The function of muscle is to pull and not to push, except in the case of the genitals and the tongue.
~Leonardo da Vinci

So, mea culpa, mea culpa. I took a little time away from here. No need to dwell…just needed a brief life break. It feels good to be back on the prowl. With batteries now recharging, I am thinking about World Cup gastropub grub using a dramatically underrated bovine cut: tongue. Butchers who curtly discard tongue as unwanted should be banished to a life of negative valence and eternal shame.

This may seem like insipid fare to some, but with a luscious lager or crisp white it is truly tonic-clonic stuff. I know from experience.

GRILLED TONGUE SANDWICH WITH TARRAGON MAYONNAISE & HORSERADISH

1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)

8 C+ chicken broth
3 T white or red wine vinegar
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
4 tarragon sprigs
2 bay leaves

Tarragon mayonnaise
Horseradish
Capers, drained, rinsed and dried (optional)
Arugula (optional)
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

Artisanal bread, such as ciabatta or baguette, sliced transversely
Extra virgin olive oil

In a large heavy pot, cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water). Bring to a gentle boil and reduce heat to a simmer. After a few minutes, skim the froth off the surface. Simmer, uncovered, until tender for 2 1/2 hours or so. The tongue should be just short of completely done as you will be grilling the slices. But, it must be sufficiently braised to allow you to skin it.

Remove tongue, and briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain, dry and then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle. You can do this braising and skinning process a day or two ahead.

To carve, place the tongue on its side and, starting at the tip, cut thick slices on the bias.

Preheat charcoal grill to medium high heat. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it—about 3 seconds for medium high.

Brush one side of the bread with olive oil. Grill the tongue and the bread briefly—just enough to imbrue the meat with the grill flavor and create marks. Slather bread with tarragon mayonnaise and horseradish. Season with salt and pepper arrange the grilled tongue, strew capers over the meat and top with arugula. Close and savor.

Tarragon mayonnaise:
2 large fresh egg yolks, room temperature
1 T dijon mustard
1 T fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1/2 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

2/3 C canola or grapeseed oil
1 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Separate egg whites from yolks. With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, tarragon, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick and creamy enough to hold its shape.

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(Cooking) is a form of flattery….a mischievous, deceitful, mean and ignoble activity, which cheats us by shapes and colors, by smoothing and draping…
~Plato

The etymology of the word tacos—tortillas rolled around food—was derived from the Mexican Spanish, “light lunch,” or more literally, “plug, wadding.” Taco is a broadly applied generic term much like the English word “sandwich.”

The word has multiple meanings, from the culinary to some nether worlds. For instance, there are over 50 references to the term “taco” in the online slang lexicon Urban Dictionary, some of which are undeviatingly anatomical and may offend a few readers’ sensibilities. So they will not bear repetition, as what some find humorous or titillating others deem crude. Then again, who am I to be the arbiter of the definition of obscene? Even Justice Potter Stewart vainly struggled with the lewdness issue once and was left with the enigmatic: “(b)ut, I know it when I see it.” Now, that is one concrete translation which only leaves you to ponder when he saw it, where he saw it, or what he saw. Somehow brings to mind the image of an elderly, yet scholarly looking man with styleless glasses, a starched collar, dark tie and flowing black robes peering into a poor quality video in a tawdry booth. A neon OPEN 24 HOURS spasmodically blinks outside. “I’ll know it when I see it,” he murmurs into the night.

The mainstay of the Mexican diet was, and still is, the ever versatile tortilla which is the “bread of life” for tacos. Eaten as an entrée or one of the world’s most supreme street snacks, tacos come in seemingly endless varieties according to geography, local ingredients, and the kitchen itself…folded, rolled, soft, fried…tacos de cazuela (with stew fillings), tacos de la plancha (griddle cooked), tacos al carbón (charcoal grilled meats), tacos a vapor (steamed beef head meat), tacos de canasta (tacos in a basket), tacos dorados (crisply fried), tacos de harina (soft flour, burrito-like).

As with pizzas, pastas and paninis, please do not overburden your tortilla with a spate of insipid fillings. And as a warning to those who fear the wrath of the taco gods, avoid those crisp bent tacos brimming with bland ground beef, iceberg lettuce and cheddar cheese. You know who you are.

To warm tortillas, tightly wrap 6-8 in aluminum foil and place in an oven at 375 F for 8-10 minutes.

TACOS DE CAMARONES (SHRIMP TACOS)

1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined (16-20 count)
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and very thinly sliced
2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and finely diced
Freshly ground black pepper
2 T brandy
Sea salt
2 T fresh cilantro, finely chopped

1/2 red onion, peeled and diced
1 tomato, cored, seeded and diced
6 radishes, trimmed and diced
1/2 C cabbage, finely shredded
2 T cilantro leaves, chopped
Juice of 1-2 limes
3 T canola oil
3 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt

Corn tortillas, warmed

In a heavy sauté pan, warm the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and sauté 1 to 2 minutes. Do not burn. Remove and discard garlic, but retain oil.

Add the shrimp, serrano chiles, and black pepper. Stir well, then sauté, stirring briskly until the shrimp turn pink and curl, about 3 to 4 minutes total, turning once. Pour in the brandy and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add a pinch or two of salt, sprinkle lightly with cilantro and tossed. Slice shrimp into 1/2″ pieces and set aside.

In a large bowl, mix the onion, tomato, radishes, cabbage, cilantro, lime juice, canola and olive oils, and sea salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat well. Serve in corn tortillas.

TACOS DE LENGUA (TONGUE TACOS)

1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)

8 C+ chicken broth
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves

Warm corn tortillas
Cabbage, finely shredded
Yellow onion, peeled and diced
Cilantro leaves, chopped
Quartered lime wedges
Salsa verde*

Corn tortillas, warmed

Rinse tongue well. Cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water) in a heavy bottomed pot or Dutch oven. Bring to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off the froth on the surface after a few minutes. Simmer, uncovered, until tender, about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove tongue, and very briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain and dry well, then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle.

To carve, place the tongue on its side and, starting at the tip, cut slices thinly on the diagonal.

Serve in warmed corn tortillas with cabbage, onion, radishes, cilantro, lime juice. Drizzle with salsa verde.

TACOS DE PATO (DUCK TACOS)

Tomatillo Salsa
4 medium tomatillos, husked, rinsed and cut into quarters
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled, and roughly chopped
1-2 jalapeño chiles, stemmed, seeded, and roughly chopped
2/3 C cilantro leaves
1/4 C water
2 pinches sea salt

1 ripe avocado, pitted, flesh removed and cut into 1/2″ chunks

Assembly
1/2 C soy sauce
1/4 C water
1/4 C mirin
3 T honey

2 T canola oil
2 C coarsely shredded roast duck, coarsely shredded

Warmed flour tortillas

Combine tomatillos, garlic, chile and cilantro in food processor or blender. Add 1⁄4 cup water and 1 teaspoon salt. Blend by pulses to a coarse purée. Pour into a medium bowl and stir in the avocado.

In a small saucepan, combine the soy, water, mirin and honey. Simmer over medium heat until it just begins to thicken, 15 to 20 minutes.

In a heavy skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the duck until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Add 1⁄4 cup of the soy-mirin sauce and sauté a bit longer, until the duck meat glistens. Serve duck in warm flour tortillas with the tomatillo salsa and the remaining sweetened soy-mirin sauce.

*Salsa Verde

12 medium fresh tomatillos, husks removed and rinsed
3 jalapeño chilies, stemmed, not seeded
8 sprigs cilantro, stems discared and leaves roughly chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
2 plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T canola oil
2 C chicken broth
Sea salt

Boil the tomatillos and chilies in salted water for 15 minutes; drain. Place the cooked tomatillos and chiles, cilantro, onion, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until roughly smooth, slightly textural.

Heat the oil in medium heavy skillet over moderately high heat. Pour the tomatillo mixture into the pan and stir for 5 minutes or so, until it thickens. Add the broth, reduce the heat to medium and simmer until it reduces and thickens, about 10-15 minutes. Salt to your preference.

Whatever is in the heart will come up to the tongue.
~Persian proverb

Unlike politics or religion, food allows us to set aside preconceived notions in kinder, gentler ways. In this way, tongue could be considered a poster child.

It befuddles me how many carnivore cultures find the hips, flanks and chest of a bloody butchered animal to be much more appealing than the tongue, a part of the creature which even provokes a truculent reaction in some—much like the revulsant ewws! from deep fried tarantulas or raw grubs. These are the same offended folks who regale in processed franks which happen to be crammed with unknown mechanically separated meat,* sodium phosphates, dextrose, sodium diacetate, sodium erythorbate, and other “if-you-can’t-say-it-don’t-eat-it” ingredients. So there is no confusion, I do share their passion for a good dog.

Thankfully, Mom introduced me to this exquisitely mild and tender flesh while I was young so as not to bear the usual prejudices. Whether in a sandwich with horseradish cream, in a frisée salad with a Dijon vinaigrette and chopped olives, on a taco with salsa verde, tongue is not only vastly underrated, it is a royal treat. No challenge to cook, economical, versatile, tender, delectable. What else can you demand from a food?

Regardless of the animal (whether beef, calf, lamb or pork), do hold the truth to be self-evident that the smaller the tongue the better. When purchasing, fresh tongue should be pink or pale red in color.

BRAISED TONGUE

1 fresh calf tongue (about 3 lbs)

8 C+ chicken broth
1 C+ red wine
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and quartered
1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 plump, fresh garlic head, divided into cloves, peeled and smashed
10 black peppercorns
4 thyme sprigs
2 bay leaves

Cover the tongue and remaining ingredients with broth (or equal parts broth and water) and wine. Bring just to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Skim off the froth on the surface after a few minutes. Simmer, covered, until tender for 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Remove tongue, and briefly plunge into an ice and cold water bath to cease the cooking process. Drain, then begin skinning with fingers and a paring knife. The skin should come off easily. Trim away the small bones and gristle.

To carve, place the tongue on its side and, starting at the tip, cut slices on the diagonal.

Mechanically separated meat is a paste, batter-like meat product produced by forcing bones, with attached edible meat, under high pressure through a sieve or similar device to separate the bone from the edible meat tissue.

Pourboire: If desired, sauté the onions, carrot and garlic until the onions are translucent before adding the broth and wine.