and apparently the only cure for it is more cow . . . tongue. Yup, that's right folks. After being silent for so long, I've returned in full force with the large licking muscle of a bovine.
You might be thinking to yourself, "I thought the CSA only delivered vegetables; how did she get such an odd cut of meat?" or "What would possess this woman to cook cow tongue?" or "Is she freaking crazy?" And those are all valid questions. Or you might be thinking to yourself nothing of the sort. But if you belong to the latter group, I don't care and I will answer the questions of the former.
It all starts with the college-level, biology/English class I teach to a bunch of high schoolers. Part of this program entails a weekend-long retreat to a camp outside of Ramona. I am loathe to do anything outside of the class since my eyes hemorrhage regularly from grading horribly written essays, but since I've managed to evade this event three years in a row, I figured I was due. Don't get me wrong; this is a great group of kids this year. In fact, this is the best group we've ever had, but I'd rather spend the weekend hanging out with friends and family than with students.
In addition to not being able to get out of the trip, I also couldn't get out of actively participating in the planned events: namely one talent show. I was in charge of writing a skit for a group of five students to perform at the talent show. Bursting with creativity and originality, I took my pen in hand and copied out a skit I'd seen at a high school summer camp when I was--oddly enough--in high school.
The details of the skit aren't important. Just know it featured a dentist, a pair of giant pliers, and a cow tongue. Oddly enough, cow tongue isn't as difficult to find as I thought. Whole Foods had one.
Before you ask: no, I did not decide to cook the cow tongue after it had been mauled and tossed around by my students (though honestly, I wouldn't put that past me). The retreat was actually enjoyable and full of fun activities. So full, in fact, that we never did get to the talent show.
So there I was: the proud owner of a very large cow tongue. Of course I had to cook it.
Cow tongue is an amazing cut of beef. It is so exactly like a giant . . . tongue. Mottled and bumpy. Rough and heavy. Now, I am not a squeamish person. I have no problems with seeing where my meat comes from. In fact, I've even skinned a deer, plucked many turkeys, and castrated both goats and rats (don't ask and definitely don't tell anyone). I don't need to have bones removed from meat (like one of my friends does). I eat steak so rare that it is raw and cold in the center. However, cow tongue is a horse of a completely different color (if you'll excuse the metaphor).
As I pulled it from its packaging, I felt an involuntary surge of nausea come over me. I couldn't understand it. Why would this meat be different from any other I've encountered? I quickly placed the meat in the crock pot with the other ingredients and crock-potted the shit out of it overnight. The recipe calls for boiling, but I figured crock pots are just as good. Also, since it is so disgusting raw, I thought cooking it a bit might make it palatable.
Because I know you are dying to cook cow tongue on your own, here the recipe I used:
TONGUE WITH MUSTARD-HORSERADISH SAUCE
Active time: 30 min Start to finish: 3 1/2 hr
1 (3‚-lb) fresh beef tongue
1 large onion, sliced
6 garlic cloves, smashed
1 bay leaf
1 whole star anise
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 tablespoons salt
1/4 cup chopped shallot (1 large)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons whole-grain Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon bottled horseradish
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Cook tongue: Rinse tongue well with cold water and place in a deep 6- to 8-quart pot. Add cold water to cover by 3 inches, then add remaining tongue ingredients. Cover pot and bring to a boil. Simmer, partially covered, until tongue is fork-tender, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.
Transfer tongue to a cutting board (reserve 1‚ cups cooking liquid) and, when cool enough to handle, peel off skin and trim any fat or gristle. Skim off fat from cooking liquid and pour liquid through a paper-towel–lined sieve into a large bowl, discarding solids. Keep tongue warm, covered.
Make sauce: Cook shallot in butter in a 2-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat, stirring frequently, until softened. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking, 1 minute. Gradually whisk in reserved cooking liquid and cream, then bring to a boil, whisking.
Simmer sauce, whisking, until slightly thickened, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in mustard, horseradish, herbs, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste.
Slice tongue and serve with sauce.
Sugar and Spice
I fell asleep that night to a house full of the smell of cooking cow tongue. It is a tangy greasy smell that manages to permeate the oddest things--like my hair. The next day (after a shower to get the cow tongue smell out of my hair), I took the crockpotted tongue out of the water and "skinned" it as commanded "Aha!" My mind reasoned. "It is only nasty because of the taste bud-coated skin." Ummm, yeah.
Getting through the tough taste bud-coated skin is actually kind of hard. I had to firmly grip the tongue to pierce the hide. With the first successful pierce, a spurt of unidentified and foul-smelling liquid sailed into the air. I'm not sure if it was the crock pot water or maybe we have a layer of liquid under the skin of our tongue. I'm not about to pierce my own tongue to find out.
However, once pierced, cow tongue does "skin" with surprising ease. The "meat" inside is stringy and flaky. Oh, and it doesn't smell any better skinned or not.
My skinning efforts were rewarded with a very sad and distinctly unappetizing cut of beef.
At this point, a small part of my mind asked me, "Are you really going to continue cooking this? Are you really going to eat this?" And the other part of me, the part that insists every six months or so that I can run even though I have more metal in my left foot than bone, answered, "HELL YEAH!"
I then stared on the sauce, thinking that since this is such strong-tasting meat, the sauce will both tame and complement it, leaving me (as the brave cook) to garner the accolades of my doubting friends and family for attempting such a serious task.
And really, I think that's why I even tried to cook this cut. Do I really like beef? No. Do I regularly eat exotic cuts of any meat? No. Will a meal of meaty goodness really make me feel as satiated and good as one that is full of green vegetables? No. Honestly, I took on this task because I think a truly good cook should be able to successfully cook and serve anything that is handed to her (or him). I think a good cook should be able to shape the wildest of ingredients into something that the people who eat her food will like and enjoy. Because cooking is about skill and about pleasing others. A good cook should be able to do both with anything
. . . except cow tongue. I also think there should be exceptions to the above rule that don't compromise your status as a good cook. Sometimes there are just cultural palate preferences that we just can't overcome.
Or maybe not. Maybe I am not as good a cook as I thought I was. Maybe I am a mediocre cook who can do a limited number of things fairly well. But there is room for growth. Room to gain skill.
Maybe cow tongue is my Everest. . .
Or maybe not.
The art of being Californian, it seems, is to cultivate a loose-limbed insouciance while secretly working away like a frantic ant.
--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History
--Richard Fortey The Earth: An Intimate History