We first made our pigs ear pork scratchings back in February 2020 when we hosted a nose-to-tail style supper club. The event allowed us to showcase our own British Charcuterie while demonstrating the way some lesser cuts of meat could be used. We wanted to pay homage to St John’s style menu items while throwing in some more modern, cosmopolitan flavours that we love to cook with (although obviously St John’s is timeless!).
Pigs Ear Pork Scratchings Inspiration
Inspired by Momofuko and David Chang’s ‘Ko’ we wanted to start the meal with some crispy pork for people to have as a bite when they sit down, at ‘Ko’ they serve a chicharron. One way to go would be to do pigs ears something they do at St Johns, but instead of dehydrating them and deep frying as you would with a chicharron, they braise them and then dredge them, before deep frying. We knew they had to be perfectly executed for people to feel they had a positive experience eating pig’s ears so put a lot of planning into their addition to the menu.
Stupidly we would ignore St’ John’s tried and tested method and go with the chicharron approach. Perfecting our crispy pig’s ears took a fair bit of trial and error, and a lot of flapping on my part as the day of the supper club loomed closer. We did, however, manage it in the end, they puffed up beautifully, were crispy but with a pleasing chew from the cartilage. We coated them to delicious effect in a house-made Japanese 7-spice blend cheekily enhanced with a good pinch of MSG, and served them fresh from the friar as people sat down with their beverages.
Making Crispy Pigs Ear Pork Scratchings
If you order pig’s ears from the butchers to use on a menu, they will arrive to you looking overwhelmingly like pig’s ears and strikingly not like food. It takes a fair bit of careful prep to get them ready but they are a genuinely tasty, playful, and waste-free menu item.
Step 1 - Clean the ears
First you’ll need to do a decent amount of cleaning up the ears, they are pretty gross frankly in their starting condition, akin to your grandads. This process is at times disgusting but definitely fun. First scrape the wax out with the back of a spoon! Then you’ll need to blow torch off the hairs, before adding them to a pot of cold water, and bringing them to the boil (this will purge out all the scum and dirt in the ears). Then refresh the ears into cold water to stop the cooking process.
Now you can start making the ears edible, the first process we are braising or stewing them, in order to gently cook the meat and soften the cartilage. Add the ears to a pan, cover it with water and laden the pot with aromatics, we used things we would typically add to a pork stock, onions, celery etc. Bring the ears to a gentle simmer and cook for 2-3 hours.
Step 2 - Press the ears
Next, you’re going to press the ears, remove them from the liquid if you skimmed the scum carefully during simmering you can keep the liquid for stock. Press the ears overnight in the fridge between two flat gastro trays. Once pressed the gelatine within them will set and firm the ear up.
Step 3 - Prepare and slice the ears
The next day you can slice them into thins, we went for thing long pieces, but make sure they’re bite-size, you don’t want to scare people with a big chunk of ear. Place the slices in the dehydrator, you want to dehydrate the moisture from the ears, enough for the collagen to melt into gelatine which will puff up, but not enough to completely dry out the meat. The moisture content must be around 15% which is when the ears become brittle and stiff. We found the best results dehydrating ours for 8 hours at 60c.
Step 4 - Cooking the Pigs Ear Pork Scratchings
Now to the frying, you’re going to need you oil ridiculously hot 190c is perfect, enough for maximum heat to hit those ears at once, but not too much to burn the meat, they’ll puff up with a dramatic crackle and spit. You're likely to get a few little hits of hellishly hot oil coming your way so stand clear. Then after bravely retrieving them (they’re done when they have stopped expanding), you’ll want to get your seasoning on them while there hot, the particles will adhere to the surface better. Then as you dig into the impressively delicious snacks you’ve just made, reflect on the work you’ve done to turn those ugly pigs ears into such a moreish treat.