Facing Food Fears: #4 Pig's Ears

To hell with trepidation. I'm forcing myself to try those five intriguing foods that scare me. I may barf, I may cry, and I may not always enjoy myself, but at least I won't be a coward.

#4: Pig's Ears

I was nervous about finally trying prune juice and just plain queasy at the thought of eating a pig's ear. There was no way I was going to prepare one for myself, and I preferred not to go to some random restaurant that just happened to list it on their menu.

So, upon the recommendation of reader Stephen, I went to Feast, which, he claimed "has a great pig's ear appetizer."

A "Pig's Ear Cake," to be exact. Chef Richard Knight was kind enough to educate me on the preparation of the cake (i.e., talk me down from running out of the restaurant squealing like, well, a stuck pig). He and fellow chef James Silk originally got the recipe from James's father. "We had to tweak it a little, though, to make it just right." By "tweaking," I hoped he meant removing all discernible bits of lobe and cartilage.

Light yellow and speckled with herbs, ham, dried fruit, and little pieces of, um, ear, the cake might initially be mistaken for a sort of tea bread. Served in thick slices, it comes warm, covered with cheese, Dijon mustard and apple chutney. My first bite -- a nibble, really -- was dominated by the taste of fragrant fresh rosemary. The second nibble brought out the flavors the apricots, cherries and dates, whose mild sweetness provided a nice accent to the melted cheese and pungent mustard. Finally, in the third nibble, I made a point of consuming some ear. The white slivers were fatty, pleasantly salty, and just a bit chewy.

As my nibbles turned into bites, I realized 1) this cake was rather rich, and 2) I really liked it.

The first realization shouldn't have been much of a surprise, as Knight had described cooking the ear in olive oil and using both oil and butter in the cake batter. The second realization made wonder if I actually have been missing something all these years by eschewing auricular flesh.

I'm still not quite ready to consume a pig's ear in toto. Anything larger than bits, cubes or shreds, and I'll start thinking too hard and stop enjoying myself.

The Pig's Ear Cake, by the way, is one of Feast's most popular appetizers.

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Joanna O'Leary