Spicy Pig Ears from China Magic Noodle House

Despite what the supermarket aisle may lead you to believe, there's more to an animal than neatly wrapped styrofoam trays of meat. From tongue to tail, offal (pronounced awful) encompasses all those taboo edibles that don't make the cut at your local grocer. Just Offal is here to explore these oft-neglected byproducts of butchering, featuring different offal meals from establishments across the valley.

This week: Spicy Pig Ears served up by China Magic Noodle House.

The Ick Factor: Pig ears are ubiquitous to many households. Unfortunately, it's usually in the form of doggie chew toys that act as rawhide replacements. Ears aren't that fleshy, and may sound a bit strange as good eats considering they're primarily cartilage with just a bit of meat, all held together by rubbery pig skin. But stewing something long enough and covering it in a brown, spicy sauce is a sure fire way to make just about anything tender enough to stomach.

(bite into all the juicy details after the jump)

The Offal Choice: Spicy pig ears, an appetizer on the menu at China Magic Noodle House. Spicy sauce, hot chile flakes, and a whole mess of wafer-thin, marinated pig ears served cold with a side of extra chile oil to dial up the heat.

Tastes Just Like: Wrap a couple pieces of gelatinous lunch meat around al dente noodles and you have a strange porky wrap that comes close to describing pig ears. If you can get around it being served cold (just think lunch meat), the flavor of the pig ears was similar to nibbling on any other part of the beast. These thin-cut ears were well-lubricated in a savory, sweet sauce flavored with what tasted like soy, chile, five-spice powder, and something a little sweet.

The texture is where things start to get a little weird by our "wait a tic, it's gelatinous but it isn't Jello?" standards. The outer most layer of the ear "sandwich" was a thin layer of pig skin, and much like stewed chicharrones, it was fatty, gelatinous, and a bit on the chewy side. The middle layer of the ear was a fairly familiar bite of pork, and if it were just these two layers then the pile of pork would have been recognizable by most carnivores' standards. But then the innermost layer of cartilage comes along and throws everything off. Cartilage is weird. Even after being stewed, it's crunchy with a bit of a bite to it like al dente pasta. Cold, gelatinous, jiggly, al dente pasta.

You Know It's Cooked Improperly When: Since ears are nothing but giant masses of cartilage, skin, and a bit of meat, they need some serious stewing to make them tender. If you underestimate this much needed step, or skimp on the softening process, you might as well go chew on your dog's pig ear treats for all the good it will do you.

Always been a DIY-er? After you're done nibbling on ears at China Magic Noodle House, waltz on over to Lee Lee's and snag some frozen ears for a little home chef DIY. Although you probably won't be able to shave your stewed pig ears nearly as thin as the magicians at the noodle house, you can still get away with a passable platter of spicy pig ears.

Know of some offal that we just have to try? Let us know in the comment section.

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Erica O'Neil