If you've ever tried putting pig ear's, pig tails, pig's feet, or really any gelatinous porky part into a deep-fryer or a microwave, then of course you know all about how explosive the parts can be when exposed to heat. You have to watch out for the hot oil no matter what you're deep-frying, but the danger of getting a missile of sizzling oil is so much greater with something like a pig's tail or ear.
Once, I put about half of an ear into the microwave (partially covered, in a bowl) and not five seconds passed before a series of loud explosion-like sounds punctuated the silence of the kitchen. The skin of the ear had migrated completely from the bowl to the ceiling of the microwave, leaving a frazzled sheet of cartilage behind.
The explosive factor is one of the deterrents to my not deep-frying more frequently. A shame, since one of my favorite treats are crispy pig's ears (I've written about ears here, here, and here). A greater shame still since everything else involved in cooking ears and tails is so simple (just place them into a pot and simmer the heck out of them.) For a while I tried crisping them up in the oven, but then you have to fire up the whole oven, and the ears still sputter and get the walls of your oven greasy.
Some time ago I realized that my problem could be solved with a cast iron skillet. Instead of deep-frying, I now pan-fry the pig's ears. The ears don't turn out quite as crispy, but pig skin really wants to get crispy in oil, so it's hard not to end up with something toothsome even if all you do is very gently brown the ears in a little bit of oil in your pan. The thing to do is to move around the ears as little as possible, so as not to disturb the skin and meat that will invariably slip off the cartilage under the heat of browning.
It looks like this. It's not one of those presentable-looking dishes you'd make for a first-time pig's ear eater, perhaps, but it's a delicious and easy snack that'll have you and your guests eating by their fingers. You can serve them as-is, or add them to salads as you would lardons and other porky treats. Though salt and pepper would suffice as seasonings, I vary mine every time with whatever I have in the pantry—sweet smoked paprika, roasted and ground Sichuan peppercorn, various curry powders, Old Bay. The pig's ears could get a hit of most anything and taste very fine, indeed.
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About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.