Licking the ugly bits (cooking)

Yeah, it’s a pun. My blog, My choice of misery to inflict.

Since TaMara asked, the first Dirty Bits recipe(s) will involve the tongue.

Friends, the look of the tongue causes my wife and daughter to gag, so I don’t make it often at ALL. However, the tongue is one of my favorite bits of meat. It is an extremely lean, well-developed piece of muscle. Setting aside taste, the closest analogue for preparation is squid, with cuts such as Boston Butt’s coming next closest. It is amazingly tender when heat is barely (if at all) applied, then it turns tough until it’s had so much heat that the proteins collapse; at which point it is again velvety. Tastewise it’s, well, it tastes like the animal from which it came.

The ‘old-fashioned’ ways of cooking the tongue are long-cooking techniques. Braising is most common but not the only option. I also think the tongue is ideal for several ‘fast-cook’ techniques: Mongolian hotpots, oil fondues, and hibachis being examples. Personally, I think the tongue is very close to being my preferred choice for tartare and carpaccio as well.

I’m going to give you two rambling recipes, but before I do I’m going to discuss the logistics of the tongue. I suspect more than one of you has never dealt with the tongue.

If at all possible, purchase your tongue cleaned and skinned. There are two reasons – practical and emotional. The practical reason is that getting the skin off is a pain. I’ll be discussing that in one of the recipes as it’s likely you won’t get ‘how’, but why do work you don’t need to do? The second reason is emotional – or perhaps the better word is visceral. I don’t know why, but most people get a bit queasy when they see the tongue with all the papillae (bumps that hold the tastebuds). It is TONGUE, not ‘meat’. (heave)

The basic of cleaning the tongue is to cook it to about 3/4 done (which means 2-4 hours depending on what animal’s tongue and what cooking technique you’re using), then pull it out and pop it into cold water like you’d do for peeling tomatoes. (Oh, you didn’t know that trick? Well, the heat that’s in the object meets the cold and forms a condensation layer. Since the skin is really separate from the meat – tomato or tongue – it gets pushed a bit further apart. This makes it easier – not easy, just easier – to pull the two apart.) Once it’s peeled, look for any additional membranes and then get ready to finish the dish. Let me note that you CAN peel the skin without the cook and blanch process but it is a LOT harder and you will lose some of the meat in the process – it’s more slicing and less peeling.

OK, let’s actually make a couple – no, let’s make a trio of tongue dishes. The first one is likely to NOT wind up on your list for ‘first tries’. The second might not, and it’s a rather extended preparation time. That said, between the three you’ll get a good idea of what it is you’re getting with tongue.

Recipe one is tartare. Tartare is raw meat with a strong flavoring sauce. Classically it’s made from very fine cuts of steak, has worcerstershire and dijon and capers and maybe a bit of wine or brandy plus an egg yolk to enrichen it. It’s eaten cold on baguettes or other breads, toasts, or crackers. And I’ve basically described it the recipe already.

This is a case where you REALLY want to get your meat peeled if you can. However, before you ask your butcher to chop it for you make sure he knows it’s for tartare and that you trust him. The tongue under the skin is surprisingly free of bacteria. Run it through where other cuts have been and all bets are off. (If you’re truly paranoid, take it home with skin on and slice it off once home.)

With a pound of chopped tongue the truly basic recipe is two tablespoons each of worcestershire and dijon and two egg yolks. If it were chopped steak it’d only be one egg yolk but I repeat: Tongue is VERY LEAN. Serve as close to chopping and mixing as you can manage. FWIW a pound of meat is a LOT, and this is considered enough to serve four. Cut it in half to serve two – or for four tentative tasters.

For the second recipe, taking the tongue’s skin off first is optional – at least at first. See, we’re going to corn the tongue (first – I’ve got more).

The first thing you want is a non-reactive container large enough for the tongue and the water that’s going to cover it – and maybe something that’ll keep the tongue submerged as well. Crocks, casserole dishes, and large glass jars are examples. I’m gong to call this the pickling container – corning is merely a type of pickling, after all.

The next thing you’re going to do is make enough (and only enough) brine. Put your tongue in plastic wrap or a plastic bag and put it in the bottom of the container. Add enough water to cover it by a couple of inches. Now pour the water into a separate pan and start adding salt. Add it by the quarter cup, here, and stir till it’s dissolved. Before adding the next quarter cup of salt, put a raw egg (still in shell) into the water. When it floats with about half the eggshell out of the water, you’ve added enough salt.

Now add your corning spices:
1/4 c brown sugar
2 bay leaves (crumbled)
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice
1 teaspoon peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon mustard seed
2 cloves whole garlic, peeled.

Bring the brine to a boil, boil for 15 minutes, then let cool to room temperature. Meanwhile unwrap the tongue, wash it, and return it to the pickling container. Add the room temperature brine to the container, add a weight to keep the tongue submerged, put plastic wrap over the top, and put it in the refrigerator for about three weeks. While it’s in there check it every so often to make sure the meat has stayed submerged, and if you want you can pull it out and turn the tongue once a week or so.

It’s corned, so now we’re going on to the next step. I give you three choices here depending on what you’ve got available, running from my most to least preferred. Smoke (hot smoke); slow-grill (BBQ); and boil (like any corned beef briskit). For the smoking and the slow-grilling you have to keep your temperature controlled – you want the chamber around 200-210 degrees, and you’re aiming for a finish temperature of around 165. If you’re BBQing you may (probably will) have to mop the meat (I’ve used butter, olive oil, and a red wine vinegar seasoned with the same spices as were in the brine successfully). If you’re boiling it put it in enough water to cover by a couple of inches and add an onion you’ve halved and a couple of broken cabbages, and boil till it’s tender.

In all three cases, once the tongue is done and IF it didn’t come skinned (or you didn’t slice off the skin yourself), now’s the time to slit the skin and peel it off.

My favorite of these is the smoked. It’s pastrami. It’s really, really good pastrami. By the way, if you’ve the smoking facilities to COLD-smoke it, do so – it makes a better pastrami.

Pause – why do I like this better than brisket? Lean (no fat), no gristle or other connective tissue, short muscle fibers, and a slightly stronger beef taste combine to a consistently smooth and full-flavored meat.

Final recipe: braised. For this I’m going to make a fairly simple braised tongue. However, for those wanting to ‘do it right’, HERE is a link to Julia Child’s more flavorful Langue de Boeuf Braisee au Madere. Change around the ingredients a bit and you can get basque or italian or german — all of which have their variants (though it’s more likely to be sheep or pig than beef tongue).

I’m assuming a beef tongue, which is going to give you about three to four pounds of meat. If you’ve gotten a smaller tongue (by way of having the butcher cut, or choosing one from a different animal), adjust as appropriate.

Start by covering the tongue with cold water and let it set for a couple of hours. The sole purpose of this is cleaning and again if you trust your butcher you can skip this step. When you’re done, toss the water.

Heat a large stock-pan to medium, add a bit of oil, and then a pound of chopped carrots and three chopped onions. Stir briefly, then put the tongue on top and let it sit till the bottom layer of veggies start to brown. Immediately add a pint of beef stock (up to about half-way on the tongue). Bring it to a boil, reduce it to a bare simmer, cover the pot with a lid, and let it cook till the tongue is fork-tender. Check it every 15 minutes or so to make sure it hasn’t boiled dry – it shouldn’t if you’re experienced at braising, but if you’re not you may lose more moisture than you intended. Add a bit of stock – no more than half a cup at any time – if needed.

Again, this is going to take two to three hours to get back to tender. Once it IS tender, you’re going to do two things separately. Let’s follow the tongue first.

Pull out the tongue and…
If you need to peel it, plunge it into cold water. This will work like it does for tomatoes and other meats and veggies with tight skins – loosen it so it’s easier to peel. Remove the skin and the membrane.

Once peeled – or if you didn’t need to peel it you’re here now – you are going to slice the tongue to form medallions of 13/8 to 1/2 inch thick. Set aside and let’s chase everything else for a moment.

We pulled the tongue. Now drain and reserve the stock – we should have between a cup and a pint – and set aside the veggies for a moment. Make a butter and flour roux (one tablespoon of each). Add back the stock while stirring and boil till it thickens slightly. Stir in a tablespoon of tomato paste and a quarter cup of semi-dry red wine, add the tongue slices, and finally add back the veggies to cover. Simmer for another 30 to 45 minutes or until the tongue is easily pierced with a fork.

Serve with… serve it with what you’d serve with a braised beef tenderloin and you’ll do very, very well indeed.

Three tongue recipes that will give you an idea of something to do about those ugly bits.


3 thoughts on “Licking the ugly bits (cooking)

  1. Pingback: Nasty Bits from Kirk « What’s 4 Dinner Solutions

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