Why am I posting a street food in a noche buena blog? Because, my dear, pulutan is a must during Christmas. Pinoy culture. There’s drinking and there’s drinking and it usually lasts from the morning of the 24th to the morning of the 25th and it resumes around noon of the same day.
If you buy pork ears in the wet market, chances are you’ll have to torch them then scrape them with a sharp knife afterwards to remove all the hair. If you buy pork earns in the supermarket, the chances that you will have very little cleaning to do at home are better. Not that it’s too much work removing the hair. If you have a very sharp knife, they come off easily when scraped.
Unlike pork meat barbecue, you cannot simply marinate, thread and directly grill pork ears. It takes time for the cartilage (“soft bones”) of the ears to become tender so you need to pre-cook them. The grilling part is only to char them and to give them a crisp texture outside.
So, first, you have to cook the pork ears as adobo. Where did I learn that? In an article I wrote for Code Red magazine, I mentioned Mang Leo’s barbecue stall along P. Zamora Street in Caloocan City. Mang Leo made the best darn pork ears barbecue I’ve ever tasted. It was he who taught me to cook the pork ears first as adobo. That’s the first secret. The second secret is the basting sauce. He didn’t tell me how to make the basting sauce so I invented my own.
I was able to make 15 sticks of barbecue with two pork ears that cost P147.00. You can make as much as 25 if you cut the pork ears into smaller pieces.
- 2 pork ears cleaned and trimmed
- 3/4 cup vinegar
- 1/2 cup soy sauce
- 1 whole whole garlic peeled and crushed
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon peppercorns
- 15 to 25 bamboo skewers
Cut the pork ears into small pieces. Not too small — remember that they will shrink in the pan as you cook them into adobo and if they’re too small by the time they’re cooked, they will be impossible to thread.
Place the cut pork ears in a pan. Pour in the vinegar. Add the garlic, bay leaves and peppercorns. Bring to a boil without stirring. Let boil for a few minutes then stir. Season with salt and soy sauce. You have to augment the soy sauce with salt because too much soy sauce and the pork ears will be too dark even before they reach the grill. They will darken even more with the charring and the basting sauce so use soy sauce sparingly at this point.
Pour in a cup of water and simmer for an hour to an hour and a half or until the pork ears are tender. Never mind if very little liquid remains after cooking — you don’t need the liquid; in fact, because most of the fat would have melted in the liquid, you really want to discard it after cooking.
Drain the cooked pork ears and cool. If you thread them while still hot, they will be too soft and they will tear. So, be patient and allow them to cool. After cooling, thread them into the bamboo skewers.
To make the basting sauce, mix together bottled vinaigrette (available in the grocery) and the brown sugar. If you don’t have bottled vinaigrette, make your own by mixing together olive oil (you can even use virgin coconut oil), lemon or kalamansi juice, salt, pepper and lots of aromatics (I recommend rosemary and thyme).
Grill the pork ears at least eight inches from the heat — yes, farther away from the heat than usual. Pork ears are fatty and, combined with the sugar in the basting sauce, they will burn fast. You want them to turn a bit crispy so you have to keep them on the grill for several minutes. They won’t last that long without burning if they’re too near the live coals.
Turn the pork ears often, basting them with each turn. When they are nicely charred and browned, transfer them to a plate and they’re ready to eat.