Some tongue.

Over the past couple weeks, I haven’t been cooking anything that takes longer than 10 minutes—the pizza, many salads, a few pieces of fish—but Jim and I had something serious brewing up in our kitchen. Like, 6 days brining and then 24-hour waterbath serious. Yes, a serious, 7+ day recipe. Beef tongue.

We’ve been eating more ethically lately, buying meat from the small, local, and humane meat producers in our area. We get to see how the animals live before they are slaughtered—on big open terrains, munching on grass, or hanging by the lake. They’re happy. And I’m much happier too—the meat tastes better, I don’t feel badly eating it, and it’s healthier.

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But it’s more expensive. In my new favorite cookbook, we’re told that to eat meat ethically, you should expect that half as much meat will be twice as expensive. It’s true. This shouldn’t deter you, however, but unless you’re a bahgillionaire, you’ll have to rethink your meat-eating. Firstly, you’ve got to eat less meat. Fill your dinner plate up with substantial foods, like lentils, so that you fill up without needing a big hunkin’ steak. (Though, of course, remember to splurge on the steak every once in a while.) Secondly, you’ve got to start cooking with cheaper cuts—chuck, short-ribs, etc.—and offal.

Offal is the entrails and internal organs of the animals that make your meat. Offal’s the lump category for things like heart, liver, and tongue. Offal’s cheap. I mean, real cheap. The big ol’ tongue we bought from our fancy-pants free-range organic meat supplier was about 5 bucks—put that in perspective with the about 30 dollars we spend there on pork tenderloin. Offal’s cheap.

It’s also quite fatty too, which is all the more reason to keep your portions small. The taste of tongue is delicious—meaty but awesomely tender. I don’t really know how to describe it, other than I think it has the flavor of a steak-um. A steak-um but 10 bahgillion times better. Try it. You’ll get a delicious meal, money left in your bank, a clear conscience, and leftovers for days. Can’t beat that.

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Pickled Tongue

adapted from the River Cottage Meat Book

For the Brine:

  • 5 quarts of water
  • 1 pound light brown sugar
  • 3 pounds coarse sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 5 cloves
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 sprig of thyme

For the Brined Tongue:

  • 1 whole fresh beef tongue
  • 1 herb satchel (with thyme, oregano, celery seeds, and peppercorn)
  • 3 small carrots, chopped
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 1 leek, halved crosswise and lengthwise
  • 1/2 garlic bulb, outer leaves removed

Put all the ingredients for the brine into a large stockpot and stir well over low heat until sugar dissolves. Bring to a boil, allow to bubble for 1 to 2 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool. Once cooled, put the tongue in a large non-metallic container (i.e. Tupperware) and cover it with the cooled brine. Put in the fridge and let brine for 6-7 days. (Or up to 10 if you tongue is over 6 pounds.)

Days later, when your tongue is (finally) ready, remove from brine and soak it in fresh water for another day, changing the water at least once. (Soak for two days if you have an over 6 pound tongue.)

When ready, remove the tongue to a dutch oven with the ingredients for the brined tongue. Cover with fresh water, bring to a simmer, then poach gently on the stovetop over low to medium-low heat for 2½ to 3 hours, or until tongue is very tender and yields easily when pierced.

Then (you’re not done yet) remove the tongue and discard the rest. Place tongue on a cutting board and peel or cut away the skin (you’ll understand what I’m talking about when you see it.) When you’re removing the skin, make sure to get rid of all of it, cutting the outer layer off pretty generously–the meat of the tongue is very tender, but the skin’s texture isn’t very pleasant.

Serve with lentils and cabbage, and a good, grainy mustard.

Serves 10 or more.