Pea and Pig Ear Soup

This is based on a very dour recipe–dried peas, pig’s ears, and water, the ear giving certain body to the soup–but it is no less delicious for that.

Santa was very good to me–and hopefully to you–this year and brought me a 20 quart stock pot and a butane torch. I can’t wait to take the torch to a few piggy trotters to singe the hair off. Santa also bought me a very nice Canon Digital Rebel XT, so I’ll be learning how to take better pictures while working my way through “The Whole Beast.”

I’ll be the first to admit that I have been shying away from some more adventurous dishes. Sometimes it was due to necessity, as I don’t see my mother being able to stomach anything along the lines of brains. After finishing the Boiled Ham With Parsley Sauce I was left with a lot of wonderful ham stock and making pea and pig ear soup seemed like an innocuous way of breaking into the more interesting recipes. Considering it has a grand total of four ingredients, it should be simple, right?

While I was brining the picnic ham for the last update, I dropped the pig ears into the salty elixir for a few days. But before they went in, they smelled like, well, death. Putrid fits well, too. It turns out that the smell was due to the hair being burned off each ear. I thoroughly cleaned them both and that seemed to help the smell a little bit. Maybe I’ll be fixing those trotters outside now that I think about it…

Here are the ears post soaking. The brining helped with the smell quite a bit. I was expecting the ears to bit just a little bit bigger after sitting in the drink for three days, but other than the improved smell they looked exactly the same.

Dried peas, some onions and the pig ears. All that was needed at this point was the ham stock. It’s such a simple, elegant dish. That makes it even more embarrassing when I explain how I messed the whole thing up and hard to start over from scratch.

You see, the day I was making the soup I had friend over that I have been trying to help get a job at my workplace. Once I had the pea soup at a nice low simmer–or so I had thought–we left the kitchen to go over some details of the job. After two hours of “simmering” I came back in to check on things to find that the peas had charred to the bottom of the pot and all of the ham stock had boiled off. The absolutely worst part was the fact that I had used almost all of my ham stock. I certainly didn’t have enough to start over again immediately. Thankfully though, Mr. Henderson had included an alternative way of making the soup without ham stock.

Pork bones were the answer. Pork neck bones to be exact.

The new recipe called on me to use essentially the same ingredients except for water in the place of the ham stock and the addition of the pork bones and a whole head of garlic. I was lucky in the sense that I happened to have four extra pig ears brining, saving me another three days wait time.

This time, I watched the pot like a hawk. There was no way in hell I was going to let another batch burn. You can make out a pig ear in the upper left corner of the pot.

After a few hours, the ears were incredibly pliable. Silly Putty-esque would be pretty close in description. The ears had shrunk a fair bit in size due to the collagen and fat being cooked out. I then took the ears and stuck them in the fridge to cool them off and let them firm up a bit so I could then slice them up for frying.

Like so.

Mr. Henderson mentions that one should stir the hot oil so that the ear slices don’t stick together in a big mass. Despite my best efforts, a few of the ear slices still stuck together and I had to cut the crispy mass into smaller pieces. Biting into one of the slices, it would almost be tough to tell the difference between fried pig ear and some crispy bacon. Almost. The cartilage in the ear slice was still just a little bit chewy.

All of the elements together at last. The one nice thing about using the neck bones instead of using just the ham stock was that I could take the meat off of the bones and add it to the soup. Mr. Henderson was absolutely right about the dour nature of the recipe. I’m not a huge fan of peas in the first place, and this soup sadly didn’t make a convert out of me; however, my wife loved it. She said that while there wasn’t a huge wow factor, it was simple and homey and very tasty.

One down, one hundred and thirty three to go.

Happy Holidays

Just posting a quick, “Happy Holidays” to anyone out there that reads the site. Tomorrow I’ll post about Pig Ear and Pea soup.

Take care!

Boiled Ham and Parsley Sauce

Incredibly simple, but delicious and particularly beautiful on the plate. I believe it is important to have the parsley sauce in a jug on the table so the eaters can express themselves with their pouring. When buying your ham, avoid pink things in hairnets; look for organic and free range if possible. It is always good to cook a bit more than you will eat so you can have cold ham.

As I mentioned in the Anthony Bourdain post, I’m not a stranger to brining. Ever since the first run of Alton Brown’s Romancing the Bird Good Eats episode, I’ve brined my Thanksgiving turkeys. I’ve also brined shrimp, chicken and pork to great results. After looking at Mr. Henderson’s brine recipe I was really excited to try it out something a little different. The first thing that struck me was the mention of saltpeter, even though it’s not used in the brining process. The second thing was the juniper berries. This was very similar to a recipe for a corned beef brine! I’m a big fan of any type of corned meat so this recipe jumped to the head of the line. It would have been the second update to the website except for one thing: the picnic ham I had bought would need to sit in the brine for at least 12 days. D’oh.

On top of that, finding juniper berries here in Austin was next to impossible. I can buy a whole pig’s head in the local grocery store, but I had to ask a friend who works at Whole Foods to raid the kitchen’s pantry for the berries, since the store itself was out and no other store carried them. I’ve since purchased a big container of them from Penzeys Spices.

Here is the pork shoulder, aka the picnic ham. Pretty and pink, covered in fat.

And here it is in the brine. Mr. Henderson has a quick blurb in the book about obtaining a brine bucket and making it a nurtured friend of the family. My wife has since named the 8 quart container, “Bertie” in an attempt to make it feel more at home. Bertie and the pork shoulder stayed in the fridge for fourteen days at 40 degrees Fahrenheit. A few pig ears were added about halfway through for another recipe.

A fortnight later, you can see how the pork shoulder has turned a bit gray and the water has turned pink. You can also just make out the pig ears up top.

Here is everything in the pot, ready to boil. The black spots on the onions are cloves that have been stuck into them.

A few hours later with the carrots added. The whole kitchen smelled like a fresh corned beef sandwich. It was intoxicating to say the least.

Halfway through the parsley sauce (without the parsley). I was happy that I actually knew that this sauce was really a Bechamel sauce with parsley added. Hooray for mother sauces!

The final product on the plate. My wife’s step-father and his girlfriend came over for dinner and the dish was a hit all around. There were quite a few comparisons to corned beef as I had predicted. The carrots were sweet thanks to being kept whole during the cooking. Surprisingly, the parsley sauce almost upstaged the ham. I suppose years of thinking of parsley as little more than garnish and a way to cleanse one’s breath had lulled me into low expectations of the sauce. I couldn’t have been more wrong. It was light and peppery, playing well with the salty ham.

Ever since the leftovers were polished off, I’ve been thinking about making this again just to have some more. Actually, I’ve been thinking about making it again at least once a day. It’ll be a recurring dinner at my house for a good long while.

One down, one hundred and thirty four to go.

Anchovy, Little Gem, and Tomato

Amazingly uplifting powers for a simple salad.

I posted a picture of the duck legs with carrots I made last week on eGullet. One of the members, -sheila mooney, pointed out that I had incorrectly used just half of the duck leg. After thinking about it for five minutes, I was banging my head on the wall. For some reason “drumstick” = “leg” in my mind. So the whole “extra thigh pieces” weren’t exactly extra. But that’s okay, they were put to good use and now I have ample amounts of duck stock on hand. It also meant that I haven’t fallen victim to the “biggy-size” American mentality yet. However, I had done the recipe incorrectly and I needed to redo it.

A few invites later and I had dinner guests for duck legs, take two. It also gave me a chance to knock out another recipe. A salad would fit the bill perfectly. The only problem there was that a lot of the salad recipes wouldn’t exactly mesh well with duck legs as the main course or would take a lot more time than I had available. Fortunately the Anchovy, Little Gem, and Tomato salad was quick and almost all of the ingredients were available.

The interesting part of the salad was the “Little Gem” lettuce. I looked high and low for two heads of little gem with no luck. The closest thing I could find was the Living Butter Lettuce from Live Gourmet. Mr. Henderson asks in the ingredients list for tomatoes that are the happiest possible, so I found six ruby red orbs on the vine. Some curly parsley, the most expensive tinned anchovies I could find and I had everything I needed for the salad.

Except the vinaigrette. I’ll admit this was the first time I had ever made a vinaigrette. Considering how easy it was I’m a bit puzzled why people buy salad dressing in the bottle at all. I’ll never go back again now. You just take some crushed garlic, a little Dijon Mustard, lemon juice, white wine vinegar, olive oil and–pardon the catch phrase–bam, vinaigrette. I poured it into a squeeze bottle and I was done.

I set the oven on medium high and once it was preheated, dropped in the tomatoes that had each been cut in half and seasoned. The heat softened them and made them sweeter at the same time. I then chopped about a handful of parsley and tossed it with the lettuce and a healthy dash of the vinaigrette. The lettuce and parsley mixture was divided into four bowls, the now roasted tomatoes placed on top and the anchovies added.

The salad was light and very refreshing, perfectly setting the tone for a fun Friday night dinner amongst friends. The anchovies were a bit on the fishy side for my liking though. Next time I’ll try and find even higher end anchovies.

And here she is: Duck Legs with Carrots. Done correctly.

Next week, I’ll be writing about the absolutely wonderful Boiled Ham and Parsley Sauce.

One down, one hundred and thirty five to go.

Duck Legs and Carrots

To Serve Six

This was the first recipe I made of out of the Nose to Tail cookbook when I picked it up. It looked simple, and not nearly as adventurous as the deep fried lamb’s brain. I remember my first attempt turning out pretty well, as my wife and I devoured all six legs in one evening. Which brings up another point: Have I succumbed to the Supersize Me influence of the fast food industry? I just can’t imagine this recipe feeding six people. In the end notes, Mr. Henderson does suggest following this meal with a green salad, which would help I suppose. I’ll have to try it next time I make this and will report back.

After making the chicken stock for the last update I followed the sage advice of one Mrs. Julia Child and I froze the leftover stock in ice cube trays.

This way I can grab as little or as much stock as I want quickly from the freezer. I emptied all of the cubes into a ziplock bag and marked the bag with stock type and date.

Moving on to the duck legs, I have found a wonderful place for them after taking Mr. Bourdain’s advice. The MT Supermarket in Austin not only has fresh duck, but all kinds of lovely piggy parts for sale. My wife grabbed some pigs tails and ears along with the duck for me.

The tag says “Duck Leg” but it’s actually a Duck quarter. Which means extra duck thighs, duck stock, and the ever so lovely duck fat.

Ten minutes later, I had six fat little duck legs ready for browning. I dropped a knob of butter into the biggest cast iron skillet I had and started crisping the skin.

A sliced onion, some leeks and whole cloves of garlic were then dumped into the cooked off duck fat. This is one of those, “I wish you were able to smell this over the internet.” moments. Our new Pembroke Welsh Corgi puppy decided at this point to come into the kitchen and stay underfoot in an attempt to score a few tasty tidbits. We gave him a carrot stick instead.

Once the onions/leeks/garlic had softened a bit, the carrots made their debut. All fourteen of them. After cooking for a little bit, the whole skillet was decanted into my roasting pan. Following Mr. Henderson’s instructions I pressed the duck legs down into the vegetable bed and then added just enough chicken stock to make the duck legs “show like alligators in a swamp.” I then added a herb bundle, some bay leaves and a chile. Now in the book there is no real description given other than “chile” so seeing as how I’m in Texas, I went with a nice green jalapeno. The jalapeno is kept whole to impart just a slight warmth, nothing more. I placed the roasting pan into a preheated oven and then started reading Micheal Rhulman’s “Elements of Cooking.”

The timer couldn’t have gone off soon enough, as the smells coming from the oven were just staggering. I can honestly say that I’ve gotten better at cooking this dish, which is the exact reason I’m doing this food blog (maybe there is some hope for me yet). The duck skin was crunchy, the meat was tender and the fat had been drawn into carrots.

It was a wonderful way to end Monday night. One more week of the “safe” recipes, and then I’ll get into the more interesting sections.

One down, one hundred and thirty six to go.

Have a great week!