Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Cooking a Beef Tongue; Tongue Tacos

It has been a long time since Mr. Ferdzy and I have stocked the freezer with meat, but we committed this week to buying a whole lamb and a quarter cow. Freezer currently being defrosted! In the meantime, I was able to get a beef tongue from the beef farmer (it was Bluewater Organic Farms) which is an amazingly hard thing to get hold of nowadays.

Of course, Mr. Ferdzy was seriously not enthused. This is one of the reasons it is so hard to get beef (or any) tongue nowadays - not just him, but all those other people who are not enthused. Seriously not enthused. I'd say fine, more for me! But somehow it doesn't seem to work out that way.

If you want tongue and can track it down, it will either be very inexpensive (mine turned out to be free because it had been kicking around in the freezer long enough to get a little freezer burned) or it will be very expensive; this is what happens when a product is in both low supply and low demand.

Mr. Ferdzy declared 2 reasons for lack of enthusiasm, and they are pretty typical. One is just stupid: he "knows what it is". Yeah; it's tongue. That steak he likes so much better is a chunk of leg; deal with it. Mind you, he did agree to try Tacos de Lengua, which is to say Tongue Tacos. This is in fact a traditional Mexican thing, and since he loves tacos it seemed the best bet to try and generate some interest on his part.

The other reason is fair enough: he doesn't like the texture, he says. Even though tongue is not an organ meat in the usual sense - it's a muscle, just like that chunk of leg meat - it does have a different texture than most muscle meats. It has more fat and collagen distributed throughout, and so ends up with a softer texture, slicker and a little gelatinous. One of the few ways tongue may still occasionally be available is in gelatine, as a cold cut. I used to be able to get this at the Kitchener Farmers Market, and this was the only way Mr. Ferdzy had previously had tongue. (I hope you can still get it there; I just haven't been able to go there in years.) Meats in gelatine or aspic are about as far out of fashion in North America as it is possible to get and people here are just not used to them and tend not to like them when they do try them. On the other hand this texture is popular in Asia and apparently tongue is a valued ingredient in Japanese, Korean, and Chinese cooking.

If you want to try tongue, it is very easy to cook. First it gets poached for several hours, then it gets skinned. After that it is ready to be incorporated into recipes. So what did Mr. Ferdzy think of the tacos? He found them acceptable, and he was willing to eat them. It won't ever be his favourite meat, but hot in a taco it was sufficiently different from the cold jellied slice of tongue he so disliked, to be something that he could enjoy to a reasonable degree. Me, I enjoyed them very much.

Tongue Tacos or Tacos de Lengua

Cook the Tongue:
1 beef tongue, 1.5 to 2 kg (3 to 5 pounds)
3 to 4 bay leaves
1 medium onion, peeled and coarsely sliced
2 stalks of celery
1 carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 head garlic, peeled
2 litres of water
1 1/2 teaspoons of salt
2 teaspoons black peppercorns

Pretty easy! Rinse off the tongue and put it in a large stock pot with the remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil then simmer gently but steadily for 3 to 4 hours. Turn it over once or twice to ensure even cooking.

Remove it from the stock and let it cool. While it is still warm, peel off the skin that covers the tongue. Discard the skin. (A lot of people suggest feeding it to your dog, if you have one.) The tongue is then ready to be used in further recipes.

The cooking broth should be strained, and the solids discarded. It is a light but useful beef broth, which you can use right away or freeze. Maybe make some tongue soup with it.

Tongue Tacos:
corn tortillas
chopped cilantro
chopped lettuce
mild salty cheese, such as feta OR sour cream
tomato or tomatillo salsa

sliced avocado (optional)
sliced or shredded prepared beef tongue
bacon fat or lard (or other fat for frying)

Quantities cannot really be given; it's all a matter of what you think appropriate for the number of people and their appetites.

Around here if  you want edible corn tortillas you have to make them yourself, which is what I did, according to the package instructions; although I made them bigger and thicker than they suggest. If you have a Latin American grocery near you (lucky you!) ignore the "fresh" corn tortillas and buy them from the freezer. Check that they are not full of preservatives as the so-called fresh ones always are. They will taste so much better without them. Thaw the tortillas and be prepared to briefly heat them just before serving.

Wash and prepare any vegetables to be served; cilantro is traditional and lettuce or cabbage will also work. I mixed a little cilantro and lettuce together. Dice or crumble some cheese, have tomato salsa, and sliced avocado if you like; arrange these all in bowls and set them out on the table.

To serve, heat the bacon fat or lard and cook the prepared beef tongue in it until hot through and browned and crispy about the edges. Meanwhile heat the tortillas briefly in another hot skillet, just a few seconds on each side. Keep them warm in a covered dish.

Let diners assemble their own tacos at the table.

Last year at this time I made New Potatoes with Garlic Scapes & Parsley, and  Strawberry Poke Sponge Cake.

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