Tongue is an often overlooked, tasty and lean muscle that can make many an interesting dish. It can be bought relatively cheaply at around $6 but it is still not the first meat that springs to mind when out fetching the groceries. The tongue that is most often eaten is from the ox which can reach up to about five pounds in weight. This meat is quite high in fat but on the plus side it is high in protein, low in sodium and has no sugar or carbohydrates.
The ox tongue has a soft texture and rich beefy flavor when gently simmered for a few hours. But it is not the only tongue eaten across the world, tongues from pigs, veal, lamb, ducks and even fish are considered delicacies in many places. Each with a corresponding flavor to the animal it has come from. To some people the big slab of beef tongue, looking rather gray with darkish spots, can be rather off putting when thinking about cooking it from scratch, followed by the laborious peeling of the skin. This is probably why of all our beef exports, tongues take up three per cent and most of these end up in Japan.
Smoked ox tongue is a popular dish across Europe, in France it is known as Langue de boeuf à l'écarlate. In a similar process to how bacon is prepared, the tongue is first pickled in brine before being smoked. Another decadent dish prepared in Valenciennes, France is Lucullus which is layers of smoked tongue and layers of foie gras.
Jewish communities use tongue in many of their traditional recipes, one dish sees them pairing the hot meat with a sweet and sour raisin sauce; they also have many ways of making ‘corned’ tongue. In Belgium they eat both pig and ox tongues served with a rich Madeira sauce. Mexicans love to fill tacos with braised beef tongue called tacos de lengua, while Norwegians fill up on fried cod tongues.
According to Chamber’s Journal of 1891 there is an old superstition saying that if a person keeps the tip of an ox tongue in his or her purse, there will be a plentiful supply of money. So perhaps we should put our squeamishness aside and try this once extremely popular meat, especially if we revisit this old joke below:-
Restaurant Customer to Waiter
Customer: What do you recommend?
Waiter: Well the tongue is very good today
Customer: Oh no I could never eat anything that has been in an animal’s mouth, I think I will just have a couple of eggs
Photos courtesy of flickr = wukong, Ness Lewis, Travellingman and danoxster