Introduction: Boiled Beef Tongue

About: I helped start Instructables, previously worked in biotech and academic research labs, and have a degree in biology from MIT. Currently head of Product helping young startups at Alchemist Accelerator, previous…

In which I learn how to deal with this cut of meat, and discover that it tastes like... beef.

Step 1: Acquire Tongue

For quite a while I've been having a stare-down with the tongue on display in the butcher's section of my grocery store. I'm a big proponent of the use all parts of the buffalo philosophy of meat-eating, and felt guilty that not only was I unsure how to cook tongue, I had no idea what it tasted like. Worse, due to my deficient cultural upbringing it looked, well, a bit icky. That prejudice clearly needed to be overcome to maintain a consistent 'ethical carnivore' philosophy.

This week I finally bit the bullet and purchased a 2.5lb beef tongue. After a read through the 70's and 90's editions of the Joy of Cooking and some web research, every recipe instructed me to boil the tongue for several hours before either serving it directly or in a strongly-flavored sauce. This seemed like a throwback to my grandmother's generation, but for lack of another plan I decided to try it for my first go. Thus, this Instructable was prepared in accordance with the Joy's recipe for boiling fresh beef tongue.

As you can probably tell, it came folded in half and wrapped with a piece of string. I untied it, gave it a quick rinse (you're supposed to give it a good scrubbing if it looks grimy), and dropped it in a large 8qt pot. It still doesn't look particularly attractive, does it?

Step 2: Add Veggies

Add vegetables to the pot:

2 onions, sectioned
1 large carrot, chunked
3 or more celery stalks with leaves
6 sprigs parsley
8 peppercorns

(Strangely exact, aren't they? Needless to say, I was not. Who knows how many peppercorns ended up in my pot.)

Cover the ingredients with water.

Step 3: Boil

Bring to a boil, and simmer ~3 hours (uncovered) until tongue is tender.

I let mine go for more like 3.5 hours, replenishing the water as necessary and periodically flipping the tongue, then turning the pot off and ignoring it until I was ready to deal with it an hour or so later. The tongue turned frighteningly white while boiling (like any skin when it's waterlogged, I guess) then the exposed bits went brownish as it sat cooling and dried out. It looked a bit too much like an anatomical cross-section, which wasn't encouraging.

Step 4: Peel Tongue

Next I removed the tongue and peeled off the skin. Since this is the discolored yucky-looking bit, things started looking up after its removal.

The tongue itself is a big chunk of almost solid mustle, with a bit of connective tissue in the middle that requires prolonged heat to melt. Without the skin it looks far more like a more traditional meat, albeit in a strange shape.

The skin came off quite neatly; I only had to use a knife to coax some thin bits underneath to come off without tearing too much. There are some ancillary bits (blood vessles, fatty glandular bits, etc) attached to the lower sides of the tongue's base that can easily be removed at this point; they'll feel different, squishy and decidedly non-meaty, and thus can be easily separated from the good parts.

The Joy talked about removing roots, small bones, and gristle; I found none of these things. Perhaps a differently-cut tongue would have small bones attached? They didn't give any pictures or diagrams.

Step 5: Chop

Now slice your tongue. I did cross-sections starting from the tip, just to get a better idea of what was going on.

It's about as expected: there's basically a tube of muscle around the exterior of the tongue, with a mix of muscle and soft connective tissue running along the inside in two parallel stripes. The slow cooking has softened the connective tissue such that these areas are just a bit wiggly and differently-textured than the more muscular external ring.

Let's look at some of those slices. Cross-sections from the thicker part of the tongue look like PacMan ghosts, don't they? The final pile of meat I've produced really looks for all the world like a rather boring pot roast. It's almost disappointing.

The Joy says: to carve tongue, cut nearly through at the hump parallel to the base. But toward the top, better-looking slices can be made if the cut is diagonal. Or just slice it up as you like.

Step 6: Serve

Now you've got a pile of meat. Though the Joy recommends a pile of strongly-flavored sauces you can douse it in, it also suggests serving it with a mustard sauce or with "horseradish, capers, or chopped pickle." These sounded much more likely.

I've got dijon mustard and capers in the fridge, so we put them on the table along with barbecue sauce for good measure and served the tongue at ambient temperature.

The capers and mustard both did quite well with the tongue, and were a good compliment to the flavor. It was pleasantly reminiscent of the traditional boiled corned beef and cabbage, which is accompanied by a horseradish sauce. Too bad we're out of that one.

The barbecue sauce was a bit sweet for this preparation, though not too far off. Another with more bite would have been a pleasant accompanyment.

Step 7: Future Studies

This was surprisingly good- everyone tried it, and agreed that it tasted like perfectly good boiled beef. Of course, there's not exactly a huge clamor for boiled beef these days. Tongue recipes are still stuck in the 50's or earlier, so we discussed some alternate cooking techniques.

First, any future boiling will be done in the pressure cooker to shorten the time. Nothing was gained by having to wander through the kitchen periodically to check on a boiling pot all afternoon.

Second, we'll follow up on the barbecue sauce idea and use a different slow-cooking method. Just like southern pulled pork (or Mexican carnitas) we could let the tongue cook slowly in the oven, then shred the meat and give it a tasty sauce. This should soften the connective tissues as necessary, while avoiding that unfortunatel boiled-meat texture. Dry cooking should also concentrate the beef flavor.

A slow grilling or smoking would probably work as well, and I'm curious about deep-frying a tongue in the turkey oil. That could be entirely too much fun.

Other suggestions?