Beef Tongue for Sandwiches

Personally, I am not easily frightened, or repulsed by food. Even more so, I usually think it is more interesting to turn what some might find ‘less appetizing ingredients’ into tasty dishes, than it is to turn already nice food into nice food. I suppose I am a bit obsessed with those foods that are ‘ugly delicious’ as David Chang would call them, I guess. I decided that for Halloween this year I should cook one of those ugly, yet delicious dishes. What did I make? Brined and boiled beef tongue – a buttery soft meat that tastes wonderful served on some slices of toasted bread with some mustard and a pickle! Don’t be scared by how it looks, it’s delicious… trust me!

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Tongue has sadly become a bit unfashionable these days – at least in the Netherlands where I am from, and in Greece where I am currently living. I have seen boiled and pressed slices of tongue ready for sandwiches at the supermarket in the Netherlands, and at some of the better deli stores here in Greece too (for you Athenians: Miran has it!), but unless you’ve got a good old-fashioned deli near you, you will probably be met with some odd looks when asking for an ox tongue sandwich at your local sandwich shop.

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In the past, it was more common for cooks to use all sections of the animal to create as many dishes as possible. Unsurprisingly, regarding ox tongue sandwiches in particular, I found plenty of recipes from Victorian England. What was surprising to me was finding out that offal was not just reserved for poorer classes that had to make due with whatever kind of produce they could get, but that it could also be considered as quite a fancy meal. In Life in the Victorian Kitchen: Culinary Secrets and Servants’ Stories (Pen & Sword Books, 2014) in a chapter fittingly called “Offally Good”, Karen Foy writes:

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The nineteenth century cook was […] adept at devising dishes out of the least appetising ingredients. […] Not just the preserve of the poorer classes, the calf’s head could also be made into a dish enjoyed by the wealthy. The head was boiled until tender and dressed with a sauce made out of minced brains. The tongue would have been removed, sliced and placed on the serving platter around the head, along with the eyeballs, which were classed as a rather gruesome delicacy. Pressed ox tongue was sliced and served in sandwiches (80)

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Being a bit less ‘classy’, I wouldn’t be boiling an entire calf’s head dressed with minced brains this time around, but the prospect of soft, fatty, thick slices of ox tongue on toasted bread had me salivating (am I weird?). So, I had to figure out how to get a whole, fresh ox tongue to prepare at home. At a good butcher’s shop you can usually ask for a whole tongue which can come either pickled, smoked, or fresh. We had to specifically order our fresh tongue from the local butchers’ some days in advance since, apparently, they’re not that high in demand – aren’t you surprised? The price? Not much cheaper than a regular steak. The flavor? Invaluable.

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When I told people I was preparing beef tongue I got some mixed reactions. Some had tasted it before and absolutely loved it, while others questioned the floppiness and bumpiness of the meat. Want to know a secret? It’s really not as scary as it initially looks and sounds. The little bumps and rough skin on the outside of the tongue? All of that is removed. Considering the flavor: when prepared correctly, tongue is just a nice, intensely beefy piece of meltingly soft meat. By ‘prepared correctly’ I allude to the fact that beef tongue does benefit from some hours in a nice spiced brine and a long slow cooking – the cooking time is probably the only daunting side of this dish.

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Aside from brining and slow-cooking, tongue for sandwiches is usually pressed overnight with a little bit of its gelatinous broth until it takes on a nice round shape. I’ve decided not to be bothered with that step in my recipe. Instead, I simply wrap the tongue tightly in some plastic wrap and cool it in the fridge for 1, or 2 hours. Sure, it may still eerily look like a tongue and not like a nice, perfectly round piece of unrecognizable sandwich meat, but I am not bothered by that really. After handling a big floppy cow’s tongue for some days (the brining process takes 20 to 24 hours, and the boiling somewhere between 4 to 6) you do tend to get used to the sight…

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Beef Tongue for Sandwiches

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  • DF
Tender slices of beef tongue (for sandwiches, or other purposes)
  • Difficulty:Easy
  • Prep Time:15 mins
  • Cook Time:360 mins
  • Serves:6
  • Freezable:No

Nutrition per portion

Ingredients
  • 1kg – 1,5kg whole veal, or cow’s tongue
  • For the brine:
  • 4l water
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 8 garlic cloves
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 5 cloves
  • 8 allspice berries
  • 20 peppercorns
  • 200g sugar
  • 250g salt
  • -
  • For the sandwich (optional):
  • Slices of toasted bread
  • Mustard
  • Dill pickles, sliced
  • Radishes, sliced
  • Onion, sliced
Method
  1. Make the brine: In a large pot add the 4 liters of water, sugar, salt, onion, garlic, and spices. Bring to a boil for 15 minutes, then turn off the heat. Remove brine from the stove and let it cool down completely.
  2. Prepare and brine the tongue: whilst the brine is cooling down, place your ox’s tongue inside a clean sink and vigorously scrub the outside of the tongue under cold running water to clean it. Fill the sink with fresh, cold water and leave the tongue inside until the brine has completely cooled down (this can take about 2 hours). When the brine is cold, transfer it to a large enough plastic, or glass container. Place the tongue inside and weigh it down with a plate on top to keep the tongue completely submerged. Brine the tongue in the refrigerator for 20 up to 24 hours.
  3. Cooking the tongue: remove the tongue from the brine and place it into a large pot. Add about 0.5l of the brine and all of the spices, onion and garlic from the brine to the pot. Add 4 liters of fresh water, or enough to fully submerge the tongue. Bring the contents of the pot to a boil and reduce to a gentle simmer. Cook for at least 4 hours up to 6 hours, until the meat is tender (pierce it with a skewer to test). Add water if and when needed for the tongue to stay submerged.
  4. Peeling the tongue: when the tongue has cooked, remove it from the pot and let it cool until safe to touch. While the tongue is still warm, peel away the rough outer skin, which should have already come loose somewhat. Use a small knife if necessary, but be careful not to damage the meat too much.
  5. Chilling the tongue: wrap the tongue tightly in plastic wrap and let it cool down in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours. Cooling the tongue makes it easier to cut into slices for sandwiches.
  6. To serve: the tongue can be sliced and eaten cold, or can be cut into 1cm thick slices and quickly browned on each side in a pan with a little bit of butter – a quick fry makes them instantly regain their juicy and soft texture! For tongue sandwiches, layer some slices of tongue on a piece of bread and use your favourite toppings and condiments. I suggest some mustard, a thinly-sliced dill pickle and some radish.
*Indicated cooking time does not include 20 hours of brining  time

One comment

  1. 6 Unmissable Attractions You Need to Visit in Cambridgeshire - Ely Online - Ely, Cambs. UK

    […] authenticity, make sure to bring a Victorian packed lunch of ox-tongue sandwiches – which you can read about over at The Glutton Life blog – and a bottle of Crabbie’s Ginger Ale, which was, in fact, first created all the way […]

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