Before you turn to your Spanish dictionary for confirmation, yes, these tacos are made from beef tongue. Please don't run away kicking and screaming, you'll really be missing out!
I pride myself on not being a picky eater. That being said, I have never really eaten or cooked any sort of offal - "the nasty bits" as Anthony Bourdain would say, nose-to-tail, the organs that often get discarded. To be honest, I'm afraid. Very afraid. The smell of liver and onions that would permeate our house once a year as a child still gives me nightmares. I don't like pate, foie gras or any other "delicacy" made from those other cuts.
But I do want to try new things, grow some cajones, conquer my fears and explore different cultures. Traditionally (and in many places even today), meat was very expensive and these were often the only cuts the average person could afford. They learned how to cook them well, make them delicious, and many of our favorite dishes today were the result of such ingenuity.
I figured that the best place to start my foray into this whole new world was with a cut that was still a muscle, just like the steak harvested from other parts of the cow. I'd heard good things about beef tongue from everyone who'd tried it and it's almost a religious experience for taco truck obsessives. So when a sign posted at Springfield Farm alerted me to FREE beef tongue (along with livers, kidneys and other, scarier meats), I figured why not. After all, if I didn't like it I could throw it away without the guilt. My philosophy always when trying something new is not to vary too much from the classic preparation. Therefore, I set out to make some beef tongue tacos.
And I have to say, I'm so glad I did. Cleaning the tongue was the hardest part, with a bit of an ick factor, because there's no doubt what you're dealing with. Most recipes call for boiling the tongue, then peeling back the skin, but I chose to cut the skin off first so that I could sear and braise the meat. Although this was a bit more difficult then cooking it first, I think it allowed me to develop more flavor and quickly disguise the cut for the squeamish. Once braised in a tomato and chile based sauce, it was tender and super flavorful, the essence of what a beef taco should be. At this point, it looked and felt just like pot roast, not scary at all. If you're on the fence, do give it a try. Sandwiched in a corn tortilla with fresh salsa and sharp cheddar, I honestly think these might be the best tacos I've ever had.
Tacos de Lengua (Braised Beef Tongue Tacos)
Note: this makes WAY more sauce then you will use for the amount of meat, but it is necessary to properly braise the meat. The extra freezes well and is a great enchilada sauce or base for a mexican soup or chili.
1 3-4 lb. beef tongue
1 quart tomatoes (alternatively substitute canned stewed tomatoes and skip the skinning step)
2 Tbsp olive oil (divided)
spice rub of your choice
1 large onion
1 chipotle in adobo, minced
2 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp chile powder
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ancho chile powder
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup red wine
3-4 cups beef stock
1 tsp olive oil
6 inch corn tortillas
grated sharp or extra sharp cheddar
fresh (preferably homemade) salsa
other toppings of your choice (ex: sour cream, guacamole, radish, shredded carrots or lettuce, avocado, etc)
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath in a large bowl. Slit each tomato with a paring knife.
When the water is boiling, add the tongue and boil for 5 minutes or so. Emerge in ice bath to cool down. Use a sharp serrated knife to trim away the tongue of all skin and any meat that seems to have an odd texture (such as where the tongue attaches to the mouth of the cow) and discard. Meanwhile, immerse the tomatoes in the boiling water until their skin starts to peel away, then plunge them into an ice bath. After they've cooled, peel and remove any tough cores, then set aside.
Drain your pot of water, add 1 Tbsp of oil and put over medium high heat. Split the tongue into 2 pieces, preferably similar in size. At this point it should resemble a chuck roast or another normal beef cut. Rub each piece with the spice rub. I used McCormick's Cowboy Rub. Any sort of Mexican, steak or BBQ rub will do. Sear the tongue on each side until well browned. Remove and set aside.
Add the remaining Tbsp of oil and saute onions until soft. Add chipotle, tomato paste and seasonings. Saute until slightly caramelized and beginning to brown on the bottom of the pan. Add red wine and stir to deglaze. Reintroduce the tomatoes and tongue and transfer to a slow cooker. Add enough stock to almost cover the meat. Cook on the high setting in the slow cooker for 4 hours.
Remove beef tongue. Puree sauce (I recommend a stick blender for this) and bring it to a boil to reduce. Meanwhile, chop the meat. The sauce should reduce until thickened, a little bit less thick then a marinara.
When this consistency is reached, heat up a tsp of oil in a small skillet. Fry up the tongue meat (about a cup for every 3 tacos) for a couple of minutes before adding a big spoonful of sauce. Let cook about another minute in the sauce. Meanwhile, spritz tortillas with cooking spray and toast in a large nonstick pan until slightly charred.
To assemble, sprinkle tortilla with shredded cheese, pile in meat and top with salsa and other toppings of your choosing. Then sit back and enjoy taco nirvana, preferably alongside a cold Corona with lime.