Friday, 5 March 2010

Boiled Tongue



As far as titles go, the above is probably about as enticing as ‘How to Par-tay the Mormon Way’ but bear with me on this one. Please.

Granted, taken in turn neither of the two words is particularly exciting and together they create some sort of force field that for many will result in the gag reflex kicking in with gusto. Admittedly even I approached this one with a small amount of trepidation.

Like a badly executed kiss, it started with a tongue. A great big flapping, fresh, wet, grey, spikey tongue. Curled up on the chopping board it resembled some sort of Mephistophelean re-imagining of an evil pet, like a prop from an early David Cronenberg film.



Its size, its weight, its appearance, its texture – everything conspired against it becoming a foodstuff were it not for the good reports I’d had regarding its utter brilliance when cooked.

Although technically offal, there is no reason why tongue should provoke such revulsion. It is muscle in the same way topside or fillet steak is muscle. However, due to the amount of work it does – daily tearing kilos of fresh grass from the earth – it needs some serious cooking. To stop it from drying out it also needs brining. I gave it 5 days but if you’re tempted to try this at home (please do) I’d let it spend at least a week in the brine bucket, possibly even ten days.

To stop it being overly salty it went into fresh water for 24 hours before being slung into the stock pot along with the usual suspects – carrot, celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns and a couple of bay leafs.



Four hours at the merest quivering simmer was enough to cook it through. I’d been reliably informed (thank you once again Fergus Henderson) that tongue is easier to peel (!) when still warm. Even so, a sharp knife was necessary and the process was more of a paring than a peeling. Although not a pleasant process by the time the tough barbed outer skin was removed what sat in front of me was recognisably meat that looked at least as good as a slab of tasty salt beef.

Which is exactly what it was.

Assuming that it would be best fresh from the cooking pot and still warm, it was thinly sliced and crammed into a bagel along with a generous slick of mayonnaise, a handful of rocket and some sliced pickles. The whole lot was topped, inevitably, with the lurid yellow mustard so reminiscent of New York’s finest culinary offerings.



By now any feelings of trepidation had long since evaporated and the first bite was an adventurously large one. It was delicious. It’s as simple as that. Perhaps made even more so by the timidity with which it approached. ‘Under promise and over deliver’ seems to be the mantra of marketing. If so, tongue is the marketer’s dream. Don’t be surprised if it joins cheeks, shanks and trotters in the ‘forgotten cuts’ section of supermarket. Now that will set tongues wagging.

13 comments:

Sylvie said...

You're right about the title of today's post, but I'm neither squeamish nor easily put off and I have been eating sliced tongue on sandwiches ever since I was little. My dad likes it and in Germany it's still widely available at the sliced meat counter of any butcher, so it made a regular appearance on our table.

Dave said...

Curing and simmering is the best way to cook tongue. Sliced tongue was once a staple of delicatessens here until relatively recently, but it can still be found at some old-school markets. I'm glad you discovered how delicious it can be.

dangoodbaum said...

the journey of the tongue is a journey of the soul
http://www.foodbomb.org/?p=167

jamesramsden said...

It's real kitchen alchemy this - transforming something pretty grim looking into a treat. My Dad used to boil the tongue and then press it into a large ramekin (which seems to be the form you find it in most shops). It's superb.

Just Cook It said...

Sylvie - Sounds like I'm a little late to the tongue party (!). Good to know that it's still popular over Europe.

Dave - Shame that it's been edged out of the common diet but also heartening to know that it's still available some places. Thanks for the comment

Dan - great link, Thanks. Love it.

James - yeah, you're spot on. Kitchen alchemy at it's finest.

Lizzie said...

The picture of the tongue raw looks disgusting, but worth persevering for the end product. Great post!

croquecamille said...

I remember the first time I had tongue. I was 8, definitely old enough to be grossed out, but for some reason I decided to try it. And I loved it! I have yet to cook one of my own, though. A trip to the butcher may be in order...

matt said...

fantastic. love your writing here too sir. Beef tongue has long been a favorite of mine, but is pretty hard to find here in the US. If I do, I am following your direction and cooking up one of these bad boys.

margavp said...

i will see your tongue post (v nice photos by the way) and raise you another one i wrote about (venison tongue this time) last week! if you allow links that is...
http://margavp.wordpress.com/2010/03/04/nose-to-tail/

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

I love your tongue sandwich! Great use of tongue.

Lola said...

My mum used to make this, I still remember her skinning it, taste buds and all! Yes you are right, it is easier to skin when warm, then she would roll it up and press it into a mold with some sort of gelatin. Delicious but all a bit too intrepid for me. I haven't quite gotten round to cooking with offal yet...

Really enjoyed watching you on Masterchef last night! Roll on the semifinals!
Lola

Annisa said...

Ox tongue! Grew up on that in Singapore, we made a traditional Indonesian ox tongue stew:
http://indonesia-eats.blogspot.com/2009/02/semur-lidah-indonesian-ox-tongue-stew.html

I'm all for nose to tail cookery, it was only when I moved to the UK did I notice people were so squeamish about the rest of the bodyparts (cows do not come wrapped in plastic!). You must try tripe satay one day. Commendable work :)

lainie said...

i...didn't even realise tongue is considered offal. it's pretty common in malaysia — and it can be pretty awesome with spicy food.

since you're doing nose to tail, try cooking pork fallopian tubes? it's more common here as satay, or with porridge etc, but it'd be interesting to see how you handle 'sang cheong'