I cooked beef tongue the other day. First time. It ended up quite delicious, but I didn’t tell S what it actually was until after she had taken a couple bites. Of course, the kids didn’t care what it was, and C declared it the best dinner he’s ever eaten (he also said the same thing for the next two dinners, but in that moment at least, it was the best).
I’m guessing that 95% of you probably won’t continue (or you’ll finish reading, but just because you like to hear my rambling). And I get it – for most people, the thought of tongue or various other outside-the-norm body parts is a little intimidating. But it’s too bad that most of us “civilized” people tend to be afraid of anything that doesn’t come in a skinless, boneless, neatly wrapped package. I can’t pretend that I’m any better, so the last time we ordered a cow, I specifically requested that the tongue, heart, and liver be included, partly in an effort to expand my horizons a bit, but also to utilize more of the animal and not be so wasteful.
After all, once all the nice steaks and ribs are removed from a carcass, the remaining organs and less marketable bits are probably turned into dog food. But this offal (big thanks to the person who invented that word – really, who wants to eat offal when it sounds so awful?) often consists of some of the healthiest parts of the animal, and many cultures do place special value on these parts.
Anyway, I had some beef tongue in the freezer and some cider that was starting to ferment, so I figured I could probably kill two birds with one stone and use the cider as a flavorful braising liquid for the tongue, which requires long, slow cooking to tenderize. Red wine is also often used, but I had cider so that’s what we went with. Honestly, I was winging this recipe the entire way, so either I’m just a natural in the kitchen or I got lucky. And on that note, I list measurements for the sake of creating a recipe, but everything is just my estimate; I didn’t actually measure anything while I was doing this. Sorry.
Note: I won’t include any pictures of this meal, because a giant tongue isn’t all that photogenic. If you want a rough idea, look in a mirror, say “ahhh,” and imagine your tongue is black and 10 times the size. The end result of shredded beef in gravy, while delicious, is also not really visually appealing.
So start with a tongue; it’ll probably be somewhere in the 1-3 pound range. Put it in a pot, cover with water, and bring to a boil. After it’s been in there for 20 minutes or so, remove it from the water and let it cool.
When it’s cool enough to handle, start the very unglamorous process of removing the skin. This is probably where we’d lose most people. But if you can tough it out, grab a sharp knife and slowly strip the skin off the muscle and remove the veins from the underside, making sure to get all the little bits that may get missed the first time.
Okay, if you made it this far, you’re in the clear. The muscle is still shaped like a tongue, but we’re gonna cut it up into chunks (roughly, a few inches on a side) so you can’t tell anymore. Heat a splash of oil in a medium saucepan and toss in the chunks of meat, rotating occasionally so most of the sides get browned.
Add your braising liquid (enough to cover the meat) – this can be cider, red wine, broth, water with a few herbs tossed in… as long as it covers the meat, it’ll work. Bring to a low simmer, cover, and leave it alone for at least 2-3 hours. Start to test it periodically: when the meat is very tender, you should be good to go. Remove the meat from the pot (but keep the braising liquid for now) and set aside to cool.
To make the gravy, I started in a new saucepan with a little butter, some tomato paste, and some flour (maybe a tablespoon of each?). Cook this over medium-low for a few minutes, until it starts to get a little darker. Add cup or so of the reserved braising liquid (if you used red wine or plain water, I’d probably just add some milk), whisking rapidly over the heat until it starts to thicken up. Toss in some salt and pepper. Depending on how much gravy you want, you may need to keep adding liquid (I used milk for all subsequent additions) and flour – I probably ended up using a few cups of liquid and a few tablespoons of flour, but I wanted lots of gravy. Good thing, ’cause it was a darn good gravy.
Cut/tear the meat into smallish chunks and add to the gravy. We served this over a potato/rutabaga mash, but use it however you like. Savor it (but don’t think about it too much).
Give yourself a pat on the back – you made beef tongue and survived.