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.
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.