Beef Tacos de Lengua (Beef Tongue Tacos)

MexicanBeefTaco

Classic Mexican tacos de lengua, beef tongue which has been braised with garlic and onions, finely chopped, and served with salsa verde and avocados.

Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Mexican Beef Tongue Tacos

Here’s the deal with tongue.

Prepared correctly it is melt-in-your-mouth tender (from slow braising) and flavorful (because it’s a muscle that got a lot of exercise). If you chop it up enough the texture isn’t an issue. Its home of homes is truly in a taco, slathered with tomatillo 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 Tacos de Lengua (Beef Tongue Tacos) Recipe

  • Prep time: 15 minutes
  • Cook time: 3 hours, 45 minutes
  • Yield: One 3-pound tongue makes enough meat for about 18-24 tacos.

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

1 Simmer the tongue: 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.

beef tongue first slow cook beef tongue in water with aromatics for tacos de lengua

2 Remove the skin-like covering: Remove tongue from water and let cool for a couple of minutes.

simmer beef tongue is how you cook cow tongue for tacos cook the beef tongue for beef tongue tacos de lengua

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.

remove light part of skin covering beef tongue for beef tongue tacos remove all of the light colored skin of the cooked beef tongue

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.

rough patch of tongue for making tongue tacos cut out rough patch of beef tongue for making tongue tacos

3 Slice and sauté the tongue: 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.)

slice cooked cow tongue for tacos saute sliced beef tongue for tacos de lengua

Heat a little oil in a frying pan on medium high and sauté the slices on both sides until they are lightly browned.

4 Dice: Remove from pan and slice first into strips, then crosswise again so that you end up with small cubes.

slice cooked beef tongue for tongue tacos chop sliced beef tongue for tacos de lengua

5 Assemble the tacos: 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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Links:

Cuban-style beef tongue with tomatoes, peppers, and onions from Masa Assassin

Beef tongue in caper sauce from Nikas Culinaria

Another take on tacos de lengua from He Cooks, She Cooks

Many thanks to Arturo Vargas of Taste for the Senses for sharing his family recipe of tacos de lengua.

Beef Tongue Tacos

Elise Bauer

Elise Bauer is the founder of Simply Recipes. Elise launched Simply Recipes in 2003 as a way to keep track of her family's recipes, and along the way grew it into one of the most popular cooking websites in the world. Elise is dedicated to helping home cooks be successful in the kitchen. Elise is a graduate of Stanford University, and lives in Sacramento, California.

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65 Comments / Reviews

No ImageBeef Tacos de Lengua (Beef Tongue Tacos)

Did you make it? Rate it!

  1. Betty

    Growing up half Hispanic with my grandmother who was full blooded Panamanian, she would make this once in a while. I regret not learning the Hispanic dishes she’d make because now there’s a couple I wish I could get back in my mouth and enjoy! She made an Arroz con Pollo that I’ve not ever found anything similar online. My own mother can’t give me the ingredients either! But when grandma made this tongue, and I remember it in the pot cooking forever, I knew I was gonna have melt in your mouth yummy supper! There’s only a couple restaurants and one food truck that makes cows tongue and that is all I will order when I go to them! If you haven’t tried this meat, I suggest you first go to an authentic Hispanic restaurant and try it! You’ll be buying your own tongues afterward! Thank you for the recipe as I have a fresh from the butcher 1/4 cow in my freezer and made sure they gave me the tongue so I could make this again for myself!
    There is a question here though as non of ours made it as leftovers, but can some of it be frozen after cooking since I live alone and won’t be willing to share? Hahaha!

    Show Replies (1)
  2. Mike

    I love lengua tacos, never made them before though. I’m curious if I can simmer the tongue ahead of time and then cook it on the pan the next day?

    Show Replies (1)
  3. Kirstin

    LOVE tacos de lengua. thanks for the recipe and making the not so popular doable.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  4. Rebekah

    We’d been seeing Tacos de Lengua on Rick Bayless’ Mexico: One Plate at a Time and wanted to try them, but finding a place that had them was not easy. So we found your recipe and WE ARE HOOKED. Super simple, super easy and oh SO delicious..!!! We make this 2-3 times a year in our crockpot (12 – 14 hours on low). For the squeamish, the tongue is simply a muscle — and a very tasty one at that. Try it – you won’t be sorry.

    xxxxxyyyyy

  5. Maggie Swinson

    I love tongue tacos. They are my absolute favorite. I do not care to boil my tongue. I use a crock pot! I rinse the tongue and place it in my crock pot with a 1/4 water, 1 tbs cumin, tomato chicken bullion by Knorr (the one with the red lid) and cook on high for four hours. Then you can pull the outer skin layer off super easy like a glove. Put your tongue back in the crock pot for another two hours on med-low heat. Your tongue should pull apart and shred super easy. I add one packet of Sazon Goya (The one in the orange box) in the international isle in your market. mix the meat well with the juices in the pot. I serve with corn tortillas and Spanish rice on the side. I make a pica to go over the tongue. Most people use cilantro and onion to serve with a splash of lime. It’s amazing.

    xxxxxyyyyy

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