When I had the beef tongue dish at Namu Gaji awhile back, it reminded me of one of my favorite dishes my Mom made while I was growing up. I vowed to make it again after all these years.
The tongue dish at Namu was delicate, with a few cubed chunks of beef tongue that had been brined, slow cooked and finally lightly grilled. It’s a process that supposedly takes three days.
But my Mom’s dish was always simple, just beef tongue braised in a soy sauce mixture and then sliced up on a plate. I remember my brothers and sisters would recoil at the idea of eating tongue, but not me. There was something about the soft tender piece of tongue that I enjoyed. And the rich, dark sauce of reduced soy sauce made the dish hearty and packed with flavor.
My biggest problem in trying to replicate the dish was finding beef tongue at the local market. Because a cow can produce a lot of meat parts for sale, there are all sorts of cuts available. But a cow only has one tongue. Also, I’m guessing not many people cook tongue (this is based on my searching for a recipe and finding that there were hardly any.)
You can probably get tongue from ethnic meat markets (like the one I found in the Mission District) or gourmet meat markets where you can ask your butcher to save you one the next time he or she breaks down a whole cow. Beef tongue is quite large. I asked for the smallest and the one I got weighed more than 3 pounds (sold for $3.19 a pound).
Most western recipes for beef tongue take the French method of boiling it for about three hours until tender. I asked my Mom about that and she said that was crazy long. Instead, she told me to just remove the exterior layer around the tongue muscle (along with the tendons under the tongue) and that would shorten the cooking time. Still, it took about 90 minutes to cook the tongue, so this is one of those dishes perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon.
The toughest part was removing the exterior layer surrounding the tongue as it was slimy and hard to hold still. But my tongue (well, the beef tongue I cooked, not my own physical one) turned out exactly like how I remembered, although probably not as rich as my Mom’s because I tried not to use as much soy sauce. One tongue yields a lot to eat; I even ended up using leftovers to make a beef tongue taco the following night.
So next time you’re inspired to cook with offal parts, consider the tongue. Enjoy!
Braised Beef Tongue Recipe
Makes 4 to 6 servings
One beef tongue (about 2.5 to 3 lbs.)
2 cups beef stock
2 cups water
1 cup soy sauce
¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
5 to 6 Sichuan peppercorns
2 T vegetable or canola oil
Prep the beef tongue by carefully removing the exterior “skin” and the tendons underneath. If you want, you can cut the tongue into two parts to make it fit your saucepan.
In a saucepan or braising pan, warm oil over medium high heat. Then add tongue and brown the sides, about 2 minutes each side. Then add braising liquid made of beef stock, water, soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Depending on your cooking pan, you may need to add more or less liquid. You want to fill the pan until the tongue is barely covered by the liquid. Add carrots roughly chopped in chunks and the peppercorns. Bring liquid to a boil and then reduce to a simmer and cover.
Continue cooking covered until the tongue is tender, approximately 90 minutes. (You can check by sticking the tongue with a butter knife. If it easily cuts through, it’s done.)
Remove tongue from pan and let cool on a cutting board. Then slice and plate. Serve with sautéed greens such as bok choy and steamed rice.
TIP: The tongue will have a lot of taste on its own, but if you want a sauce, you can continue cooking the braising liquid until it’s reduced and thicken. (It’ll cook faster if you use half of the original liquid.) Use that as a dipping sauce or oyster sauce.
Beef tongue tacos: With my leftover beef tongue, I created an Asian-influenced taco by chopping up the tongue into cubes, and adding diced avocado and pickled carrots and radish. (I made a simple pickling juice of one part white vinegar, one part water and half part sugar.) I then topped it with a sauce I made using Sriracha, ketchup and oyster sauce, and finally garnished with shredded seaweed. Definitely not something my Mom would have made. (To make sure I retained the tenderness of the tongue, I reheated it in a steamer instead of using the microwave.)
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