As I mentioned in my last post, one of my goals for 2014 is to broaden my culinary horizons and push myself in the kitchen. During 2013, I became comfortable with making fresh, from-scratch pasta and bread. I feel confident cooking most any cut of meat or type of fish, and I can handle all but the most exotic of vegetables with my eyes shut.
So what’s next?
You got it. Offal. Organ meat. Liver, sweetbreads, and beef tongue. These cuts of meat are considered “nasty” or “weird” by most Americans, but are staples, or even delicacies, in other cultures around the world. But simply because our cultural perception of these meats is less than favorable, there’s absolutely no reason why we shouldn’t learn to cook them, learn to eat them, and learn to love them.
For me, the biggest benefit to offal consumption is adherence to the “nose to tail” philosophy. I truly believe that “If you’re going to kill the animal it seems only polite to use the whole thing” (Fergus Henderson, from his 2004 book The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating). Animals might have been put on this planet to provide food and substance, but that doesn’t mean we have a right to be wasteful. Plus, offal is delicious and nutritious. Organ meats are tender, flavorful, and packed with vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, and B-12. And if you still need convincing, offal is cheap. The organs I bought were $4 a pound, coming out to about $1.50 a serving.
Last month, I ordered beef tongue, beef liver, and beef sweetbreads from Heritage Hollow Farms, our local source for delicious, affordable, humanely raised pork, chicken, and beef, and decided to tackle the beef tongue first. Beef tongue is the easiest to prepare, but the hardest to “stomach”, if you’ll excuse the expression. Because, this should come as no surprise to you, it looks like a tongue.
But that’s shouldn’t stop us! Mind over matter. We’re doing great things for the environment, our bodies, and our wallets. Mentally prepare yourself, take a deep breath, and repeat after me: it’s just another cut of beef, and it’s going to taste delicious. Imagine the juiciest, most flavorful pot roast you can imagine. This is so. much. better.
Open the package and rinse the tongue to get rid of the excess blood. This was the “ickiest” part for me, because the texture of the tongue “skin” is so leathery and weird. I decided to give it a quick rinse under running water, then placed it in a bowl with cool water to soak for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the vegetables. I cooked mine with 2 carrots, cut into thick chunks, 2 onions, quartered, and lots of garlic, smashed (we’re going to strain the cooking liquid, so no need to waste time peeling anything).
In a large pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and add the vegetables with a healthy pinch of salt. Sauté for 10-ish minutes, until browned in places. I used my Breville Fast Slow Cooker for this step, as it can switch from a sauté function straight into a slow-cooker, without dirtying an extra pan. If you don’t feel like doing more dishes, you can skip this step and add the veggies directly to your slow cooker, or you can cook everything in a large pot or Dutch oven.
So many options!
Anyway, after the vegetables have cooked down, deglaze the pan with a few cups of wine (I used a combination of champagne left over from New Year’s and red wine left over from Tuesday night), stock, beer, or water. Whatever you have will work. Cook the mixture for a few minutes to allow the alcohol to cook off. Now, we’re ready for the tongue!
Remove the tongue from the bowl of water and pat dry with paper towels. Also, don’t think about the fact that it’s a tongue. This is where it starts getting delicious!
Add the tongue to the pot with the vegetables and wine (or stock, whatever).
Also, simply because I had them in the fridge, I tossed in some fresh thyme, rosemary, and sage. If you don’t have them on hand, just throw in a few bay leaves.
Now for the easy part – leave it alone! Cook the beef tongue until a knife inserts easily into the side. Mine went for 6 hours in the slow cooker, but don’t be afraid to cook for longer. This is a cut that, like chuck roast, really can’t be over-cooked. So leave it alone and do a few loads of laundry, go for a long run, or sit on your butt and watch 4 episodes of Top Chef.
When it’s done, pull the tongue out of the pot and leave it on a cutting board to cool slightly. This is where you cut the tough outer skin of the tongue away from the delicious meat. It’s incredibly easy to do while the tongue is still warm (in fact, you probably won’t even need a knife for most of it), so don’t let it cool too much. Mine needed about 15 minutes before it was cool enough for me to handle without burning my fingertips.
(If you look closely, you can see the slit on the top where I tested the doneness by inserting a knife.)
The outer skin came off so easily I didn’t even have a chance to take a picture of it. Keep cutting until all the tough and grisly pieces are gone, and you’re left with yummy, tender, flavorful, beef!
To use the tongue, I went the conventional route – tacos. I sliced the meat up into thin strips, tossed it in a skilled with cumin, cayenne pepper, and garlic powder, and cooked over medium-high heat until the meat was nicely browned. Add that to a corn tortilla with beans, sour cream, a little cheese, and a quick slaw of carrots and red onions, and you have a delicious, easy, healthy meal.
I admit, I was a little skeptical about offal in general. I thought it would be more difficult to cook; after all, the beef tongue served in trendy restaurants (ahem, Oyamel) certainly isn’t cheap. But seriously, y’all, this couldn’t have been easier. And it was way yummier than any other “cheap” cut of beef I’ve ever eaten. I know it looks weird at first, and it does take some manuevering to get over that mental hurdle of OMG I’M EATING TONGUE, but convince yourself that you can do it. Let’s make 2014 the year of at-home offal comsumption!