Pork intestines are hardly the most popular cut of meat, but in Cambodian cuisine, they hold a very special place — they get grilled, deep-fried, boiled, and braised. There isn’t a preparation method out there that Cambodian chefs haven’t tried on pork intestines. In our recipe, we bring to you our take on the braised Cambodian pork intestines with yet another controversial part of the noble pig: Pig’s ears. Our recipe for braised pork intestines with pig’s ears (known as pa’k lau in Cambodia) is as exotic as it is simple for cooks of any skill level to reproduce and is a testament to Cambodia’s ability to transform simple ingredients into a gastronomic delight.
In Cambodian and broader Southeast Asian culinary traditions, pork intestines and pig’s ears are not seen as offcuts — they are delicacies that bring unique textures and flavors to a meal. These parts are often used for their ability to absorb the flavors of spices and herbs used in cooking. The utilization of pork intestines and pig’s ears is a testament to the nose-to-tail philosophy prevalent in this part of the world. Through slow braising, these cuts of meat transform into tender, flavorful morsels that are often enjoyed in communal settings, bringing people together over a delicious after a hard day’s work.
Preparing our braised pork intestines recipe begins with assembling a palette of distinctive Cambodian ingredients. The sweetness of palm sugar, the warmth of anise star and cinnamon, coupled with the savory depth of soy and fish sauce, lay the foundation for this traditional Cambodian recipe. Finding these ingredients in US, Australian, Canadian, and European supermarkets is easy, so this dish is relatively accessible to those residing in the West. The cooking procedure starts with a thorough cleaning of the pork intestines and pig’s ears, followed by a careful blend of boiling and braising. The preparation steps are straightforward and methodical, making this dish moderately easy to tackle for cooks of varying skill levels.
Pork Intestines Braised With Pig's Ears, Palm Sugar, Cinnamon, and Anise Star
- 2 pods Palm sugar
- 10 leaves Lime tree leaf
- 1 lb Pork intestine
- 2 Pig's ears
- 3 Anise star
- 2 sticks Cinnamon
- 2 stalks Lemongrass
- ¼ cup Soy sauce
- 1 tbsp Fish sauce
- ½ tsp MSG
- ½ tbsp Salt
- ¼ cup Water
- Wash lime tree leaves and set aside
- Cut lemongrass stalks into 2-3-inch pieces
- Rinse pork intestines and pig's ears under cold water, then set aside
- Fill half a large pot with water and set to boil over medium heat
- Add pork intestines, pig's ears, lime tree leaves, lemongrass, and salt to the pot with water before it boils. Allow everything to boil for 10 minutes
- Discard the hot water along with the lime tree leaves and lemongrass, keeping the intestines and ears in the pot
- Rinse the intestines and ears well under cold water
- Heat 1/4 cup of water in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat, then add palm sugar to the pot and stir
- Continue to stir the palm sugar pods vigorously with a spoon or spatula until the pods break up and the sugar begins to melt
- Add anise star and cinnamon sticks to the pot and continue to stir everything together
- Add soy sauce and stir
- Add fish sauce and stir
- Add MSG and stir
- Add pork intestines and pig's ears and stir everything together, so that the sauce coats the intestines and ears evenly
- Braise the intestines and ears over medium-low heat, stirring continuously, for 30 minutes
- Remove the pork intestines and pig's ears from the pot and chop into small, 1-inch bits
- Serve with steamed rice, fresh vegetables, and
spicy Cambodian dipping sauce.
How are pork intestines used in cooking?
Below is an overview of the most common uses of pork intestines in cooking:
- As flavor sponges: Pork intestines have a remarkable ability to soak up the flavors of the ingredients with which they’re cooked. Aromatic herbs, spices, and sauces infuse a rich variety of flavors into intestines. This absorbing quality makes pork intestines a favorite among chefs and food enthusiasts who appreciate a robust flavor profile in their dishes.
- As texture play: The texture of pork intestines is tender yet slightly chewy, so it adds a unique textural element to dishes. Pork intestines’ texture play is often appreciated in stews, soups, and braised dishes, adding a level of culinary intrigue that is hard to replicate with other cuts of meat.
- As a nutrition boost: Pork intestines might not be everyone’s first choice, but they offer a good amount of protein and other essential nutrients. This nutritional value is a bonus alongside their culinary applications.
Exploring the culinary potential of pork intestines is a rewarding experience — for those with an adventurous palate. Their use in cooking is a testament to the diverse and delicious ways in which traditional cuisines make use of every part of the animal, thus implementing a nose-to-tail philosophy that minimizes waste and maximizes flavor.
How are pork intestines prepared?
Pork intestines are prepared following three crucial steps. First, the intestines get a thorough cleaning to ensure they are free from any impurities. In the second step, the pork intestines undergo a boiling process which is meant to tenderize them and remove any foul odors before the intestines are ready to absorb the flavors of the ingredients of the dish. Thirdly, pork intestines are finally cooked with flavor-inducing ingredients. Braising, stir-frying, and grilling are common cooking techniques used to bring out the best in pork intestines, each method imparting its own unique flavor and texture to the dish.
How do pork intestines taste?
Pork intestines taste earthy and savory, with umami undertones. The inherent flavor of pork intestines is earthy and rich. However, pork intestines possess a savory quality with subtle umami undertones, which are enhanced with the addition of ingredients like soy sauce, fish sauce, or other savory elements common in Asian cuisine. This savory-umami duo makes pork intestines a flavorful addition to many dishes, as they create a taste depth of flavor that is hard to replicate.
One thing to note is that you can greatly enhance the taste of pork intestines with proper preparation. A meticulous cleaning and cooking process helps in removing any unwanted flavors, leaving behind a clean, meaty taste that’s ready to take on the flavors of the dish. The braised pork intestines recipe above walks you through the steps necessary for getting rid of the intestines’ inherent bad flavors by thoroughly rinsing and boiling with herbs like lemongrass and lime tree leaf.
Do pork intestines have a bad smell?
Yes, pork intestines have a characteristic unpleasant smell that is often more pronounced prior to cooking and can deter some individuals from using pork intestines in their recipes. However, there are traditional methods to mitigate this odor and make the intestines more palatable. In the recipe we shared above, we initially boil the pork intestines along with lime tree leaves and lemongrass, which are known for their aromatic and odor-neutralizing properties. Lime tree leaves bring a citrusy freshness, while lemongrass imparts a lemony, herbaceous aroma that neutralizes any unpleasant smells emanating from the intestines. The boiling process additionally serves a dual purpose: It cleans and sanitizes the intestines, while also beginning the process of flavor infusion, setting a clean and aromatic foundation for the subsequent stages of cooking. This initial step is crucial, as it prepares the intestines for the rich blend of flavors that follow, ensuring that the final dish is aromatic and free from any off-putting smells.
What are the culinary uses of pig’s ears?
Pig’s ears are a cherished ingredient in Cambodian culinary tradition, known for their unique texture and ability to absorb flavors. They’re often featured in slow-cooked stews and braised dishes, where their slightly chewy yet tender consistency can be fully appreciated. In the recipe above, the ears are cooked alongside the intestines, absorbing the aromatic spices and sauces, showcasing a classic Cambodian method of preparation. The slow braising process tenderizes the ears, allowing them to soak up the flavors, resulting in a dish that is as authentic as it is flavorful.
That said, the culinary uses of pig’s ears extend outside Cambodia across many cultures and cuisines. Here’s a glimpse into how pig’s ears are utilized around the globe:
- Chinese cuisine: In Chinese cuisine, pig’s ears are often served as a cold appetizer, thinly sliced after being braised with soy sauce and spices. They’re appreciated for their crunchy texture and are a common feature in the cold-cut platter.
- Spanish cuisine: In Spain, pig’s ears, or “oreja de cerdo,” are a popular tapas item. They are typically grilled or fried until crispy and served with a sprinkle of salt and a squeeze of fresh lemon.
- Southern United States: In the Southern United States, pig’s ears are often slow-cooked in soups and stews. They are also sometimes smoked, offering a different flavor and textural profile.
- Filipino cuisine: In the Philippines, pig’s ears are often grilled and served as street food, providing a crunchy snack.
How do pig’s ears taste?
Pig’s ears have a subtle, mild taste that makes them a versatile ingredient in many dishes. Their taste is often described as being slightly porky but not overpowering, which allows them to pair well with a variety of spices, herbs, and sauces.
Much like pork intestines, pig’s ears have an excellent ability to absorb the flavors of the ingredients with which they are cooked. The ears soak up the aromas and tastes of spices and sauces, often embodying the flavor profile of the dish they are part of. In our recipe above, the pig’s ears absorb the rich blend of palm sugar, soy sauce, cinnamon, and anise star, thus becoming carriers of this unique Cambodian flavor palette.
However, the real charm of pig’s ears lies in their texture rather than their taste. The ears possess a unique combination of crunchiness and tenderness that is rare in other cuts of meat. The cartilage within becomes tender when cooked properly, while the outer layer retains a pleasing crunch. This textural contrast is often the highlight in dishes that feature pig’s ears.