charming staff, and the amazing plates of pork belly, marrow bones, heart…tasty bits. We loved how they would reinterpret traditional dishes, reminding Brits of what they used to enjoy and showing them exactly why. We’d have Henderson’s famous roast bone marrow and parsley salad or a plate of smoked mackerel to start. We’d follow with pigeon or pork trotter or whatever strange but delicious special was on offer.

Once they served beef heart marinated in a spicy sauce and grilled; they called it something blandly English, but my husband knew it was really anticuchos, a Bolivian street food. My visiting brother became quite excited over a plate of porky-something with lentils, and a simple salad of dressed samphire. Observing his delighted agitation, I sat back and knew my missionary work had succeeded.

(Skip past three mouth-watering years in Japan where our focus was very much more fish oriented…)

Last week we were reminded of Fergus Henderson and his cookbook, Nose to Tail Eating: A Kind of British Cooking, when our butcher, Steve, gave us two pig’s ears for free.* Carlos simmered them for about an hour and then let them dry a bit in the fridge. He sliced them very thinly and deep fried them in a few batches. Note: deep frying pig’s ears will cause popcorn-like explosions of oil and steam to erupt from the pot.  I suggest screaming, “Holy shit!” and throwing the cover on the pot.

We had some mesclun mix in our garden that was ready for cutting, so we used that instead of the chicory in the recipe. Next time we’ll use chicory for the salad for its bitterness and ability to stand up to the caper/mustard vinaigrette. I may try to grow sorrel next year. Despite the substitutions, it was delicious: crunchy porky ear croutons on a tart salad. Worth having to take apart the entire stovetop to clean up the splattered oil. (We’re wondering if drying the ears in the oven for a while would reduce the moisture content, and thus the splattering.)

* To obtain free pig’s ears, frequent an actual butcher (ours is called “Steve,” but they go by other names). Linger in his shop discussing the various edible parts of cows and pigs. Special order beef heart or old-breed bone-in pork chops. Buy a lot of meat over the course of a year. Muse aloud about what he might have back in the cooler that he can’t sell to the more queasy customers. Accept pig’s ears. Make salad.

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