Seemingly an “of the moment” (i.e. trendy) ingredient in many restaurants and pubs these days, pig’s ears have been gnawed on by Filipinos since, like, forever. Prepared properly, a pig’s ear can be meltingly tender, rich, fatty, chewy, or crispy–and ideally, all of these things at once thanks to the unique make up of a pig’s ear: tough cartilage that can be made soft and chewy, a bit of meat and fat, and a whole lot of skin that can be crisped into ear chicharrones.
When marinated in soy, vinegar, citrus, and spices, then grilled over hot coals, pig’s ears go by the name of “Walkman” in the Philippines (ears, headphones, Walkman, get it?). Pig’s ears are also a main component in the Filipino street food favorite, Sisig. In either of these Filipino pig ear dishes, or for any dish that uses pig’s ears, the ears are usually boiled over a long period of time to tenderize the tough cartilage within.
But now armed with a SousVide Supreme machine, I decided to try the precise temperature control of the water bath to tenderize my pork flaps. But instead of simply vacuum sealing the ears by themselves in a bag, then tossing them into the Sousvide Supreme, I first cured the ears under vacuum with a simple mixture of salt, black pepper, sugar, smoked paprika, bay leaf, and garlic. The cure is not only meant to add flavor to the ears, but it also helps in preserving the ears as well.
The Cure on The Walkman–just like in the ’80s!
After curing in the refrigerator for a couple of days, the pig’s ears are then rinsed to completely wash away the spices, then patted dry with paper towels. To cook and tenderize the ears, I knew I wanted to confit them in the SousVide machine, but confit them in what sort of fat? Unlike that one time where I made a Duck Adobo Confit, I didn’t have any duck fat laying around. But I did have plenty of coconut oil! I knew a coconut oil confit would probably cause some old school French chef across the seas to feel a great disturbance in the force, but I also knew that coconut oil would impart a great, though unconventional, flavor to these ears.
So I placed the cured, rinsed, and dried ears in another set of vacuum bags, then plopped in a couple tablespoons of solidified coconut oil into each bag. After vacuum sealing the ears and oil in the bags, I then dipped them into the SousVide Supreme set at 185 degrees F for 24 hours. After confit-ing for 24 hours, the ears are incredibly tender. At this point, the ears can be removed from the confit and placed directly in hot oil for crisping. But encased in their coconut oil confit and vacuum sealed, the packets of confited pig’s ears can be stored in the fridge for months.
To deep-fry the ears, I used canola oil. I thought deep-frying in coconut oil would be overkill, and the neutral flavor of the canola oil wouldn’t mask any of the coconut oil flavor left from the confit. Since the ears are already cooked through and tender from their overnight stay in the SousVide Supreme, it didn’t take long for them to crisp up–maybe three to four minutes.
Crispy on the outside, tender on the inside
After becoming golden brown and delicious in the hot oil, the crispy ears are drained on paper towels, sprinkled with a touch of Ilocano sea salt, then immediately sliced to let the steam escape and prevent the ears from becoming soggy. The results? Effing pork-tastic! These crispy pig ears had just the right amount of salt and spice from the cure, and a very nice (not overpowering) hint of coconut flavor from the coconut oil. The skin was beautifully crunchy, while the interior cartilage and traces of meat were incredibly tender and laced with pork fat throughout. For a dipping sauce, I like to serve a standard Filipino garlic and vinegar dip to cut through the richness of the pork. All in all, these pig’s ears are a great accompaniment to a cold beer.
- This recipe is for 2 pig's ears, but it can be easily doubled.
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 teaspoon raw sugar
- 2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 fresh, cleaned pig's ears
- 4 tablespoons coconut oil, divided
- Canola oil
- Fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped fine
- 1/4 Filipino coconut vinegar, or white distilled vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
- Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- Red chili flakes, to taste
- Place the salt, paprika, black pepper, and sugar in a small bowl and stir to combine.
- Place each of the pig's ears in a separate sous-vide vacuum bag, along with a clove of garlic and a bay leaf in each bag.
- Evenly divide the cure among the pig's ears, making sure both sides of the ears are covered in the cure.
- Vacuum seal the bags, then place in the refrigerator for 48 hours.
- Fill the SousVide Supreme with water and heat to 185 degrees F.
- Remove the pig's ears from the cure, and rinse the ears under cold running water to completely wash away the cure spices. Pat the ears dry with paper towels.
- Place each of the pig's ears in another set of sous-vide vacuum bags, then add 2 tablespoons of the coconut oil to each bag.
- Vacuum seal the bags and place them into the sous-vide machine for 24 hours.
- If frying immediately, remove pig's ears from vacuum bags, disposing of liquid in the bags.
- If storing pig's ears, leave them sealed in the bags, and store in the refrigerator. Before frying, remove cold pig's ears from bags and scrape off solidified fats from the ears using a spoon.
- Pour canola oil into a deep pot or Dutch oven to reach a depth of 2-3 inches. Heat oil over medium-high heat until it reaches 375 degrees on a deep-fry thermometer.
- Working in batches if necessary, gently place the ears in the hot oil and fry, turning frequently, until the skin becomes golden brown and crisp. The pig's ears WILL splatter and spit while frying, so be sure to use a splatter screen, or the lid to the pot left ajar to let steam escape, to protect against splatters.
- Drain the pig's ears on a plate lined with paper towels and sprinkle the ears with sea salt. Immediately slice the ears, and garnish with chopped parsley.
- Combine all dipping sauce ingredients in a small bowl, and serve alongside pig's ears for dipping. Serve with cold beer.