I’ve given details on preparing tongue a couple times (here for buffalo, here for pork). This corned beef tongue was brined with curing salt and lots of pickling spice. As you can see in the picture, the tongue has some insanely thorough fat marbling. It actually looks a bit like Wagyu beef! Fantastic sandwich…
The tongue is one of those cuts that sounds way, way weirder than it really is.
The tongue has two sections. There’s the part that we usually think of when we consider an animal’s tongue: the part at the front that can move freely around the mouth. Then there’s the base, at the back of the mouth. The meat from these two sections is different.
The tip meat has a very close, dense texture, and is lean. The base meat has a coarser texture, and is a bit fatty.
The meat from both sections is very tough in its raw state. As you can imagine, the tongue is a highly exercised muscle, and requires extensive cooking at low temperatures, usually using a moist-heat method. “Boiled tongue” is a classic, though I prefer braising for reasons I’ll discuss below.
Finding Tongue. When you buy a side of pork, there is not typically half a tongue on the carcass; the tongue is removed whole before the pig is split down the middle. This is good, because it means we have whole pork tongues to work with, but it also means that if you’re ordering a side of pork, or a split head, you’ll have to expressly ask that the tongue be included.
If you want only a tongue, most pork producers will have no problem providing you one. They usually sell for a few bucks.
Curing Tongue. Once you’ve secured a tongue, you’ll have to ask yourself if you want to cure it. I would say that if you plan on incorporating tongue into a ragout, or grind for sausage, or some other preparation that is going to mask its tonguiness, don’t cure it. If you’re going to be enjoying it sliced or chopped on its own, cure it.
I use the Basic Curing Brine for four days.
Cooking Tongue. The classic method of preparation, especially for beef tongue, is boiling. This does a fine job of tenderizing the meat, but I figure if you’ve gone to the trouble of curing a tongue so that it’s seasoned throughout, there’s no sense in boiling it unless you plan on consuming the cooking liquid as a broth. As we’ve noted on Button Soup several times (eg. cured bath chaps, ham hocks, et c), simmering cured meat in an excess of water leaches the salt and flavours from the meat into the liquid and makes the meat very, very bland.
I suppose the ideal solution is to vacuum-seal the tongue and poach it gently. I don’t have a vacuum sealer, but I’ve found that a shallow braise is just as effective at tenderizing the meat and doesn’t leach much cure from the flesh. I add enough light pork stock to come maybe a third up the side of the tongues. If you don’t have pork stock on hand, use water and vegetables, and by the end of cooking you’ll have some. If you are using a pressure cooker, be sure that you add enough stock to meet the minimum liquid requirements.
Bring the liquid to a boil, then cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the meat is tender, maybe three hours. One hour in a pressure cooker.
Peeling Tongue. There is a layer of “skin” on the tongue. It’s not like skin from other parts of the animal, which is thick, and has a layer of fat beneath. This is very thin. It’s not inedible or unsafe to eat, but it is always peeled away and discarded. If the meat has been cooked, the skin should come away easily. Best done while the tongue is still warm.
Eating Tongue. Now that you have a cured, cooked, peeled pig’s tongue, the world is yours. You can slice it cold and eat it with a bit of vinegar. Maybe put it on a sandwich.
Church Function Food. I’ve been thinking a bit about “church function food” lately. I remember certain events in church basements, things like bake sales, or the reception after a funeral. A very specific kind of food was served there. From my own childhood in Ontario I remember there was a lot of mayonnaise: creamy slaw, macaroni salad, and potato salad, for instance. For sweets there was jello, date squares, brownies, and cakes with ridiculous names like Queen Elizabeth and Wartime. I really didn’t mind this food.
My favourite church function dish is minced ham sandwiches: ground ham bound with mayonnaise and garnished with finely chopped celery and parsley, served between slices of white bread, possibly crustless. It’s the whitest dish known to man.
Here’s a variation on that. Tongue on toast. Chop the pork tongue, mix with celery and parsley. Here it’s taken with beet ketchup.
A while back I wrote a post on cold-cut Bath chaps: a boned-out pig’s head, cured, rolled around the tongue, tied, poached, and sliced. While I was extremely happy with the look of those Bath chaps, they were pretty bland. I figure that the cure leached into the poaching liquid.
I had another go at the chaps with this fall’s pig. This time, instead of using a whole head, I used only one jowl, cured, and wrapped around the tongue.
After rolling and tying, I seared the meat over high heat. Once chilled, I vacuum-packed the chaps and simmered them for two or three hours. This was not proper sous-vide: though the meat was vacuum-packed, it wasn’t cooked in a low-heat, temperature-controlled bath. A good hunk of fat rendered from the chaps, and some insanely flavourful jus leached out. The plastic seal definitely helped the meat retain its cure. The final plate was very flavourful, strong of garlic and herbs and brown sugar and salt.
I think that the vacuum-packing also helped bind the tongue and jowl together.
Obviously the presentation of these chaps isn’t as striking as that of the whole-head chaps. If I try tongue-and-cheek chaps again I’ll trim the jowl to a uniform thickness. You can see that the left side of the chaps, below, is thicker. Trimming that down would give a more balanced presentation, and maybe even let the jowl wrap all the way around the tongue.
A simple variation on the brine and boil theme.
The rule of thumb for brining hams is a half day per pound of meat. Tongues seem to take a week for the brine to penetrate, even if they only weigh two pounds. This could be because the meat is dense and fine-textured, but that’s only a theory.
As is easy to imagine, the tongue is a highly exercised muscle. It contains lots of connective tissue that moist heat dissolves into delicious, succulent gelatin. As such tongues are almost always boiled.
I had just made some good buffalo stock, so I decided to braise this particular tongue. I didn’t expect braising to affect the tongue much differently than boiling; I just figured it would result in some very rich, gelatinous stock to play around with.
I say that I braised the tongue, but I guess I should mention that I didn’t sear the meat beforehand because there is a layer of “skin” on the tongue that is practically inedible, even after extensive cooking. In the most obvious sign that there is a God in heaven and that He wants us to eat tongue, the skin easily peels away from the cooked flesh. There’s no point in searing the tongue, as the caramelized exterior will eventually be removed.
Tongue can be eaten in any number of ways, but my favourite is sliced thin and served cold. The tongue is nature’s cold-cut. As I said, cooked, it has lots of gelatin, and a surprising amount of fat at the base, where it connects to the bottom the mouth and throat. Unlike other fatty cuts like pork shoulder or beef shortribs, which have coarse textures, tongue has a very fine, homogeneous texture that lends itself to slicing. It’s great on sandwiches.
I made a simple tasting plate for my sliced tongue. Remember those cylinders of marrow I extracted from the soaked buffalo bones? They were poached and sliced to make little medallions of marrow. Seasoned with coarse salt, they are perfect for spreading on toast, and an ideal accompaniment to buffalo tongue and relish.