There is nothing to be afraid of. If you like short ribs, steak, brisket — ANYTHING that was once attached to a four-legged beastie that mooed — then you will like lengua, or beef tongue.
It’s just another muscle, another piece of meat. Perhaps so often overlooked because it’s unusual and tangibly looks like an anatomical animal part — unlike the neatly packaged and labeled steaks that we are so familiar with. Just because it is different does not mean it’s not good.
It was just a week ago that Anthony Bourdain tragically left this life. But the magic that he was stays with us. In his words, his shows, the food and places and people he loved. Such an iconic, indomitable individual.
Even with all the experience that fame and career begets, he never failed to display a humility, a willingness to explore new things as he traveled around our world. His curiosity was contagious. If you watch one episode of “Parts Unknown” you’ll likely see our beloved kitchen pirate slurping on tripe-filled pho, gnawing on a chicken head, digging into a pile of trotters and headcheese with total glee on his craggy face. I love that about him.
Most of us will not be jetting off to the Amazon to eat roasted snake belly stuffed with otter meat — but adventure can be found in our kitchens. Always. In discovering the superpowers of sumac and saffron, the wisdom in Appetites as we nostalgically flip through its pages. The complete virtues of a perfect summer tomato and the helpfulness of a friendly butcher…maybe even in some beef tongue.
The flavor of beef tongue is concentrated and “beefy” for want of a better explanation. Its got the richness of a short rib but more tender and light in texture. And it loves tacos! Boy oh boy does it love tacos. The two marry together like ducks mated for life. There are countless other ways to flavor and pair beef tongue and I plan to explore them heartily. But this is an excellent place to start.
Beer-Braised Lengua Tacos (Beef Tongue)
For the Braise:
- 2.5-3 pound whole beef tongue
- 1 bottle pilsner or Mexican lager beer 12 ounces
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 5-6 cups beef stock if you're using low sodium stock add a hefty pinch of salt
- 1 large onion roughly chopped
- 10 sprigs thyme or oregano
- 2 TB agave or brown sugar
- 2 tsp smoked paprika
- 1.5 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp allspice
- 1/2-1 tsp red chile flakes
- kosher salt & fresh pepper
For the Tacos -- whatever floats your boat! -- also may I suggest:
- pickled red onions
- sliced radishes
- mashed avocado
- yogurt or sour cream
- chopped tomatoes, scallion
- cabbage slaw
- lime wedges
- ..and tortillas, obviously
For the Braised Lengua: (can do the day before)
Rub salt and pepper on the tongue and let sit while prepping your other ingredients.
In a large stockpot or dutch oven nestle in the tongue, onion, herbs and spices.
Pour the beer, vinegar, and stock to cover the meat. If the pot is really big add some water to submerge.
Slowly bring to a simmer. Keep at a steady pace, mostly covered, for about 2-3 hours. Check every hour to see how things are going and pierce at the thick back end -- if a knife or skewer easily slips in -- you're good.
Remove tongue by way of tongs to a large clean cutting board.
Increase the heat on the dutch oven and with the cover off gently boil until the poaching liquid is reduced by half.
Now this is the most important part: As soon as you can realistically touch it without burning your fingers you gotta go at it.
The hotter the meat the easier to get the skin off.
Starting at the wide back end, slice off any gristly bits and make a clean cut. Run a small knife under the skin to loosen, lift up and start to cut and create a seam as if you're slicing through tape to open a box. Carefully make your way to the tip of the tongue.
Now wiggle your fingers into the seam and pull and peel. It won't come off in one grand piece but you should be getting nice long ribbons of skin.
Discard the skin bits. The very back of the tongue may still be bumpy and that texture is pretty gross in my honest opinion so scrape and slice that off too. Yay hard part's over well done you savvy child you!
With a sharp knife shave tongue into thin slivers, starting at the back, until you have a delicious mountain of beefy meat.
Strain the braising liquid, add the meat back in, and refrigerate until ready to use.
To serve: Reheat over low heat and keep hot while you all go to town on piles of taco magic.
- You'll most often find tongues frozen. So plan ahead if you're thinking about buying and cooking the day of.
- Feel free to brine your tongue, however I find that a long slow braise -- especially made the day before -- is so packed with flavor a brine is unnecessary.
This recipe is part of a series called “The Uglies.” It’s about taking the odd and forgotten bits and giving them some sunshine.