Speaking Lengua

I'm about to turn you on to something you absolutely must try. We all know about its existence, but many people seem intimidated by it, and feel repulsed when thinking about eating it. We're talking tongue, and although many animals' tongues make great eating, I'm specifically referring to the large and somewhat scary looking tongue of a cow.

While many grocery stores carry cows' tongue, it doesn't hurt to call ahead and make sure your butcher is well endowed. If it's not something they regularly carry, ask them to order one or two for you; they freeze well, and it never hurts to have a back-up tongue on hand.

The tongue is a very well exercised muscle, so the first thing you need to do is give it a long, slow simmer in big pot of flavorful liquid. I usually cover the tongue with water and add a good handful of salt, a few bay leaves, some peppercorns, an entire head of garlic, some chopped carrot, celery, and an onion. It takes at least two hours to achieve the velvety softness that is tongue's textural hallmark. It is that texture, along with some seriously deep beefy flavor, that makes tongue one of the world's greatest delicacies. After simmering, allow the tongue to cool down enough so that you can peel off the outer skin, taste buds and all. Trim away any gristly bits where the muscle was connected, and you're all set. You can now slice the ultra tender, tasty meat into medallions for grilling or sauteing, dice it into cubes for soups or stews, or shred it for sandwiches.

I typically make use of the long simmering time to whip up a roasted tomatillo salsa with lots of green chilli, garlic, and onions. I'll also pull out the masa harina and start in on the tortilla making process. To me, beef tongue is the absolute best taco filling, and I love to dice the cooked tongue, brown the cubes in a hot saute pan, and then pour the tomatillo salsa over the top. A few minutes of gentle simmering allows all the flavors to marry, then I finish with a big handful of chopped cilantro.

Spoon some of that into a hot, fresh, hand-made tortilla, sprinkle some shredded red cabbage and minced onion over the top, and finish with a good squeeze of lime. It may be simple Mexican street food, but it is truly one of the most focused and delicious combinations of flavors you're ever going to taste. Just make sure to not think about who's really tasting who!

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