Learning to love offal, Part I: How (and why) to cook beef tongue

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.

Beef tongue from Heritage Hollow Farms

This is a 1.89 pound beef tongue.  Looks creepy, will taste delicious.  Stick with me!

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).

Cooking vegetables

 

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!

Looks icky, will taste yummy.  I promise!

Looks icky, will taste yummy. I promise!

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.

Thyme, rosemary, sage

Tongue cooking

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.

Cooked beef tongue

(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!

Ready to serve up on sandwiches or in tacos!

Ready to serve up on sandwiches or in tacos!

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.

Tongue tacos

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!

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10 thoughts on “Learning to love offal, Part I: How (and why) to cook beef tongue

  1. El Guapo

    The first time I saw tongue, I was appalled at how much it looked like…tongue.
    But sooo delicious.
    I feel bad for squeamish diners. there are so many delicious parts of animals out there, and so few are widely used.

    Reply
    1. Erin E. Post author

      Wow, you are so awesome! Thanks for all your kind words and your follow! I’ll absolutely be checking out your blog. Anyone against squeamish diners is a friend of mine. (Although in full disclosure, I have to admit I’m not sure if I could eat brain.)

      Reply
  2. Trent Lewin

    Oh goodness… I didn’t read this whole thing, but I will come back to do so (I gots to sleep). I haven’t had beef tongue before, but I am a big fan of all things beef, so it’s just a matter of time.

    Reply
    1. Erin E. Post author

      Thanks for coming to check out my blog!

      Yes, I highly recommend trying it when you can – tongue is my new favorite cut of cheap beef (qualifier because, let’s face it, it’s pretty hard to beat a porterhouse). It’s a pretty big mental hurdle, but if you can hop it, you’re in a whole new section of tastytown.

      Reply
      1. Trent Lewin

        All right, I’ll have to try it. My wife doesn’t eat beef. She doesn’t eat anything with four legs (she’s weird), so it’ll be me and the kids. I may tell the kids afterwards what they just eat… they might be okay with it, they love beef.

        Nice meeting you. I saw that you threw in on Calamity Rae’s site. Much respect.

      2. Erin E. Post author

        Haha, I totally understand where your wife is coming from. I was a vegetarian for a few years, in protest of the disgusting nature of America’s mass produced meat factories (I’m weird, it’s ok). I’ve recently found a great farm that supplies our animal products, and I’ve allowed them to sneak their way back into my diet. Because beef (from happy cows) is yummy.

        I think you should tell the kids after 🙂 I don’t have any of my own, so I can’t speak from experience, but I think most kids don’t quite process what goes into their food, only whether or not it tastes good once they’ve eaten it.

        It’s a pleasure to meet you too. Calamity Rae deserved everything nice I said and then some. Girl is wicked strong, and creeps have no place anywhere.

      3. Trent Lewin

        Yeah, I’ll definitely tell them after. I live in a place with a lot of German heritage, actually, so I’ve been thinking of feeding the kids pig tails (here, they’re slathered in some sweet syrupy stuff – it’s not my favorite, to be honest). But you’re right, I’ll tell them after.

        I get all my beef from the Mennonites, they keep it clean and it’s delicious – and tastes totally different than grocery store meat.

        I agree, creeps have no place anywhere.

  3. Becki Duckworth

    Growing up in Illinois in farm country, the beef tongue was one meal all of my siblings and I looked forward to. My Grandmother made a wonderful dish with the tongue. Yummy !!

    Reply
    1. Erin E. Post author

      Hey there, thanks for stopping by! I agree, it’s so yummy and comforting. Definitely a dish I’ll be making again in the future.

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Home alone and living the dream | Slightly North of Home

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