One thing I save up old pickle juice for is to make tongue. Dill style, not bread and butter pickle juice. In this case, I saved up my own personally-canned (no sugar added!) dill pickle juice.
This is pretty much Mom’s old recipe. We grew up thinking of tongue as something not unusual at all, and for us, it wasn’t.
Nor is it without antecedent in other cultural repasts. Tongue is used in tacos in regions of Mexico, and I’ve now found two Mexican eateries in the States that serve up tongue this way. Old-time Jewish delicatessens in New York City serve sandwiches: tongue on rye, nice thick slices of tongue, hot or cold.
You can find pickled tongue at Dietrich’s, the Pennsylvania Dutch meatery down on Interstate 78 (but then again you can find nearly any part of any mammalian critter in there, so this might not be as telling). PS: the pickled tongue doesn’t do a thing for me. Frankly, it is kind of slimy and repulsive. They’ll also sell it smoked, or simply regular, and I’d go with that.
Tongue helped bring the American bison to its knees. During the vast slaughter of the buffalo in the West during the late 19th century, the animals were left to rot — the “huntsmen” made off with hides and tongues, both of which fetched a good price back East. Yes, some of this slaughtering went on for the sake of driving the indigenous people to either starvation or reservations. But if nothing else, tongue was certainly not an unusual eat back in the day. It was a valued delicacy. There’s no reason it should be otherwise, now — but hey, maybe I shouldn’t encourage you to eat it. Why should I be responsible for driving the price up? Each animal, after all, only has one tongue.
Over time, I’ve tried a variety of tongues. Beef, bison, lamb, pig, possibly goat, duck, and even fish tongue. In some Chinatown restaurants, duck tongue is on the menu. I ordered them as appetizer once — very tasty preparation, as I recollect, but apparently avian tongues come with cartilage. Said cartilage taking up about half the volume of the tongue itself. The only tongue I don’t care for turns out to be pig tongue. Is this because pigs are omnivores? Or could I have failed to cook them properly? They’re of similar size to lamb tongues, so I can’t see that being it. Whatever, I’ve attempted them a couple of times and will not bother again. (I wonder if the pickled tongue at Dietrich’s is from pig. Looks like it might be…)
Oh yes, cooking tongue. That’s the topic, after all.
1 tongue, from a cow or a buffalo.
Leftover pickle juice (with whatever mustard seeds, dill, garlic and peppers might also be leftover). Do not use SWEET pickle juice.
Apple cider vinegar
Pickling spices (optional)
Salt — only needed if you didn’t have any pickling juices.
Your tongue (your tongue for cooking, not your tongue) can be already smoked, or not — your preference, although this may be heavily influenced by availability. I haven’t seen smoked in quite a while, and it came with quite the price tag when last I did.
Put everything in a heavy pot — I use about a 1:1 ratio of water to the pickle juice/vinegar — feel free to use a little less vinegar in your ratio — I simply happen to be a sourpuss (no comments from the peanut gallery), and I make sure the tongue is covered with liquid. I also cut up the tongue into about four hunks, so that the flesh can absorb the vinegar and spices, which don’t translate readily across the skin.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a vigorous simmer and cover the pot.
Let it go for about two and a half hours, or three hours, checking to make sure the liquid still covers the tongue — add more water if needed.
When done, pull the tongue out of the pot, and allow it to cool just long enough that you can remove the skin without scalding yourself. Remove the skin before the thing cools down entirely — once it starts getting towards room temperature, the skin will decide to remain adherent to the flesh.
Slice, and serve hot with a mixture of horseradish and a quality Dijon mustard.
Other hot options, for any leftovers:
Tongue and Shallot Omelette
Extra virgin olive oil
1 small/medium shallot, finely sliced.
1 slice leftover tongue, cubed into very small bits.
2 eggs, beaten and tormented.
fennel greens (I mean the part that looks like dill)
Cracked ground pepper
Red pepper flakes
Heat your skillet to medium, with the oil.
Add in your shallot and tongue. Beat around with your spatula until the shallot is translucent but has not browned.
Remove both items from skillet and reserve. (Take photos.)
With the skillet still at medium, plop in your beaten egg mixture, to which you’ve added the pepper ingredients. Allow to coat the bottom of the skillet, skillfully making sure there aren’t going to be puddles of uncooked egg overbalanced by overcooked egg.
Sprinkle in the fennel, tongue and shallot.
When things look reasonably done, fold the omelette over on itself. Some people are skilled enough to flip this item without it landing on the floor, or worse yet, covering a burner element directly. I’m deeply envious of those types. So I just fold it. Yes, I cook in the privacy of my own home!
For other leftovers, or if you just prefer your tongue, like revenge, served cold, there are a few options.
Tongue salad on a bed of lettuce with real (not supermarket) tomatos, and some horseradish mustard. (My photo is from this past summer when I made this, and tomatoes that actually tasted like something were still available.) Drizzle with a dressing like extra virgin olive oil and apple cider vinegar. And while I didn’t do it for the depicted salad, now I’d add some oregano and some fresh basil.
Tongue sandwiches. Here’s my low carb variant:
Tongue For the Road
Endive for the “bread”.
Slices of tongue, cut to fit the endive, more or less.
Slivers of cucumber. (If it is a waxed cuke or a regular supermarket one, remove the peel, please. Seed removal depends on how you digest cucumber seeds.)
Horseradish and/or Dijon mustard.
Assemble. If you have to transport them, use toothpicks to keep them together. (I was supposed to go on a hike this morning and was going to bring my own lunch — unfortunately I seem to have caught this horrid head cold and decided that a five-mile hike in 15 degree F weather would NOT be amusing. …So I will regretfully was not able to see my hiking companions’ expressions over my choice of food… But on balance I’m sure they’re glad I wasn’t there to share my cold with them. They’d probably prefer to take the tongue.)