Friday, 5 March 2010
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.