The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Brining Beef Tongue

June 15th, 2009 · 21 Comments · Posted in Recipes

Whole beef tongue in its brine

Whole beef tongue in its brine

How do you like your tongue?

I happen to like offal and odd cuts of meat and have found a great source in our local dairy. The choices vary. Recently among their on-line selections they had a special on tongue. I had to try it.

As you can see, a whole tongue is one hunk of meat. And how to prepare it? It’s been years since I tasted tongue. I’m not even sure it was in this country. Oddly enough, my daughter and I  recently read about a very average American family eating tongue in Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Ramona’s family lives on a budget and tongue was still cheap in the ’80s when Beverly Cleary was writing her Ramona series.

Unfortunately, Cleary doesn’t say how Mrs. Quimby prepared the tongue, only that Ramona and her sister were a little put off by the bumps on the flesh. (Still, imagine kids eating tongue!) For guidance, I grabbed my copy of Fergus Henderson’s Nose to Tail Eating. There on page 94 was a recipe for “boiled ox tongue,” which Henderson describes as “a very dexterous element in a dish….” Serve it “hot or cold, grilled or fried, in a sandwich with English mustard and tomato, with a caper sauce, or with horseradish or green sauce, and it is particularly good with beetroot….”

Henderson’s recipe calls for 1 salted ox tongue, either from the butcher or brined at home. Since I don’t have a butcher who sells salted tongue, I’m making my own. Fortunately, Henderson gives a fairly simple formula for that as well.

In a heavy pot, mix 200 grams brown sugar, 300 grams kosher salt, 6 juniper berries, 6 cloves, 6 black peppercorns, 2 bay leaves and 2 liters of water. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar and salt are dissolved. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Pour over cleaned beef tongue in a non-reactive container. Weigh the tongue down with a ceramic plate so that it is completely submerged in the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 7 days.

At this point, the tongue can be simmered–slowly–with carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, pepercorns, celery and thyme for 3 1/2 hours. The skin should peel away easily and you can serve it any number of ways: chilled with a sauce, or grilled, or fried, or in a sandwich. We’re planning a dinner party around ours for next weekend.

 Why don’t you check back then and see what we do with our tongue.

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  • fastweedpuller

    I had beef tongue in a sandwich when in London once. Not bad. Gave me the willies though, as, well, I cannot escape the fact that I grew up in an offal-free household.

    James Beard was a huge fan though: if I remember correctly, he’s got a ton of recipes. He treats it like any other piece of stew-type meat: grinding it, marinating it, roasting it, stewing it…

  • Sylvie

    I like tongue: inexpensive meat that’s tasty. And in this country, it comes pretty much cleaned up already. I generally simmer it for a few hours until it is easy to peel. Then sliced again the grain, and eaten indeed cold in sandwiches or hot with any number of sauce…. mmmm… I should go and take one out of the freezer!

  • Ed Bruske

    El, I think our house was pretty much offal-free as well when I was growing up. The most exotic we got were the Hawaiian-style pork chops with pineapple. I found a recipe for tongue braised with tomatoes in one of Beard’s books. Still searching….

    Sylvie, I should have known I would not stump you in the tongue department. Thank you so much for coming to my defense on this issue. How many tongues do you keep in the freezer and what is your source? Locally grown? What’s your method?

  • Sylvie

    well… I have to be honest, while we ate tongue – and other offals when I was growing up – I did not start cooking it myself until just a few years ago.

    My husband eat tongue, but does not care for liver (unless it’s been turned into pate), so tongue is offal I cook the most. Which is not THAT often!!!

    Once a year, I order 1/4 beef from one local farm and I always get the tongue (actually I can often get all the offal “thrown” in there for free, since few other people want them – what do they think is in their hot dog?????).

    My other sources are – when I want to pick up retail: Ruckers Farm, Harmany Farm, and Belle Meade Farm, all in Rappahannock County. Grass-fed only. Mount Vernon Farm also carry them, as well as others. If buying from a farmers’ market, it’s probably best to ask ahead of time that they bring it to you.

    As I say simply simmer with a few aromatics for a few hours until easily pierced, then peel the tongue while still warm (much easier). Then slice and eat cold as sandwich meat, or warm up and serve with any sauce – I often do a red tomato sauce.

  • bronwyn

    Do what my Mum always did, and make pressed tongue. Cook the tongue by boiling with whatever vinegar, brown sugar, bayleaf etc until it’s tender. Peel it while it’s still hot. Put it in a bowl, cutting it up if necessary so it fits neatly with not too many gaps. Place a plate over it so that it can squash the tongue. Then put a heavy weight on the plate – my Mum used to put the whole thing under the foot of an armchair.
    Leave it overnight, then turn it out onto a plate and slice it to have in sandwiches or with salad. Pressed tongue sandwiches are delicious – but quite fattening. Sheep tongues can also be used, but I think they may not be cheap, or very available, in America.

  • Ed Bruske

    B, who knew? That’s a fascinating method your mum had. I wonder where it came from, and what the purpose of pressing the tongue was. I hate to think of the food heritage that’s simply slipping away because we’ve lost our taste for certain animal parts. Eat more tongue.

  • Craig

    With pressed tongue,much like brawn,the little gaps between the meat are filled with ‘jelly’.Also when you slice it it’s much closer to the shape of a piece of bread.Another thing to remember is when filling your ‘pressing’ container to pour some of the cooking liquid in.When pressed this mostly be pushed out but the stuff left behind helps make the ‘jelly’ betwen the meat.

  • Jerome A

    My mother, an immigrant from Eastern Europe, apparently never caught on that tongue was not a common thing to serve in 1970s suburban America, so I grew up eating it regularly and never giving it a second thought. I even took tongue sandwiches to school for lunch, which didn’t exactly make me popular with the cafeteria trading crowd.

    I don’t eat it often these days but it is delicious and I’m planning to make it sometime soon!

  • Ed Bruske

    Jerome, you might be interested to know that the author of the book “Steak,” who traveled the world in search of the tastiest beef, declared that the best steak he ever encountered was actually beef tongue. It is an incredibly delicious cut of meat, highly underutilized–which is fine by us, because it is so inexpensive.

  • Marly Harris

    I’m simmering a large beef tongue as we speak. I buy mine at a local ethnic market; the price has gone from $1.99 a pound to $3.99. I simply add white vinegar and black peppercorns and simmer for around 3-1/2 to 4 hours. It is a meltingly delicious meat and, I believe, healthful.

  • Ron

    I have been experimenting with brining tongue for awhile. I’m now trying the 7 day brine as mentioned below. My Mother used to make it, but I don’t think she brined it. When I hosted our home poker game, I served tongue and noodle casserole. Everyone thought it was tasty and tender. When asked what the meat was, I said it was beef. If you tell them it’s tongue, they won’t even try it.

  • Martijn Bouhuys

    I do this one now!

  • Duncan

    I’m curious where you got 7 days brining time from? I’ve got a tongue brining in my fridge and am at the 5 day mark. Beyond Nose to Tail says brine tongue 10-14 days. Does he give another timeframe in another book?

  • Ed Bruske

    “Nose to Tail Eating,” page 94

  • Ilari Autio

    Sorry to get back on a post this old! I just dunked my beef tongue in brine by this recipe and just after that started to consider the ratios. Isn’t it too salty? I think in Fergus’ original recipe the salt to sugar ratio is 1,25:1 and this is 1,5:1.

  • Ed Bruske

    Not sure about that. The brine quantities here are exactly half those Fergus Henderson calls for. It never tasted too salty.

  • Ed Bruske

    Not sure about that. The brine quantities here are exactly half those Fergus Henderson calls for.

  • Elsabe’

    Thanks exactly the recipe I was looking for, the way my mom made it

  • Anita Kingsnorth

    My mum used to prepare ox tongue every year as part of our Christmas cold cuts. I started following suit when I married, but haven’t done one for a number of years.
    So starting again this year, as its definitely a big favourite, and found a decent butcher. I have brined my own, and am nearly at the cooking stage, so wish me luck.