Offal of the Week: Pig Tail and Ear

Photo by Ryan S. Adams

Ah, Offal of the Week. This week we have an extra-special treat: Our Offal of the Week author, Ryan S. Adams, will be conducting an interview on his blog of the blog Nose to Tail at Home with offal master Fergus Henderson, and you can submit a question to be asked! Ask Fergus Henderson (via Ryan) anything you want! Also, this week's Offal of the Week is: Pig Ear and Tail.

My wife and I both own this shirt. It's a picture of a pig, with a key that says everything in red are "parts that are delicious," and everything in blue are "parts that are not delicious." The whole entire pig is red. It's a funny shirt, but it's also absolutely true. These might sound like the words of a pork-obsessed crazy person, but believe me when I tell you that all the parts of the pig really are tasty. I mean all the parts, and that includes ears and tails. Despite their slightly unwieldy nature (and their sad fate, all too often, as dog chews), they're far and away among the most rewardingly flavorful porky parts.

In fact, unlike many other types of offal, their flavor is exactly that: porky. After proper cooking, they taste just like the rest of the pig, so any argument against cooking them out of a fear of some kind of terrible flavor is completely unwarranted. The only problem you might have is with the texture. Pig tails are full of bones, but that's okay as they are fairly well behaved and not too difficult to eat around. Pig ears are mostly cartilage — just like their human counterparts — so it's likely that even with proper tenderizing there will be a bit of crunch with every bite. But get past these two little issues and your taste buds should be strapped in for a flavor ride that will not disappoint.

Shake your tail

Proper preparation is key when it comes to ears and tails, as both are dearly in need of some long, serious boiling or braising, which at the end leaves them pliable and soft. Once you've gotten ears to an edible softness (like pasta, some people like their pig's ear mor al dente than others), you can eat them straightaway, or have the option of a secondary preparation: roasting, grilling, or broiling are great, poaching or pickling work wonders as well, but in my opinion the best of the bunch is to fire up the deep fryer and crisp them up until they're juicy and delicious like bacon.

Pig tails are considered by those in the know to be the perfect combination of lean and fat. Fergus Henderson has a fantastic recipe where he boils long pig tails, then breads them before roasting. Pig tails are also commonly used in soups and stews — like its culinary cousin oxtail, pig tail shows up fairly regularly in Caribbean and Jamaican cuisines.

Lend me your ears

To find ears and tails, it's time to pay a visit to those old favorites: your local Asian market or a good butcher. When you find yourself in the presence of piggy extremities check to make sure that they're completely dry, smooth and slightly pinkish in color. If they feel even slightly sticky or wet, start looking elsewhere.

Don't be put off if there is still hair attached to the parts (part of the fun of eating offal is being reminded that you're eating a real animal). The hair can be easily shaved off with a sharp knife or a disposable razor. (Skip the shaving cream; I promise the pig won't suffer from razor burn.) If you're feeling particularly adventurous and you have a blowtorch handy, you can burn the hair away, though the smell can be a little off putting. Once they're cleaned of , ears and tails can be stored in the refrigerator for 4 to 5 days tops, but can be frozen (wrapped well to avoid freezer burn) for up to three months with little issue.

Ready to try your hand at some literal head-to-tail eating? Here are some good recipes to get started:

Sweet and savory Thai sliced pig ears
Vietnamese pickled pigs' ears
Fergus Henderson's pressed pig ear
An adaptation of Fergus Henderson's breaded roasted pigs' tails
Caribbean pig tail stew

Ryan S. Adams

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