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.)

There’s really no way to take a beauty shot of cow’s tongue. It’s just fugly, and big!

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!

The finished dish, just like how my Mom made it

Braised Beef Tongue Recipe
Makes 4 to 6 servings

One beef tongue (about 2.5 to 3 lbs.)
1 carrot
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.)

Here’s the tongue after I removed the exterior layer

Browning the tongue first. Cut the tongue into pieces to make them fit your pan.

Braising the tongue on a low simmer until it’s nice and tender

If you have leftover tongue, cut them into cubes and make beef tongue tacos. Here I make it with avocados and pickled vegetables with shredded nori.

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10 Responses to A Plate-Licking Good Beef Tongue Dish

  1. Karen says:

    Thanks for the recipes – I’ve been lusting over Nombe’s beef tongue… I may try your recipe for a DIY version at home 🙂

  2. Carolyn Jung says:

    You are such a gourmet! Ooh, the beef tongue tacos have me salivating. So great that your Mom was able to give you the most important directions. Ahh, moms — what would we do without them?

    • Ben Ben says:

      Thanks Carolyn. Too bad my mom doesn’t live in the same city as me, because every time I talk to her about a dish she used to make when I was a kid, she’d start salivating and go “oh, it’s been so long since I’ve made that, I should make it again too.”

  3. Sandy says:

    I loved that dish at Namu. You make it sound so easy, but dude that raw tongue is pretty ghastly… the finished dish looks delicious tho!

    • Ben Ben says:

      Yeah, growing up I never saw my Mom prep the tongue so it was a surprise shopping for tongue and seeing what it actually looked like!

  4. Row says:

    Hehe, I jerked back from my computer a bit when I scrolled down to the raw tongue pic… whoa! I’ve never had beef tongue before, but this recipe makes me want to try it now. 🙂

  5. Toni Atkinson says:

    It is crazy and wasteful to “peel,” that is, to remove the tongue skin before cooking the tongue. Once it is cooked and cooled the skim comes right off, taking none of the meat along with it. The photo shows that some of the meat had to be cut off to get the raw skin off the raw meat. There is waste there. Also, I believe that any cooking time saved by peeling it first, and I am even skeptical about that, will be lost in the tedious process of peeling a raw tongue. I think I read that peeling a raw tongue is considered a specialty and an art in Japan. Leave that to the experts and just cook it first. If you want to save cooking time use a pressure cooker. It comes out great.

  6. danced says:

    A compromise from Toni’s comment (1st one)and the recipe. It actually work better. Boil a pot of water with two table spoons of salt, put tongue when boiling. Boil for 10-15 min. Outer membrane will come off much easier at this point. Proceed with the rest of recipe.

    • Ben Ben says:

      OK, I will try if it really takes just 10 to 15 minutes of boiling. I’ve been craving tongue lately. 🙂