Ear Affection. Cold Sichuan Pig Ears. Chung King Restaurant. Monterey Park, CA.

pig ear 1
These little piggies went to a Sichuan restaurant...

This is a story about unwanted pig parts. Frankly speaking, these are parts that may very well go into franks, hot dogs or wieners. You know, parts like snouts, tails, entrails and ears. These parts are mostly unloved and quickly discarded or tossed over to the hounds. Or worse, they’re chopped up and ground up and then fed back to another bunch of swine.

While the other pig parts get lavished with A-list attention, elaborate cooking techniques and even primetime television commercials, the unwanted parts traditionally look forward to humble methods of cooking involving low heat and long, slow cooking time, breaking down the sinew, tenderizing dense muscle fibers and maybe melting any collagen. These modest meats eventually find a home on the plates of appreciative peasants ecstatic to ingest any form of animal protein they can get their hands on. These were scraps for the poor and wretched.

At least that’s how it used to be. But, with Ferran Adria, the Gandalf of gastronomy, proudly serving up tastings of “Deep Fried Rabbit Ears with Aromatic Herbs” to affluent epicures dining at the "world’s best restaurant" El Bulli, it seems - as far as body parts go - odd is in.

I love these nasty bits and kinky cuts. This is not a huge revelation since I’m the Oscar the Grouch of the food world. I don’t mean in temperament. I mean that I simply love to eat what most people wouldn’t hesitate to grind up in their garbage disposal. I’m the Statue of Liberty for peculiar parts: "Give me your gamy, your slimy, your large intestines yearning to be plated…”

It's like what my granny Lolian from Tennessee used to tell me - "Back in my day, we ate the whole hog. We didn't waste nothin'. We ate everything from the rooty to the tooty. Damn straight." Not really. I never had a granny from Tennessee. But if I did that's what she'd preach. Hell, the pig’s already kicked it for your dining pleasure, so show some respect for the departed sow. Why not eat the entire pig? Like its ears.

When I hear that pig ear is on the menu, well, that’s just music to my you-know-whats, especially, if these aural delicacies are prepared Szechwan or Sichuan style.

Sichuan is that province in southwestern China made world renown because of the region’s blistering and mouth anesthetizing food. (Contributing most to the region's red hot rep is the inferno-in-a-pod, otherwise known as the Sichuan peppercorn.) A popular subcategory of Sichuan cuisine is the “small eats” or xiao chi, which are also considered a drinking or bar food. Eccentric nibbles like chilled and shredded pig ears, in my distorted opinion, are a much better alternative to pretzels and peanuts when knocking back brews.

Preparing pig ears Sichuan style is a long process. First, a few ears need to be braised with soy, anise and other spices and seasonings.

pig ear 2

After some hours of braising, the cooked ears are tightly packed and stacked like Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards and then chilled in the fridge for a day. The stack of ears congeals like gelatin thanks to their high collagen content, so the result is a pig ear Jell-O, if you will (or won’t). This pig ear Jell-O is then run through a meat slicer that thinly shreds the stack of ears into a macabre yet fascinating cross-section of several pig ears; it also looks somewhat like glossy bacon strips.

pig ear 3

Lastly, the sheets of pig ears are pulled apart and tossed into a bowl with a spicy Sichuan marinade, mixed, chilled and served. The shredded pig ears have a broad bouquet of flavors like the licorice notes from the anise and the saltiness of the soy, but the heat from these chilled ears sit somewhere below a blast from a can of pepper spray and well above a plate of hot wings.

Like the varied tastes of the pig ears, the texture is just as multi-layered with a mouthfeel assortment of gelatinous, chewy and slightly crunchy. Yes, the crunch comes from the ear's cartilage.

pig ear 4

If you're not careful, this cold heat will shred you like the pig ears themselves have been shredded. So eat the ears chilled, drink with a chilled Tsingtao and you’ll be chillin’ like a Sichuan villain in no time.

Can you hear me now?

Chung King Restaurant
1000 S San Gabriel Blvd
San Gabriel, CA 91776
Ph: 626.286.0298


Rose said…
This will sound silly - but does the slow cooking and shredding process render the cartilage.. edible? I shied away from things like meat pies for years because I was so petrified of cartilage - the rest of the pig's ears sounds delicious, except for that!

The expression xiao chi is incredibly cute; actually, whack a xiao in front of anything in Chinese and it becomes the height of cuteness - my dog is called Xiao-Gui!
SteamyKitchen said…
I LOVE piggy ears! Its not really the taste - because lets be honest - pig ears themselves taste like crap. But anything stewed in soy and sugar is awesome. I love the crunchy, chewy texture. I especially like the sound it makes when I'm chewing the ears.
elmomonster said…
And here I thought you were done eating the weird stuff! Ear Affection indeed! Tight little article, as always.
Eddie Lin said…
Hi Rose,

Nice to hear from you! Yes, the braising (slow cooking) renders the cartilage, shall we say, easier to eat. Otherwise, these ears would be nearly impossible to chew through, which is why pig ears are such a popular "chew toy" for dogs. I wish you could watch tomorrow's episode of "Visiting...with Huell Howser", I'm on it explaining Sichuan pig ears. But, Huell the host begins the show by going to a pet store to teach the viewers a little about dried pig ears for dogs. Weird and interesting episode.

Steamy Kitchen,

You spoil me. Welcome back. I have to disagree with your opinion of the taste of pig ears. I love the taste. And honestly, if you eat them Sichuan style the spiciness overpowers any offensive flavors, if any. But I totally agree with you about the satisfying texture of pig ears. It's almost like eating a vegetable it's so crunchy.

Thanks for the comment.
Eddie Lin said…
hey elmo,

i don't know how i missed your comment. maybe because you're not as cute as the ladies above. i don't know, maybe you are just as cute but all i see are a bunch of colorful peppers. when will you reveal thyself, monster man?

me? done eating weird stuff? i'll stop eating weird food when someone pries the chopsticks from my cold dead fingers!
Daily Gluttony said…
ooooh, i emm-effin' looove pig ears. so much better than chips as a snack. in my opinion anyways.
Anonymous said…
I love this restaurant! I grew up with their daughter and their food. I'm not a huge pig ear fan, but if anyone can make it taste good, they can. Bisous, Ms. Glaze
Eddie Lin said…
daily gluttony,

when are we gonna kick it at your new crib and chew on some pig ears?

ms. glaze,

hi! i can't believe you know the people who run chung king! what a small world after all. btw, it's funny to me that you don't like pig ears considering all the crazy stuff you deal with in the kitchen. thanks for the comment! bisous back!
Anonymous said…
you should try feijoada, an brazilian dish with all parts of a pig. :)
Ognir Rrats said…
Thanks for this post. I ate some for the first time last night and they are amazing. I was glad to learn how they are made.