Monday, July 03, 2006

Tacos de Lengua

A few years ago I tried tacos de lengua - cow's tongue tacos - for the first time, and it was surprisingly good. I'd never thought about making them myself, but the last time I put in an order with D`Artagnan tongue was on sale, and I figured ... why not.

I was thinking that I would get some prepared meat, sliced nice and thin and just waiting for me to spice it up. Nope. They sent me the whole damn tongue - a giant monster of a thing that scared the bejeesus of me when I opened the box.

I didn't know what the hell to do with it, and the only recipes I could find were horribly vague ... along the lines of boil tongue until soft, peel the skin, slice and serve. It wasn't enough.

I went on Tribe & asked around for recipes. I got some great stories about how D's grandmother used to serve tongue on cold Saskatchewan mornings ... but no specific recipes that really improved upon the original. And a few people asked why I was bothering, why I just didn't grill a chicken like normal folks.

So, why tongue [and snails and rabbit livers and wild boar bacon & all the other exotic meats I keep ordering]?

I would never eat any of the 'gross' cuts when I was a kid. I would throw a tantrum if my mom tried to serve us any innards. And then I lived overseas for a bit, and one day I was asked to kill a pig for a feast. Literally. It was here's the bat kid, and there's the pig.

And that changes things. It changes your relationship to meat. Either you go veggie, or you realize that respect for the animal & the life you took demands that you do not waste a thing. And suddenly I was doing things that would have sickened me a year earlier ... draining a pig's blood for soup, boiling the head for the meats near the cheek, rendering the fat for lard, cleaning the intestines for chittlins, and so on.

So food tastes different now. And now that I'm back in the states I find I still want some of the non-traditional meats - both for the flavor, and for the feeling that I'm re-connecting with something lost.

So that's why tongue.

And for the benefit of anyone Googling tacos de lengua recipes - here's my version. It was touch and go for awhile, and half-way through I was sure that I had completely mucked it all up. In the end the tacos turned out amazing. Better than anything I've had in the states, actually - go figure. Maybe I lucked out and had good tongue. Maybe fresh tongue is better? Who knows.

MC's Tacos de Lengua

1. Remove tongue from package. Marvel at its complexity. Empathize with cow. Resist urge to "lick" the cat with it. Rinse under cold water.

2. Bring salted water to boil. I seasoned the pot with a bit of onion, chile, carrot, peppers, garlic, parsley, bay leaf, cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg. Add tongue, reduce heat, and simmer for three hours.

3. Remove tongue & let cool. I usually save stocks, but this one had much too strong of a smell to be useful. Toss it.

4. The "recipe" said to skin the tongue, which sounds self-explanatory. It isn't. There was an outer covering that felt like sandpaper. I removed that. There was an inner layer of very thin gristle which didn't peel off. I didn't know what to do, but since I couldn't get it off cleanly I left it on.

5. Slice the main part of the tongue. Surprisingly, it's very soft - like a firm bologna. It was easy to cut into pastrami-thin slices.

6. And now the part that confused me: what to do with the back of the tongue? There was a big hunk of dark red meat and fat and gristle that covered the back bottom half. The instructions said to clean the fat and remove the small bones, but I couldn't tell what was fat and what was meat. It was all marbled and jumbled up. Eventually I gave up & declared it all junk. Fed it to the cats.

7. Stare at bowl of sliced tongue. Think Damn. Now what?

8. Mince and fry one clove garlic, a touch of onion, and a touch of jalapeno. Add tongue, season, and stir fry until no longer pink.

9. Throw some corn tortillas on the fire. When they're done fill 'em up with tongue, tomatillo salsa, and a few tomato chunks.

Eating tongue by itself might be a challenge, but they were great in tacos. The meat is soft - you can cut it with a fork - and the flavor has a subtle gaminess to it. I'd do it again as a treat, but probably not as a regular dish.

The meat does pick up a lot of oil, though. I fried the slices in a few Tbs of olive oil, and could've probably only used a few drops.

I wish I had pics.

1 comment:

JAMSGems4U said...

Well, MC, you're right -- I've Googled tacos de lengua and not come up with much except the various parts of your post and a few recipes that aren't quite what I'm looking for! Thanks for the better description of how to skin the thing, as right now I've got it and a heart (ever done one of those???) boiling in a pot. From your description, it doesn't sound too easy to mess up. Wish me well!