Charcuterie, the art of preparing and preserving meat products is currently experiencing a place in the spotlight. In fairness, this has been going on for a few years with the publication of books such as Michael Ruhlman’s influential Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing and its follow up Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing or the more recent, Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller’s In The Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods.
I love these books (as well as others on the topic), and I have learned a lot from them. However, they are all very traditionally European and North American, eschewing less known recipes from other parts of the world. So, when I started getting my hands greasy while curing, salting and smoking, I missed one of the staples of my childhood and youth: beef tongue vinaigrette. Tongue vinaigrette is very popular in vast parts of South America. It is found in the national cuisines of Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil and Uruguay. The vinaigrette, a form of escabeche, aids in the preservation of the meat through the mix of oil and vinegar and it can last in the fridge for more than a week (I wouldn’t know exactly how long since its devoured before I have a chance to test its durability). The usual pH for these preserving techniques is 4.5 (due to the high percentage of vinegar), which aids in preventing the formation of harmful bacteria. Escabeche is a typical food preserving technique across all of Latin America (link in Spanish because, frankly, there is little in English about this topic).
I was lucky when I made these photos that I had just gotten an excellent Gasconne tongue from Lindenhoff (highly recommended for those in The Netherlands since not all butchers carry it). It was extremely flavorful and the end result was super tender.
NOTES: This is my recipe and you are likely to find as many recipes as families since everyone has their favorite spice and flavor combinations. A few points to bear in mind:
The vegetables and spices used to cook the tongue are for flavor. I am a big advocate of using whatever you have in the fridge. If I do not have leek, I’d use spring onions or shallot or even an extra onion. If I have no carrots, I might use a red bell pepper, especially if I have a wrinkly one in the fridge. I did not have celery when I made this but it is a nice addition as well. The added bonus of the vegetables is that when you are done, you also have a few cups of beef broth that is wonderful on stews or soups.
The spices in the broth are also a bit of a case of “what I like” rather than some canonical flavor combination. I’d say the only two things that are strictly necessary are the bay leaves and black pepper corns. The rest is just adding what you have or what you prefer in terms of flavor.
What you’ll need
1 Beef Tongue (whole) between 1 and 1.5 kilos/ 2.5 and 3 lbs
2 carrots roughly chopped
2 onions roughly chopped
1 leek roughly chopped
3 bay leaves
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp black pepper corns
3 all spice berries
For the vinaigrette
1 cup (tightly packed) chopped flat leaf parsley
4 garlic cloves finely chopped
1 tbsp dry chili flakes
1 tsp salt
3/4 cups olive oil
1 cup white vinegar
You do not need to clean or trim the tongue before cooking. The little fat that might be there will cook and add to the flavor of the final dish.
In a soup pan, place the tongue, vegetables, salt and spices and cover with water. Bring to a boil and, once it is boiling, lower the temperature to a simmer and cover. Cook until the tongue is tender when pierced with a fork. There is no fast rule for cooking time here. It can take any time between 1.5 hours to 2 hours depending on the size of the meat. I made the tongue in these photos in the pressure cooker and it was done in a bit over an hour. Then a few weeks later I made the recipe again with a smaller cut and it took 50 minutes in the same pressure cooker. It all depends on the size.
When the tongue is ready, let it cool completely in the pan with the broth. I cannot stress this enough: do not remove it or attempt to cut it in any way while it is warm because you’ll end with pulled/shredded tongue. I usually make this in the morning, let it cool completely and by the afternoon I remove it from the pan and let it sit overnight in the fridge so that it firms up.
With the tongue out of the pan, if desired, pass the broth through a fine sieve and reserve. I usually freeze it and use it in stews since its chock full of flavors from the veggies, spices and meat.
Once the tongue is cool and it has rested in the fridge for a few hours, it’s time to clean it. Carefully remove the skin and connective tissue. It should come out very easily since the tongue will be tender and the skin will be practically lose.
Slice the tongue thinly with a sharp knife or a meat slicer.
In a medium bowl combine parsley, garlic, chili flakes, salt, olive oil and vinegar, Mix well until everything is incorporated into the vinaigrette.
You’ll need a medium food safe storage container. I use a tupperware like bowl with a lid. Glass is better but I don’t have any with lids (Pyrex are a future dream I’ll invest in one day). At the bottom of the container spoon a layer of vinaigrette. Place slices of tongue to create a layer that covers the bottom of the container. Spoon vinaigrette on top. Add another layer of tongue and again, spoon the vinaigrette.
Continue adding layers of tongue and vinaigrette until all meat is in the container. Spoon the remaining of the vinaigrette so that the top layer of meat is evenly coated. Cover with the lid and place in the fridge for a minimum of 12 hours, preferably 24. You want the flavors to meld and drench the meat. In my experience, this tastes the best at least 24 (if not 48) hours after preparing it.
Serve it with a salad and some crusty bread. Or as cold cuts on a nice sandwich with some pickles. Or use it as part of a charcuterie board with other meats and cheeses. Or eat “as is” standing in front of the fridge (not that I’ve ever done something like that).