Sunday, January 27, 2013

Offal Good: Split Pea and Pig's Ear Soup

I just made the best split pea soup I've ever had.

I started to appreciate split pea soup after moving to Ottawa where there's an honest-to-goodness winter (as opposed to in my hometown, Windsor). I hadn't made it since last spring, though, when I was employing smoked trotters to give the soup a good, smoky taste.

Thus I was intrigued when I was thumbing through The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail over the summer and saw a recipe for split pea and pig's ear soup. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for pig's ears. Today at the Marché Jean-Talon in Montreal, I found them.

Pig's ears, tails and tongues. You'll have to wait to see what happens to the last two.
I couldn't remember exactly what I needed for the rest of the recipe, but I had it in my head that it was fairly simple (split pea soup usually is) with stuff I'd have around the house. This was not the case. I got home, opened my book and found that I would need either pre-made ham stock (it's on my to-do list) or a ham bone to make the soup as Fergus intended.

It was time to wing it.

I did use the ratio of water:peas:ears:servings from Fergus' recipe (6 cups:1 pound: 2 ears: 4 servings), but after that I was sort of on my own.

I put 3 cups of water in the kettle to boil and grabbed some concentrated stock (Better Than Bouillon), both chicken and beef because at some point I'd filed away something that claimed that a mix of chicken and beef stock could approximate ham stock. I've tried this before and disagreed, but I decided to try it with a different ratio - 3 tsp of chicken and half a tsp of beef to three cups of water.

What's the worst that could happen?

Next I had to decide what to do about onions. Fergus wanted me to throw whole onions into the stock and then extract them later on. But Fergus also wanted me to have a ham bone and a whole head of garlic to fish out of there. Plus I like onions. So I chopped one up and threw it in along with two crushed and coarsely chopped cloves of garlic, half a pound of dried split peas, a small bunch of thyme and, of course, The Ear.

Once I put the ear in the hot broth it sort of started curling/stiffening, which was a little annoying because, as you can see, the broth wasn't really deep enough to submerge it and once it developed a personality I couldn't just shove it into submersion. Thus I was required to flip it around as things cooked so that all sides got their time in the stock.

After about an hour and a half something changed and the ear became very pliable. I interpreted this as the ear letting me know it was done and fished it out of the stock along with the stems from the thyme. I gave the ear a good rinse, dried it as thoroughly as possible and then laid it out flat to cool.

There is no way around acknowledging that this is an ear on a cutting board.
I sliced the cooled ear into thin strips. With most of the ear this is easy, but when it starts getting all bendy and foldy it becomes more difficult. When I got that far I pulled off the skin to find some bits of meat, which I chopped up and threw in the soup, saved the skin and tossed the rest. I felt a bit bad wasting it but I had more than enough for the soup and no idea what to do with extra ear.

... and after frying.

I heated some oil in a small, heavy bottomed pot and put in a slice to test if it was ready. It was ready. Oil spit everywhere. It is a very good idea to use a deep fryer to contain this or to immediately cover the pot after putting in a new batch to contain the worst of the spitting, and I would not recommend trying it on a gas stove. I fried the slices in small batches to avoid them sticking together (and because I was using a small pot). You do have to watch them, they cook quickly. Since I already had the oil going I fried some bits of skin as well (but, in my opinion, with less success - it didn't get eaten).

I seasoned the soup, portioned it out and divided the ear between the two bowls. We had iceberg wedges with homemade ranch to balance this out, but it would have been very good with fresh bread.

Soup and salad: Now with more ears!
This does not taste like a standard, smoky split pea soup. It's not smoky at all, and it has some depth that I can only assume comes from cooking the ear with the soup. It is really, really good.

Split Pea and Pig's Ear Soup
to serve two

3 cups boiling water
3 tsp concentrated chicken stock (meant to be mixed 1 tsp per cup boiling water)
1/2 tsp concentrated beef stock (same concentration as the chicken stock)
8 oz dried split peas, rinsed and picked through
1 pig's ear, hair shaved/singed off (this was done for me. yay.)
1 medium* yellow onion, chopped
2 medium-large cloves garlic, crushed with the side of a knife then chopped
small bunch thyme
oil for frying
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
*the size you get in a 3lb bag of onions

Bring the water to a boil in a kettle and pour into a medium to large pot on the stove. Dissolve concentrated stock, then add in the onion, garlic, split peas, ear and thyme. Bring to a boil then immediately reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until ear is soft and peas are a soupy consistency (about 90 minutes for me, but it will vary based on ear, peas and stove). If your ear is not submerged, flip it occasionally. If soup becomes too thick add a bit more water.

When the ear is very soft and pliable, fish it out of the soup and rinse it well in cool water. Dry as completely as possible with paper towels. Fish out and discard the thyme stems.

The soup should be around the consistency you'd like it and the onions and garlic should have basically melted away. If not continue simmering while you work with the ear, adding water if necessary.

Once the ear cools and stiffens up a bit, slice it very thinly. Near the base of the ear there may be meat. If so, pick it out, chop it up and toss it in the soup.

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot or deep frying pan (or a deep fryer). Fry ears in small batches (mind the spitting oil) until golden and drain on paper towels.

Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper and spoon into bowls. Divide the crispy ear between the two bowls and serve immediately.