My cooking project this week has been pickling a couple of beef tongues, and turning one of them into tongue pastrami. The pastrami tongue won't be smoked until Sunday, but I thought I'd post about the pickling process and show the finished pics of the uncured tongue.
I started off making some homemade pickling spice: cracked black pepper, cracked coriander, cracked cinnamon, crumbled bay leaves, dill seeds, caraway seeds, allspice berries, whole cloves, mustard seeds, celery seeds, red pepper flakes.
I made two containers of brine. One brine recipe is a tried-and-true recipe that I have followed many times for my uncured pickled tongue. The other brine recipe was a new one for me; I followed Bruce Aidells' recipe for the cured pickled beef tongue that I planned to cold smoke.
"Tried and True" Recipe: 1/2 gallon cold water, 200 grams sugar, 300 grams kosher salt, 1/4 cup pickling spices
Bruce Aidells' Recipe: 1/2 gallon cold water, 1/4 lb (114 grams) sugar, 1/2 lb (227 grams) kosher salt, 1/4 cup pickling spices, 1-1/2 Tbsp cure #1
For both recipes, just mix the water, sugar, salt, and cure (if using) together. Stir for quite a while until everything has dissolved and the brine is clear. Then mix in the pickling spices.
The "Tried and True" recipe gives a good flavor to the tongue in 4 to 5 days. The Bruce Aidells' recipe specifies 6 days for curing one or two, 2-3 lb tongues. It should go without saying that you want to wash the tongue well before placing it in the brine; this is actually kind of fun, once you get past the dismembered tongue thing. I mean, if you enjoy the feel of when your cat licks you, you are going to LOVE scrubbing a beef tongue. And if you do it well, you will never experience cleaner fingernails!
Make sure the tongue is fully submerged in the brine. I weight it down with a couple of plates. The Bruce Aidells' recipe specifies to remove the tongue from the brine after 3 days, stir the brine, then replace the tongue back into the brine. Keep the tongue in the refrigerator while it is brining.
It is especially fun to do this in a transparent brining container. And to leave the container near the front of your fridge. Invite people over for dinner, then ask them to get you something out of the refrigerator. This is cheap entertainment at its best.
OK, so my uncured tongue was ready today. At this point just pull the tongue out of the cure, rinse it well, and cover it with cold water in a stock pot. You can add some onion, celery, carrot, and bay leaves to the water if you want (I usually don't). Don't add any additional salt. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for about 3 1/2 hours. Pull the tongue out of the water with some tongs, and let it sit for about 10-15 minutes or until you can comfortably handle the tongue.
This is where it gets fun. Here is the cooked tongue.
It is mostly covered in a leathery skin which will easily peel off by hand after it is cooked. Look for a handy hole in the skin, or start along the edges, then just pull gently. It will come away easily.
Almost every recipe for beef tongue that I have looked at simply says to trim the base of the tongue, then slice the tongue and serve. Um....so, there is a dirty little secret about beef tongue. There are some honkin' big nerves that run inside the tongue. Maybe it's just me, but I'm creeped out by the large nerves. Therefore, I've developed a sort-of technique for slicing a beef tongue that gets rid of the bigger nerves before you slice it. However, if nerves don't bother you, then just slice and go. You rock.
Me, I start off by slicing the tongue in half cross-wise about where the tongue bends and the base starts.
The thinner end of the tongue has no or very small nerves, small enough where even I am not creeped out by them. This part of the tongue can just be sliced.
Now we deal with the thicker half of the tongue. Start by slicing away the base of the tongue. This is the part of the tongue that doesn't have taste buds, but has glands and other stuff.
If you look at the surface you just sliced, you can see that the tongue has sort of channels running along it. The bigger nerves run through these channels and also along the cut surface you just made.
Use a knife to trim inside the 3 channels, but don't cut all the way though the tongue. You might also need to trim a bit more from the top surface that this picture shows, depending on how deep you cut when you removed the base. This should get rid of the large nerves, leaving you with clean tongue meat.
You can now slice this section of tongue. The slices will be a bit wonky in shape, but will be nerve free!
Finally, you can clean the base of the tongue of glands, nerves, and fat to retrieve the remaining meat. This part of the tongue has some long muscle bundles, which are more like brisket in texture than tongue.
So there you go! You now have some lovely slices of pickled beef tongue which are great in sandwiches, tongue tacos, or "as is" with a dab of mustard or horseradish. You can substitute pickled beef tongue in any recipe that calls for corned beef; it is delicious in hash.
Another way I like to serve it is by making tongue mousse (another Aidells' recipe). It has been a big hit every time I've served it. It uses the pickled beef tongue along with cream cheese, sour cream, shallots, dijon mustard, and sherry. They are blended in a food processor until smooth, and it is served on sliced baguette or crackers.
If there is any interest in this post, I'll add to it at the end of the weekend with pictures of the cured and cold-smoked tongue pastrami.
Thanks for looking!
Edited by SnorkelingGirl - 4/22/13 at 5:56pm