The first time I ate cow tongue I was 12 years old. My sister was 3 and my brother was a baby. I had a somewhat developed palate for certain types of food. I want to think my palate was adventurous and unconventional for a 12 year old. I mean, there were things I would not dare to eat – and probably to this date I may not. Like cow brains for instance. I’ll leave those to Andrew Zimmern. However, cow tongue and other organ meats – THAT I can do. My younger sister on the other hand, would scream bloody murder if she knew that on a particular day we were eating lengua – after discovering that one day she had eaten it unbeknownst to her.
My nanny used to prepare cow tongue in such way that was tender and citrusy sweet. That first time we had IT, my sister ate it all. We made no mention as to what IT was. My sister was (and still is) the pickiest eater ever, and we knew it would be a disaster if we let her know what she ate. But on that date, she ate IT. Our nanny took a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the tongue into itty-bitty tiny pieces so there was no way to decipher what they were, masked among the sauce and the rice. All we told my sister was, “Es carne! Te gusta, no?” The next time around, she accidentally overheard me ask our nanny what we were eating for dinner, to which she responded, “Hoy comemos lengua”. The next thing I remember is hearing a scream and a wail – as if the gates of hell had opened and the dead had clawed and crawled up from the bellies of the earth. And that was that. IT was no more. From that day forward, while the rest of us ate cow tongue, my sister ate seco de pollo.
I made cow tongue for the very first time when El Señor Hubs and I moved to the New York metro area about 8 years ago. Host to basically the largest melting pot in the world, it is relatively easy to find meat cuts or spices that had been out of my reach before. I recall when I spotted cow tongue at the supermarket for the first time, I almost broke into a happy dance. AT the supermarket. I waited until I got home to break into the happy dance, cow tongue flapping in hand. El Señor Hubs wasn’t too keen on the idea of eating lengua. But that was then. Now he’s a pro. AND he even helps me in the preparation! Now, I also buy veal instead of cow tongue; a cow tongue is too much for just the two of us. For those who’ve never had lengua before, in El Señor Hubs’ words, “lengua is a bit gamey, a bit chewy, but not stringy which is very imprortant”. The way I make it does a good job at eliminating any gaminess and it is so tender it almost melts in your mouth. My lengua recipe is finger-LICKING good. Yes, I meant that.
This is the scary looking tongue. Deal with it, because it will be delicious. Just make sure you rinse it after you bring it from the store.
Bring the tongue to a boil in a pot with water and several vegetables: carrots, celery, garlic, scallions, bay leaves, salt and pepper. By cooking it with these vegetables and spices, you will eliminate the gaminess of the meat.
Once it hits the boiling point, turn the heat down to medium and simmer for 30 minutes until a fork inserted in the tongue gives in easily.
Remove the tongue from the water and place it on a cutting board, and let it rest for 10-15 minutes to cool off. The next step is to “peel” it, or skin the tongue. What the heck, you may ask. Yes, you need to remove the veal’s papillary glands off the tongue, so we need to peel this white, outer layer.
** Intermission – How to Skin a Veal Tongue **
With a paring knife, cut a slit lengthwise down the middle of the tongue.
With the tip, start lifting the layer of papillary glads that covers the tongue.
You can then pull this layer off with your fingers. Careful as the tongue is still hot underneath that layer.
With your knife scrape off the skin at the bottom of the tongue, as well as any white specks that may be left over after skinning the tongue.
Remove the fatty tissue that is found at the bottom of the tongue.
And there, you have your skinned tongue. I know, I know. It doesn’t look appetizing at this stage, but stay with me. We’re just getting started.
** End of intermission. **
Dice a carrot and a celery. Dice some red onion and mince a couple of cloves of garlic – the latter, I forgot to take a picture of.
Heat up some olive oil in a large pan, and sauté the celery and carrots for about 5 minutes. You want to start with these vegetables first, because they are the toughest ones and they will take longer to cook, especially the carrots.
Add the onions and the garlic and sauté until the onions begin to turn translucent. As you can see, the base of this dish is sort of a modified mirepoix.
Slice the tongue, on the bias.
Add the sliced tongue to the vegetable sauté.
Add the juice of 4 large oranges, roughly 2 cups.
Add the zest of one orange. Adjust the sauce for seasoning with some salt and pepper.
Let it simmer in medium heat for 30 minutes. The acids will continue to break down the tongue, while infusing it with a sweet, citrusy flavor.
Serve over a bed of rice and garnish with chopped cilantro.
See, I told you it would be delicious.
- 1 veal tongue, about 1.25-1.5 lbs
- 6 cups water
- 1 celery stalk, roughly chopped
- 1 carrot stick, roughly chopped
- 1 scallion, roughly chopped
- 3 garlic cloves
- 2-3 bay leaves
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 celery stalks, diced
- 2 carrot sticks, diced
- 1/4 small red onion, diced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- Juice of 4 oranges, about 1 3/4 cups
- Zest of 1 orange
- salt and pepper to taste
- In a large pot, combine the water with the scallion, celery, carrot, bay leaves, garlic, salt and pepper. Place the tongue in the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let the tongue simmer in medium heat for about 30 minutes until a fork inserted in it gives in easily.
- Remove the tongue from the water and place it on a chopping board, letting it rest for about 10-15 minutes to cool.
- With a paring knife, cut a slit lengthwise on the tongue. With the tip of the paring knife lift the layer of papillary glands to skin the tongue. Scrape off the bottom of the tongue, and any remaining white layers until the tongue is completely skinned. Cut off any excess fatty tissue.
- Slice the tongue on the bias.
- In a large skillet, heat up some olive oil and sauté the celery and carrots for about 5 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions turn translucent. Add the sliced tongue to the vegetable mixture.
- Add the orange juice and the orange zest. Adjust the sauce for seasoning with salt and pepper.
- Simmer at medium heat for another 30 minutes.
- Serve warm over a bed of rice, and garnish with chopped cilantro.