birthday meals, brunswick farmers market, gryffon ridge spices, invoking the Pig, pig ear, piggy angels, poached egg, wonderful eggs

Crispy Pig Ear Salad

I think it can be easily said that all food bloggers, whether they admit it or not, have a ‘Bucket List’ of food things. It could be to eat at Per Se or Noma or to learn how to make puff pastry.  For me, it’s not so much a ‘Bucket List’ as much as its a ‘Oh, that would be nice’ list. Last year I learned how to make Charcuterie at home, took a Kimchi making class and learned how to properly pickle and can summer vegetables. This year has already had me relearning bread making and I’m already looking towards summer and experimenting more with grilling recipes.  But, on my 35th birthday last week, I managed to scratch two things off with one recipe: Crispy Pig Ear Salad.

A few months prior I had Rick, of Gryffon Ridge Spice Merchants and Farm, surprise me with a bag of porky odd bits that included a 2 1/2 lb. jowl and a set of ears. While the jowl was massive, it was the ears that I was most excited about. I’ve had crispy ear at Bresca and Grace, both fantastic presentations, but getting a set of them at a butcher or at the farmers market is almost unheard of.  So, I was quite excited about having this treat in the house and checking off another interesting piece of offal from my mental list.

The other accomplishment is probably the most surprising. I have never poached an egg in my life. Never. And, well, to be straight with you, I didn’t really start eating poached eggs until sometime last year. It’s a textural thing for me, like the gelatinous goo in the middle of raw tomatoes, and a bit harder to get over than a conceptual issue (which is what probably prevents many from, say, eating pigs ear). But, I did it. The eggs were also from Gryffon Ridge, procured at the last Brunswick Winter Farmers Market, and held some of the most vibrant colored yolks I’ve laid eyes on. The process caused me more agita than handling the pigs ear, and the results were mixed ( I definitely have more learning to do as I lost half of the whites to the swirling water), but another ‘I never’ checked off of my list.

The recipe that I used was a bit of a mash up, using Serious Eats for preparing the ears and the rest of the salad coming from a newspaper out of the Tampa Bay area. I purchased some red leaf lettuce from Six River Farm at the market for the base and was amazed that they had so many beautiful greens so early in the season. My one caveat about the salad is that I think the ears could have gone a bit longer in the stock because they definitely had a chewiness that The Missus loved, but that I could handle only so much of. I am also now a convert to Gryffon Ridge Farm eggs. I’ll be heading up to Brunswick this weekend to pick up another dozen.

Cripsy Pig Ear:

2 pig’s ears
1 onion, peeled and washed
2 carrots, chopped coarse
2 stems of celery, chopped
A bouquet garni (thyme, parsley, marjoram, etc)
Salt to taste, about 1 teaspoon
1/4 cup cornstarch and flour, equal parts of
1 quart of oil, for frying
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the ears and let boil for 2 or 3 minutes to get rid of some of the impurities. Remove the ears from the pot and set aside. 
In a medium-size pot, arrange the ears along with the rest of the ingredients. Add enough water to cover the ears. Bring the pot to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, uncovered, for 2 hours. The ears should be very supple and easily pierced through with forks or chopsticks.
Remove the ears from the broth and let cool. Reserve the stock for another use. 

When cooled, cut the ears into ΒΌ inch slivers. Toss with the cornstarch and flour, until the ears are lightly and uniformly covered.  

In the meantime, bring the oil to 350 F in a wok or frying pot.

Gently slip into the hot oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, until the ears are golden brown and crispy. Very carefully stir the ears around in the pot, so that the slivers won’t stick to one another. Remove the ears from the oil with a slotted spoon, and serve immediately.

Creamy Whole Grain Mustard Vinaigrette:

1/4 cup very good quality whole grain mustard
1 tablspoons fresh tarragon leaves
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1 egg yolk
1/8 cup yogurt
kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Add all of the ingredients to a blender and mix until well emulsified.

Poached Eggs:

3 cups water
1 tspn distilled white vinegar
2 farm fresh eggs

Bring the water and vinegar to a strong simmer. Gently place the eggs in the water and poach until the yolks are very soft. Place the poached eggs on a dry plate and season with kosher salt.


invoking the Pig, miyake, Miyake addiction, pai men miyake, pig tail, ramen

Getting Some Tail at Pai Men

A co-worker stopped me yesterday to inform me that he was finally making his way over to Longfellow Square to Pai Men Miyake for dinner.

Pork Belly Buns” were my first words to him.
“Pork Belly buns, check.”
“Oh and the Miso ramen.”

Today, as soon as his eyes fell on me, he started to smile.
“Pai Men, man. Wow.” You know my co-worker, he’s probably served you a drink or two at one of his other jobs around town, and he is a man who knows and loves his food. For the next ten minutes or so he went on about his meal.
“Brussel sprouts were ridiculous,” he started. Then, there was talk of dumplings of unremembered origin, pork belly buns, kimchi ramen, broccoli rabe and crispy pig tail.

“Pig tail?” I asked, eyes fighting to stay in my head.
“Pig tail. It was crispy and sweet. It had this amazing–I can’t even describe it–sauce on it.”
“Pig tail?” I asked again, obviously fixated. For all that I’ve eaten of the pig, I’ve only missed out on the nose and tail parts of “nose to tail” eating. This was not to be missed.

So, at 9am, I sent a text to the Missus to make our dinner plans. I had, without luck, tried to coordinate a date with her a few weeks ago and this would be a nice second go at it.

“Pigtail @ Pai Men. Can we go?”
“Um ok.”
“We just have to keep it cheap. So, no pork belly buns.” To be honest, I said this because we always have to have two orders(because one ISN’T enough) and that was going to take up what limited money I had put aside for dining out.

For the rest of the day I thought about pig tail.
How would it be served?
Would it be curly?
Would they serve more than one?

Now, at work, my eating habits and obsessions are pretty well known. My co-workers, the vast majority of them, are former restaurant workers and culinary school graduates. Food is not only something we live for, but how we make our living. So, discussions about food at work are basically a given. That, sports and music. For the past week co-workers have inquired about how the duck prosciutto, the one currently hanging in the Missus’ unused office, is coming along (more on that next week) or when my curing Canadian bacon was going to be finished. So, my becoming ridiculously giddy about pig tail hardly phased anyone and they humored me by tolerating my ramblings.

Then, joyously, it was 5:30pm and the Missus was waiting for our date. By 6pm, we were tucked into a tall table at Pai Men fretting over our menu options.

But, before we get into the food, the service deserves it’s own mention tonight. The two front of house staff–one male, one female–were on top of everything from the moment we sat down. The restaurant was, at 6pm, a third full which seemed just enough to keep them busy without seeming overstretched or under stimulated. The female, sporting a labret piercing, has waited on me before and it was nice to see a familiar face behind the bar. The guy, who may be one of the most attractive men this side of Ben Harper, was a wealth of information when I finally had the chance to ask about the pig tail dish. When we debated about whether or not to order two dishes–because we’re apparently gluttons who cannot share with each other–he actually talked us out of it and explained that many make the mistake of over ordering, getting too full too fast and ruining a good meal. He was right. After a few minutes of negotiating a few dishes to split, we were ready to order.

Squash dumplings with rinkson vinegar, brown butter and cauliflower.

This was one of my choices from the menu. Truthfully, I wanted some sort of vegetable represented–even if it sat in a small pool of brown butter–and I’m a sucker for cauliflower. Roasted, it’s nuttiness was played on nicely by the brown butter. Those two together highlighted the lightness of the dumpling, which was presented as a lighter interpretation of a sweet potato gnocchi.

Salt Cod Fritters with Sweet Mustard Sauce

Fried fish balls. I have to say that I don’t really have anything in depth to tell you about this dish. There was something really familiar about it…perhaps the cod fish cakes my mother made when I was growing up, but a lot better(no disrespect to mom). They were the only dish I didn’t mull over the flavors or textures on, nor did I think it was one of those dishes that required you to do anything more than to just enjoy it’s simplicity. I did notice, however, the presentation was a little wink to fried fish cakes being served in those red baskets at fried clam shacks.

Beef Negimaki Style with Diakon, Scallion and Teriyaki

Our server helped us with understanding what Negimaki was and then immediately told us that Pai Men’s version was nothing like it. He was right. There was no grilled beef, as their version was raw, and scallions were a bit hard to find in the dish (I couldn’t find any, to be honest). In fact, not only did it seem like it was a very loose interpretation of Negimaki but it also seemed like it was a loose interpretation of the ingredients listed on the menu. Teriyaki and Beef were obviously there on the plate but there was, as seen above, a good number of jalapenos and some unidentifiable non-strictly teriyaki sauce.

But, I do not want you think for a moment that any of this is a complaint. In fact, the scallions and diakon could be a part of the aforementioned sauce and we just missed it. There were so many flavors and textures in that dish that it danced a fine line between pleasant and overload. Every single bite presented sweet, salt, mineral and heat to the palette. But, the dish–whatever its components were that sat in front of us–was absolutely solid. The beef was sliced slightly thicker than the paper the menu was printed on and the portion was generous (and worth every penny of the price). I can’t get away from the cliche, “melts in your mouth” but that’s how tender the slices were. Easily in my top five for the year so far.

Crispy Pig Tail with Apricot Sweet and Sour Glaze and Jalapeno

Then came the dish of the evening. I don’t believe in getting your expectations up, especially when it comes to food, because it usually ends up where the fantasy, and how deeply you romanticized a dish in your head, gets dashed upon first bite. I worried so much that this dish would fall victim to that. Out of everything, I worried about the texture. I have gotten through brains, chitterlings and trotters and, though I did struggle a bit with the chewiness of the chitterlings, I made it through them unscathed. This fear was quickly dissolved the second the aroma of the dish drifted up from our table. I didn’t care what the texture was because it smelled amazing.

For as much as my friend raved about this dish and as much I raved about the dish while we were eating it, I know anything I were to write about the flavors that were there would do it absolutely no justice. It is, without question, the most remarkable sweet and sour sauce I have ever had in my entire life. In fact, I would like a teleporter to take me back to every time I had something labeled with ‘sweet and sour sauce’ just so that I can smack my former self and say to me, as I dump the nuclear red sauce on the floor, “Lies! This IS NOT sweet and sour sauce. Don’t eat their lies! The future will show you a true sweet and sour sauce!!”

When the waitress came over to fill out our water glasses she asked if it tasted as good as it smelled. It did, I told her and she needed to get herself some that evening. Her nose scrunched a bit and I told her that it was very reminiscent to a well done pork belly and I wasn’t lying to her. The texture wasn’t chewy, it was velvet and near falling off what little bones were hidden in the cut segments on the plate. Until the Missus pulled out an obviously tail shaped piece it was exactly how the waiter said it would be, unidentifiable as the back end piece of pig, but full of so much tasty pig goodness.

For good measure, to lighten things up at the end of the meal, we added on the crunchy tuna roll. But, in a restaurant whose main draw is to be the ramen, nary a bowl crossed our paths as we became to engrossed in the more interesting starters to even consider making room for the dense soup.

Pai Men Miyake on Urbanspoon

Easter, invoking the Pig, Lithuanian eggs

A Lithuanian Easter

Easter, for me, always evokes the memory of having to sell White and Milk Chocolate crosses and bunnies to raise money for my parochial grade school. It wasn’t until a bit later in my life that I realized just how generally fucked up it is to eat a chocolate reproduction of the cross that their creator died upon. But, outside of that, it was the “Ham” holiday (Turkey is Thanksgiving, Prime Rib is Christmas and Ham on Easter). We got together and ate alot, not that it made it different really than any other holiday except for the show piece in the center of the buffet table. If I lived still lived in that area, that’s what I would be doing this Sunday.

However, that has long since changed since being adopted into my girlfriends Lithuanian family who live much, much closer than my own. Jugs of wine and Gennesse have been replaced by Krupnik and other things done in shot form. This year I’m making the Pashka recipe found in the most recent Saveur and stuffing a leg of lamb with as-yet-undetermined ingredients.
But the best part of it, which I am told MUST be done slightly intoxicated, is the decorating of easter eggs.

Lithuanian Easter eggs are essentially regular Easter eggs with a lot of intricate patterns made from hot wax

usually applied with a small tipped pin or different size nail heads that are placed onto the naked egg

dipped into the dye

and then the wax is peeled off.

Then a game is held where you stand in a circle, egg in hand, and tap your neighbors egg with your own as you go around. If your egg breaks the others, without cracking, you go on to the next and so fourth. If your egg cracks from being tapped, you’re out. I’m not sure exactly what the winner gets–something like a lucky year or the bottle of Krupnik–but there’s something.

Partially because I’m not artistic and partially because I’m an ass my four eggs that I decorated in anticipation of their entry into the Egg Terrordome are not ornate or even remotely artistic. They are crude and silly.

Like my attempt at this pig, here. One says “Eat Me” and the other is a Grateful Dead lightning bolt. I’m thinking the pig may take it this year.

So, if you’re dying eggs over the next few days go get yourself some parafin (it came off easier than bees wax), small nails or pins, some Paas or natural dyes, something to make the time consuming effort a bit more festive and give your eggs a different spin this year. Actually, there are much better, and more in depth, instructions by someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.

I’ll have pictures of what we actually ate next week.