Tongue, Two Ways


Keep calm: all I’m offering you is two ways of preparing beef or ox tongue, one as a lightly-dressed warm salad and the other masala-coated and crisply fried. The second is an extension of the first and given the size of the average ox tongue you’d be a fool to not make both. Now, you might say to yourself, “tongue—how Indian is that?” Well, tongue is indeed eaten in many parts of India; indeed, one of our kids’ absolute favourite dishes on our trip to India in 2020 was fried tongue, which we ate at a couple of restaurants in Goa. And the fried version I present here is my attempt to recreate those preps from taste memory. The first preparation—as a dressed warm salad—may not strike you as obviously Indian; and it is true, I’m not aware of any traditional preparation in this general vein (which is not to say that one might not exist). But as far as I’m concerned it’s an Indian dish through and through. The tongue is prepared by simmering it with whole garam masala and then sliced thinly and dressed with a vinaigrette in which roasted cumin has been steeped. Both versions go very well with dal and rice.

The only challenge in the US is finding tongue. If you don’t buy beef in bulk from small farms as we do, your best bet will likely be to look in Mexican groceries. But if you do have access to tongue do give it a go. If you haven’t eaten it before you might feel a bit iffy about it but really it’s like eating very tender steak.

I do grant, however, that the process of preparing it is not for the squeamish. Tongue is not the most attractive cut of meat in its natural state and somehow manages to look both like what it is and like the  penis of some Lovecraftian monster. And after simmering it for a few hours to tenderize it you have to peel the skin off, a process that is as creepy (the first time, anyway) as it is easy. But if you can cope with these things you are in for a treat.

Ingredients

to prepare the tongue

  • 1 beef/ox tongue, roughly 2.5 lbs
  • 2-3 tez patta (dried cassia leaves)
  • A large piece of cassia bark or cinnnamon
  • 5-7 cloves
  • 1 tblspn black peppercorns
  • Water

to prepare the warm tongue salad

  • 6 tblspns extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tblspns vinegar of choice
  • 1-2 tspns cumin seeds
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1-2 scallions, trimmed and cut into long strips

to prepare the masala-fried tongue

  • 2-3 Byadgi chillies [affiliate link], ground coarsely
  • 1 tspn cumin seeds, ground coarsely with the chillies
  • 1/2 tspn haldi/turmeric powder
  • Salt
  • 2-3 tblspns neutral oil

Preparation

  1. Place the tongue in a large pot and add enough water to cover by several inches.
  2. Place the pot over medium heat, bring to a boil for 10 minutes or so and skim any scum that appears on the top.
  3. Add all the whole garam masala, reduce heat to a simmer, cover the pot and cook till the tongue is done (a little over two hours probably for a 2.5’ish lb tongue).
  4. Remove the tongue from the pot and when cooled enough to handle peel off the rubbery white layer of skin.
  5. Divide the tongue into two portions and proceed to the next two steps.

Finishing: for Warm Tongue Salad with Roasted Cumin Vinaigrette

  1. While the tongue is simmering prepare and steep the vinaigrette as follows:
    1. Heat a small cast iron pan over medium heat and dry roast 1-2 tspns of cumin seeds till they darken and split. Remove to a plate and when cool, grind coarsely.
    2. Add two tablespoons of vinegar of choice to six tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a small jar. Add a big pinch of salt and a few grindings of pepper and the ground roasted cumin. Close the jar tightly and let it sit for at least an hour.
    3. Take half the simmered and peeled tongue and cut into thin slices. Place the slices on a platter.
    4. Shake the closed jar vigorously to completely emulsify the dressing, taste and adjust for salt and pour the dressing over the sliced tongue, letting the ground cumin settle on the tongue while the dressing pools around it.
    5. Garnish with the scallion strips and serve warm.

Finishing: for Masala-Fried Tongue

    1. Let the portion of tongue you are using for this prep cool completely and then slice thinly.
    2. Sprinkle the ground chillies, cumin, haldi and salt over the sliced tongue and turn the slices over to coat evenly. Set aside.
    3. Heat a cast iron pan over medium heat and add the oil.
    4. As soon as the oil shimmers but before it smokes add the masala-coated tongue slices in one layer and fry exactly 1 minute on each side.
    5. Remove to a plate lined with paper towels, blot excess oil off and serve immediately with dal and rice.

Notes

  1. In my experience, a tongue between 2 and 3 lbs takes just over 2 hours at a simmer to reach optimal tenderness. I would begin checking around the 2 hour mark. Insert a fork into the thickest part of the tongue—it should go in easily and when you lift the tongue with the fork it should slide off before it emerges from the water. You’re not looking for it to be completely soft or falling apart—it should still have some spring to it.
  2. How much cumin you add to the dressing for the salad is up to you. You might want to roast and grind 2 tspns of cumin but only steep half of it. Taste the dressing when ready and if necessary add more cumin then. Or just sprinkle the extra cumin over the dressed salad.
  3. What vinegar you use is also completely up to you. I’ve made this with sweeter balsamic vinegar in the past. The most recent version (pictured up top) was made with Rancho Gordo’s pineapple vinegar which is both tart and fruity. And thought it wouldn’t be a vinaigrette any more you could also try making the dressing with lime or other citrus juice instead.
  4. Speaking of lime, a squeeze over the masala-fried slices wouldn’t hurt. Nor would a garnish of chopped dhania/cilantro.
  5. By the way, if you skim the water well early in the boil/simmer stage you will end up when all is done not just with tender tongue but good beef broth—you can save and use this in all kinds of other ways.
  6. If tongue still seems like a no-go to you, you can also slice rare steak thinly and dress it with the roasted cumin vinaigrette.
  7. So, if you know of other preparations of tongue in Indian or other South Asian cooking, please write in below.

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