Beef Tacos de Lengua

This recipe is not for the food-queazy. If that’s you, you might want to just skip this one, or instead check out some of our chicken breast recipes.

What? You’re still with us? Okay, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

My first recollection of beef tongue was when I was about 8 years old and there happened to be a huge one in the refrigerator. It looked, and felt (I touched it, who could resist?) like a ginormous tongue. Just like my little 8-year old tongue, but oh my gosh, it was so big! And then my parents cooked it and made us eat it. (No idea how they prepared it.) The texture. It was so, so tongue-like. All too weird, even for me.

Fast forward a couple decades (okay, more than a couple) and I’m in Mexico when my bud Matt announces that there’s a crowd around the lengua tacos in the buffet line. I get there just in time to scoop up the last of the day’s lengua for my taco and I’m in tongue heaven. So tender, so perfect in a taco.

Here’s the deal with tongue. Prepared correctly it is melt-in-your-mouth tender (from slow braising), flavorful (because it’s a muscle that got a lot of exercise), if you chop it up enough the texture isn’t an issue, and its home of homes is truly in a taco, slathered with salsa verde. By the way, my mother instructed me to tell you that the way you know you are at an authentic taqueria is that there are “tacos de lengua” (tongue tacos) on the menu. If you find yourself at such a taqueria, try some! Or if you are the adventurous sort, and love tacos and Mexican food, the following is a traditional Mexican recipe for tacos de lengua, taught to me by my Acapulco friend Arturo. This is the way his mother made it for him growing up. Outrageously good. If I could, I would eat the entire batch all by myself.

Beef tongue may be found at local Asian markets, Mexican markets, or ordered by your local butcher

Ingredients

  • 1 3-4 lb beef tongue
  • 2 large onions, peeled
  • The cloves from 1 head (yes an entire head) of garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 6-7 bay leaves
  • 1 Tbsp of peppercorns
  • 2 Tbsp salt
  • Vegetable oil
  • Corn tortillas (2 to 3 per person)
  • Salsa verde*
  • Avocados
  • Cilantro
  • Chopped red onion
  • Thinly sliced radishes for garnish

* Bottled or canned salsa verde can be found in the Hispanic section of markets. To make homemade salsa verde, remove husks from 1 lb of tomatillos, place tomatillos in a pan, cover with water, simmer until cooked through, about 5 minutes. Place tomatillos, 1/3 cup chopped onion, 1/4 cup cilantro leaves, 2 teaspoons of lemon or lime juice, a jalapeño or serrano chile pepper, and about a teaspoon of salt in a blender. Blend until smooth, add more salt to taste.

Method

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1 Fill a large (12-quart if you have one) stock pot two-thirds full with water. Add the tongue, onions, crushed garlic cloves, bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for 3 hours, until the tongue is soft to the touch and tender.

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2 Remove tongue from water and let cool for a couple of minutes. Notice the light colored skin-like covering over most of the tongue. Using your fingers, and/or a sharp small knife, remove this covering and discard. Notice the rough patch of meat where the tongue would attach to the bottom of the mouth. Arturo removes this patch (as does his mother when she prepares tongue) because it is a little rough. It's perfectly edible though, so keep it attached if you want.

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3 Slice the tongue in 1/4-inch slices. (If you are not preparing the whole tongue for tacos, you can return whatever tongue you do not slice to the cooking water to soak.) Heat a little oil in a frying pan on medium high and sauté the slices on both sides until they are lightly browned. Remove from pan and slice first into strips, then crosswise again so that you end up with small cubes.

4 Soften tortillas either by cooking on the stove-top until pockets of air appear in them, or in the microwave (about 10 seconds per tortilla). Place a large spoonful of meat in the center of a tortilla. Add a spoonful of salsa verde and some chopped avocado, onion, and chopped fresh cilantro. Garnish with radish slices.

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