As I was struggling to peel the skin, taste-buds and all, from the massive beef tongue I’d been poaching for a couple of hours, my French housemate walked past me. “I’d offer to help you, but it disgusts me,” he said, totally straight-faced. And that’s the thing with tongue, isn’t it? Some people just can’t do it (he later tried it and liked it) – they find the idea of chewing on another animal’s tongue just too repulsive. Lord knows the photo below got a mixed response on Instagram. I might be among the grossed out, had my mother not fed it to me from a young age. I somehow maintained the opinion that ‘tongue’ was a colloquialism for another kind of meat, or pate or something – until she confessed that it was exactly what it sounded like: tongue. Still loved it, still do. Love that beefy (it tastes like brisket, no?), earthy flavour. Essentially, it’s a muscle just like any other, and it has a really delicate, delicious flavour. Especially poached in a fragrant bouillon like this one. Plus, once it’s cooked and prepped and chopped up, it’s just a piece of beef. Saying that, the prep can seem a little gruesome if you’re a bit squeamish – like I mentioned, you do have to peel the skin and tastebuds off the thing before you serve it, so do bear that in mind before you embark on the recipe.
One thing I learned on this occasion is to not serve it warm. The texture is all flobby and fatty, it’s just too much like French kissing a cow. But once it’s been chilled in the fridge for a couple of hours, and taken as a cold cut, it is divine. The flavours settle in and it has a meaty, satisfying texture.
Why the sudden urge to cook tongue? I recently got back from Portland, armed with a copy of the beautiful Le Pigeon cookbook, which has a whole chapter dedicated to this cut. Will certainly have to try the ‘elk tongue stroganoff’ and ‘lamb’s tongue fries’ – but first I just wanted to reacquaint myself with beef tongue, which is best poached gently and slowly, with lovely fragrant aromatics for a couple of hours. I got mine from the amazing organic, biodynamic butcher here on Commercial Drive, called Pasture to Plate. I’m now a regular here because their meat is second-to-none, well priced and they can get you unusual cuts, plus they usually have a nice stash of frozen tongues and beef cheeks etc. And all their meat comes from one ranch!
Having discovered that my tongue was better as a cold cut, sliced quite thin, I put it on an open sandwich with lovely toasted sourdough from the Italian bakery also on the Drive. To go with it, and give the sandwich a smoky piquancy reminiscent of a deli sandwich, I made a celeriac remoulade with a smoked oyster emulsion. Oysters and beef go really nicely together, and the punchy, smoky mayo created by blending the oysters with garlic, lemon juice and parsley works well against the crunchy, creamy celeriac. It’s a good way to create a smoked meat effect – without having to actually smoke any meat. Give it a go and let me know what you think about the remoulade/tongue combo.
Beef tongue and smoked oyster and celeriac open sandwich
1 beef tongue,
1/2 bulb of fennel,
1 big carrot
1 onion, halted and studded with cloves
2 cups white wine
sprig or two of parsley
6 black peppercorns
1 clove garlic
for the celeriac
1 tin smoked oysters in oil
1/2 clove very fresh garlic
extra virgin olive oil
squeeze of lemon juice
For the sandwich
sliced white sourdough
1 large tomato, sliced
2 small leaves of baby gem or romaine
salt and pepper
First prep your tongue. Give it a good wash, then pop it in a big casserole with a lid, or curl it around in a large pot. Add in the aromatics – the carrot, onion, parsley, fennel, garlic, peppercorns, bay leaf, cloves and salt. Cover with the wine and fill up with water until it covers the tongue. Bring to the boil on the hob, skimming off any scum as you go. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover with the lid, and let poach for around 3 hours.
In the meantime, you can make the celeriac remoulade for the sandwich. Peel the gnarly celeriac and slice in half. You’ll only need a half for this recipe. Then julienne the celeriac into matchsticks.
Blend the oysters, garlic and parsley in a food processor with half of the smoky oil from the tin. Add a drizzle of olive oil until the mixture is the consistency of a thick mayonnaise. Add a squeeze of lemon and pinch of white pepper to taste.
Put the celeriac in a large bowl and pour over the mayo. Use your hands to coat it evenly and refrigerate.
Once your tongue is feeling tender – poke it with the prongs of a fork at the base and tip to check – remove it from the stock onto a chopping board. (NB Reserve the stock – it’s good for cooking potatoes or making gravy, just like a more funky beef stock!)
Wait for it to be cool enough to handle, but while it’s still warm you need to peel it. Peeling becomes impossible once it’s fully cool. To peel it, use a pairing knife to get under the skin and create a flap which you can then peel off – hopefully pretty easily. If you’re finding it difficult to pull the skin off, use your pairing knife to cut it off.
Once it’s fully peeled, leave it to cool completely and then refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
To assemble the sandwich
Use some really nice sourdough. Pop it in the toaster until it’s deep gold and crunchy. Hot butter. Remove the tongue from the fridge and slice it finely. Top the toast with the lettuce, tomato and tongue and slap a bit of mustard on the tongue, if you’re that way inclined. Top with the smoky celeriac remoulade and some salt and pepper. Enjoy!