Sunday, October 24, 2010

Lengua del Diablo

"So what are you doing tonight?"
"Making dinner."
"Really?" Uta sounded interested. "What are you making?"

That's how my conversation with good friend and regular dinner guest Uta went when she called on the phone tonight. I managed to talk her into coming over anyway, despite her misgivings about the main course. "Just come and try it." I said and now she was on her way.

I have been experimenting with a lot of things lately that I've never challenged myself to cook before. Recently, my wife had obtained a big 3 lb. beef tongue through the food club. We both like lengua, as it is called in Spanish, and eat it fairly regularly at our favorite taquería. It has a wonderful flavor and the texture is quite unique - lean and meaty but without the grain that a roast would have. It's quite delicious and once I tried it and got over the "Ew! It's tongue!" reaction, I've been a fan. Never, though, have I tried to cook it, not really knowing what to do with it. Now I had this big hunk of meat in the refrigerator and it was time to have some fun!

The first thing I did was a little research on the internet. Step one, I found, was going to involve cooking and then peeling the thick skin from the tongue. After that it could be prepared in a myriad of ways and could even be eaten cold with a dipping sauce! I decided to wait to try the cold version, choosing instead to make a warm tomato based dish, as we also had a couple of pounds of tomatoes that were going to go bad if I didn't use them. With plenty of peppers thrown in, this was going to be a sort of tongue chili. I used pasillas and jalapenos but you could use any whole pepper you wanted to. In addition, this recipe could go verde by simply replacing the tomatoes with tomatillos.

I removed the tongue from its package and washed it real well. One source I found on the internet said to soak the tongue in cold water for a couple hours to remove excess salt. As I had gotten my meat from a private, free-range producer in the area called Thundering Hooves, I decided to skip this step and, as it turned out, was okay in doing so. I might have soaked it, however, had I gotten the tongue from the grocery store. I placed in a large pot:
1 beef tongue, approx. 3 lb 
1 medium onion, quartered
I added enough water to cover the tongue by a couple of inches and brought it to a simmer. I covered the pot and simmered the meat for 3 hours (one hour per pound, roughly). It is important here to cook the meat at the lowest possible heat setting while still maintaining a gentle simmer. Do not boil the meat!
While the tongue was simmering, I prepared the tomatoes and peppers. First, I placed on a cookie sheet:
3 whole pasilla peppers
3-4 whole jalapeno peppers
I broiled the peppers with the rack on the highest setting until their skins turned black, turning the peppers as needed. I usually place the peppers in either a brown paper bag or a large bowl covered with plastic wrap for about 20 minutes. The skins should peel right off of the peppers at this point. I peeled and seeded the peppers and set them aside.
To peel and seed the tomatoes, I brought about 2 quarts of water to a boil. With a sharp knife, I sliced a small X in the bottom of each tomato. One by one, I boiled the tomatoes for 10 seconds and then, using a slotted spoon, fished them out and plunged them into a bowl of ice water. This made them easy to peel. I cut away any bad parts and trimmed off the stem ends. To de-seed them, I cut them in half and gently squeezed out the seeds. I then diced the tomatoes. I'm not sure how many tomatoes I had but I ended up with about
4 c tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced
One could also use a couple of cans of diced tomatoes, making sure to drain them well. I set the tomatoes aside as well.
By this time, the tongue had finished cooking. I removed it from the water and discarded the broth. I let the tongue cool enough to where I could handle it, occasionally placing it in cold water to help. Do not let the tongue completely cool before peeling it as it will peel much easier when it's hot! Using kitchen shears, I sliced into the skin and peeled it off. The thickest portion reminded me of shark skin. I used a small knife to make sure I peeled off every bit. The meat underneath was tender and delicious, with a pot roast flavor. I sliced the meat into bite-sized pieces and set it aside.
In a large fry pan, I sauteed:
1 T bacon grease
1 medium onion, diced
After about 5 minutes, I added the tomatoes and peppers, along with:
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 T chopped fresh oregano
1 t cumin
1/2 t chili powder
the juice of one lime
salt and pepper to taste
I cooked the sauce for about 10 minutes, adjusting the seasonings as needed and then added in the meat. I covered the pan and simmered the lengua over low heat while I made a pot of white rice. When the rice was finished, I served it topped with the lengua and sprinkled with:
crumbled Cotija cheese
chopped fresh cilantro
And tortillas, of course! Corn would be great, though I used flour. You could also garnish it with sour cream, guacamole, etc.

Uta had arrived by this time and was now, very gingerly, trying her first bite of tongue. The verdict? "That's good! That's really good!" That's about all I got out of her before she had another mouthful. Chalk up another convert to the exotic!


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