Lengua, A Recipe (Or, Tacos de Just Eat It…)
It was last night that we had the grandparents, her mom and my folks, over to celebrate our youngest’s first birthday. Though I certainly didn’t steer it that way (especially with 11 y/o Natalia at the table) the conversation turned to cuisine- specifically, tongue. A perfectly delicious meat properly prepared, beef tongue is wholly unappealing to many appetites.
My dear wife introduced me to Lengua de Res (Cuban Style Beef Tongue) at Versailles, a Cuban restaurant in Manhattan Beach. It’s not too far, but with four kids in tow, it might as well be in France. I’ve seen tongue packaged at the supermarket, and buoyed by my recent successes in the kitchen, I brashly asked my wife to give me four chances and I could make it as good as Versailles.
First try- not great. I’d gotten a recipe from Google, and stayed absolute to it. The author swore it was a treasured family secret, which in hindsight should have steered me away. I may enter it into my as-yet-uncreated “Recipes that are terrible and should not be attempted” folder that I have a few entries worthy of submission.
Second one- nailed it. I cut out a lot of of the confusing steps from the first attempt, and went with my instinct on how to develop flavor.
As I said, I certainly did not steer the conversation towards beef tongue, because wouldn’t you know it- sitting in the fridge was a big ol’ piece ready for preparation. Natalia was making faces at the table last night, completely grossed out at the thought of eating *tongue*, unaware that she had asked for seconds the last time she’d had it. [She asked me directly if she’d ever had it when everyone was talking about it, but I busied myself with her younger siblings underfoot in lieu of a response.]
I needed some space from that question, so I decided to cook two dinners today (yesterday was a cleaning day, hopefully tomorrow will be a “park” day.) Natalia doesn’t care for ground beef, preferring ground turkey. So, her younger sisters and brother have their options predetermined. I make Albondigas (Mexican Meatball) Soup with ground turkey, whose texture is readily familiar to Natalia, so it was a great pairing for my day in the kitchen.
What I wasn’t counting on was my Official Taster, Joaquin. He was drawn to the smell coming out of the kitchen and bathing the home in a warm aroma, and his ravenous appetite is always ready to sample whatever his old man is cooking. “MMMMMmmmmm….. what kind of chicken is that?” Stuck. Do I tell him what it is, and deal with the culinary snobbery of a beautifully intelligent (and opinionated) big sister, or do I lie?
“Do you like it?” is my question to his question.
“Mmmmm, hmmmmmm!!” –Joaquin
“Want some, Daddy! Want some!” Oh, great. Reinforcements.
Gabriela, his three year old sister, came into the kitchen, demanding her fair share. This wasn’t supposed to be sampled, this wasn’t for tonight’s dinner. “Want some! WANT SOME!”
One piece, two pieces, then Slap! Slap! Slap! SHOOT! The unmistakeable sound of Carolina, all of one year old yesterday, comes crawling on the hardwood floor, turning the corner– she’s going to get hers, too.
I’m a pro, folks.
ICE CREAM! Neapolitan, with its promise of a triple serving! “We’re going to have Crunchy Tacos tonight, and if you eat mucho-mucho, you get to have Iiiiice Creeeeammmmm!” I flip the whole strategy, working bottom up. My kids run out of the kitchen, screaming and cheering my name. So long as I hide the meat in my surefire homemade crunchy tacos, I’d be golden.
(But because I am a pro, I always keep frozen chicken nuggets handy.)
Post script: Everyone ate all of their food, except for Gabriela, who is equal parts adorable and bratty.
Lengua Ramon (because I can, dammit)
3-4 lb Beef Tongue
2 qts chicken stock
3 carrots, cut in 1/4
3 celery, cut in 1/4
1 onion, cut in 1/4
3 bay leaves
1 can Tomato Sauce
1 orange bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
2 garlic gloves, halved
6 bay leaves
salt and pepper
Pat tongue dry
Put all “lengua base” ingredients to simmer
Place tongue in base, using 65 minutes per pound as your guide
Simmer for 4-5 hours, depending
(Go do something, be worthwhile.)
When its ready, check the meat by piercing the thickest part with a knife. It should enter easily and no longer be pink. (By the way, don’t chuck the stock created by the simmer. I parlayed this directly into beef stock for my soup. Let it cool, freeze or refrigerate it- you’ve earned it.)
Let sit while you julienne the onions and peppers.
Peel skin off, trim the fatty underpart, and cut as desired (depending on the audience, you can trim off the parts that still very much looks like tongue, even if it is very tender)
*Note: here is where the typical Cuban dish slices it into 1/2” pieces, which is perfectly wonderful. I happen to dice mine, but to each their own.
Saute onions and peppers in 4 tablespoons of oil, add 2 tsp of salt. Add the rest of the ingredients listed
Add in the sliced (or diced) meat and simmer for 30 minutes, season with salt and pepper as needed