Beef Tacos de Lengua (Beef Tongue Tacos)

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

  • Yield: One 3-pound tongue makes enough meat for about 18-24 tacos.

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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Comments

  • Uliyana

    This is amazing! I was surprised how authentic and delicious it was. Definetely a future staple (especially the salsa!). Five stars!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Timothy

    Incredible.

  • Angel Gingras

    We are trying to expand our diet by trying organ meat. We shop at our local farmers market and this years adventure was to try tongue. As this is a “less” requested cut, we bought a beef tongue for $5 (but probably could have got it for free, lol). In looking online for a recipe, this was the first I saw and it was reviewed and rated a 5 by 54 people. I followed the recipe letting the tongue simmer until tender. We unfortunately did not eat it right away so it was left in the pot and put in the fridge. We just returned home hungry, so I decided to cut and brown the tongue and make up the tacos. They are as great as the reviews indicated. We appreciated the up front honesty as there is a “mental” factor to address in handling and preparing the tongue but getting past the cooking, the eating is great! We are so glad to have tried tongue and this recipe was so fresh and tasty. We will do it again!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • IsitfridayyetLisa

    Amazing! I haven’t touched lengua since I was forced to eat it as a child. I braised mine in a crockpot for 12 hours, shut it off and let it rest. So incredibly flavorful and melt in your mouth delicious. My daughter came home from work and without asking began chewing down on it before asking “is this really beef? It is so tender” LOL…upon hearing it is tongue, she hesitated and then said “wow, this is amazing”

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • Lauren M

    This was so perfect! I always enjoy lengua at Mexican restaurants but have always been scared to try to make it. So glad I did. Thank you for a great easy recipe!

    xxxxxyyyyy

  • JOHN B

    When you cook this in the pressure cooker, The left over broth is great for a pot of beans. Put the pintos in the pressure cooker for about a hour. Best beans ever.

  • cathy cagle

    super yummy! I cooked the tongue in my pressure cooker, 40 minutes under pressure and natural cool down, came out perfect. I lightly mixed the meat, cilantro, avocado, salsa, radishes and onion in a large bowl to expedite serving a large group and then served it up plate style, tortillas on the side. Family loved it! even my occasionally picky son ate every speck he could find.

    Tongue is spectacular in a spicy stir fry if anyone is looking for a non-traditional way to use it.

  • Kara Ffrench

    Elise, I’ve made this many times. Your recipes never fail to disappoint us. I’ll admit I was a bit freaked out at first but the flavor and the aromatics are irresistible.

    xxxxxyyyyy

    • Kara

      I meant your recipes are always a hit here. We are never disappointed.

  • Lucy

    When u put it in the pressure cooker, do u put the onions with it and how much water?

  • Ann

    I like adding a dash of cider vinegar, cumin, and hot chiles such as serranos or Thai. Sometimes I add Worcestershire sauce. Pig tongue is quite versatile. Thanks!

  • chief thunderhorse

    I disagree about the part of the tongue that is the underside attachment (the big end). The big end is what I use for tacos de lengua. That one hunk of meat at the rear bottom is like excellent roast beef. I cut the big end completely off, leaving about 2/3rds the length and leave that smaller end unpeeled and refrigerate it to be used for sandwiches a few days later (on marble rye toast, feathered cabbage, horseradish, mayo/mustard blend and side kosher/salt brine pickle) and cold premium lager,,,for the tacos, I like vine ripened tomato, cholula green jalapeno and poblano sauce, feathered napa cabbage, cilantro, key lime squeezins’ and “mexican” long green onion (they are Bermuda onions)..and refries with gorgonzola crumbs, splash of Tapatio red sauce.. and a nice Mexican beer..mmmm..mmmm.. sometimes I do Spanish Rice with it.

  • Kristin

    My friend and I made this for the Super Bowl and it came out great!!! I had been fascinated with the idea of making lengua for some time—your step by step photos took the mystery out of it. We cooked the tongue in the pressure cooker.

    So glad you went for it. ~Elise

  • lacrema

    Hey Elise,

    I recently began making tongue tacos since the street tacos at the taqueria are $3 each and I like to have about 20. I was sure I’d save money making them, and I do!

    It may be a regional difference in recipes, but you really do need to add some cumin and oregano, and the addition of the stock to the chopped, frying meat, makes the taco 100 times better!! It is waaaay juicy and yummy and after a couple of my MX friends tasted these they told me I was officially brown. : )

    Also, since the tongue is so fatty and flavorful, I really haven’t found that you can overcook it. You can cook it all day long and it will taste just as good. (Maybe that’s because I add some broth back in, though).

    Thanks for posting a recipe for this, though. Tacos de lengua are a REAL treat!

    Thanks for the suggestion on cumin and oregano. I’ll keep that in mind for next time! ~Elise

  • mike wilkie

    i am the whitest white boy who grew up in a family with a mexican step father and i tell you this recipe brings me back to my childhood, Lengua is my faverite food and this recipe was awsome…

  • Grace

    Thank you for this recipe . . I’ve two on and cooking right now!

    I grew up around a large Basque population, pickled tongue is a staple on their tables. It is AMAZING . . on fresh sourdough and real butter . . it melts in your mouth. It is a family requested favorite at the holidays (and we’re Irish LOL) I was not hesitant to try lengua tacos when I saw them on a menu at a restaurant and am hooked for life.

    For those of you that tongue grosses out . . I say try it. Try it first at a restaurant if the look of it weirds you out . . it is just little cubes of beef and is the most “beefy” tasting, tender beef that you will ever eat. Very healthy too . . virtually fat free.

  • Moniqu

    I am so glad I tried this. Now I LOVE beef tongue prepared in a dish such as this. Sauteing it again in oil removes the gamey taste. I ran out of salsa verde so I topped the taco with chili sauce and horseradish. So so good, words can’t describe the deliciousness!!! I’ll never look down my nose at tongue again!

  • Christina

    This recipe was amazing. This is my first time cooking and eating beef tongue (or any tongue in that case). My boyfriend is Mexican and he was craving some good tongue tacos. I followed the recipe and they came out great. He said they were just as good as the ones he’s had at taquerias. I’m somewhat adventurous when it comes to new food but after dicing up the meat, it was pretty much indistinguishable anyways. The tongue is just a large muscle after all. The meat was so tender after cooking, I will definitely make tacos de lengua again.

  • Weiwen

    Just made this and it was very good. The first time I had tongue it was a bit too gamey, but this was fine.

    Does anyone have good ideas for a tongue chili recipe? It seems like this cut of meat would go well with chili.

  • Christina

    I made this last night with a canned tomatillo sauce, should have made it from scratch, but the tongue was very good. But then I let it cool before sauteeing it there was a gross yellow fat that came out. I hope this is normal and I didn’t get some icky kind of meat from some unnatural cow. But the meat was really good, which left me wondering if there are other ways to serve it! Thanks.

  • Herbie

    I am attempting to make this like my dad makes it right now. He always cooks it overnight on low heat for at least 8 hours. It’s the best. Even more rare than the restaurant that serves it is the restaurant that serves it right. Most places have it cut into cubes and it is tasteless and very rubbery. Another thing restaurants do wrong is they leave the skin on. A properly cooked tongue should be so tender that the skin comes off easily. If it is tough and rubbery, the skin won’t slide off (and it is gross both texture-wise and to look at). You wouldn’t eat tenderloin with the skin on would you? Lengua is even more tender than filet mignon if done right. The slower it’s cooked, the more tender it should be.

  • Robin

    My friend just brought me two beef tongues ( a bonus to the 2 beef hearts I asked her for). My husband and I tried tacos de lengua in Texas a few months ago so I wanted to try making them at home. I was really intimidated by the tongue plus I used my pressure cooker for the first time. I made the leap and invited our neighbors over for a trial. They turned out to be amazing!! Luckily I live in Wyoming so finding someone who is sending a steer to be butchered isn’t too hard to do! I’ll be looking for more soon, may even try elk tongue! Thanks for the recipe!

  • Shannan

    The stars were aligned and we were gifted a lovely beef tongue from a nearby ranch. We nearly fainted when we saw it. It looked like an alien. But after the laughing and squealing (OK that was mostly the me part of we) I got down to biz with your recipe. Homemade salsa verde and torts… ultra ripe avocado. Oh my GOD. Where have these little gems been all my life? Thank you for the appetizing pic that inspired me to make it and the recipe that inspired satisfied MMMM’s from the hungry eaters.

  • Musi

    I love cooking lengua. I prepare it in a slow cooker. What I do is put the lengua in the pot with three or four bay leaves and enough water. When its cooked I remove it from the pot, peel it, cut very thin slices. Then I fry onion slices, add tomato sauce, cappers and olives, add the tongue and let it cook for a few minutes and its delicious.

  • Kelly

    I work for a large beef facility (aka slaughterhouse) and buy tongue during the employee sales for about $1.05/lb. We always have a freezer full of them as we buy in bulk (8/case). I prepare it pretty similar to your recipe with the seasoning, but I cook mine in the crockpot 6-8 hours on low and then shred the meat for tacos or whatever. Delicious!

  • Zoe

    You know what? This instruction gave me the courage to cook and eat tongue. I had the computer in the kitchen and followed the instructions and it was so easy! The pictures were really helpful. We gave the bottom part of the tongue to a very grateful dog!

    Those tacos were so darn good. We made homemade torts to go with them and some pumpernickle bread for tasting! I now have the courage to make tongue any old time I want it! Thank you Elise!

    Music to my ears. Thank you for giving it a go! ~Elise

  • KerryAnn May

    I made this recipe this past Sunday. The tongue was kinda mushy. We imagined it would be chewier, firmer texture. Did we cook it too long? We did simmer it a half an hour too long, we simply lost track of time. We then fried it and sliced and diced it, per the recipe.

    We were disappointed. Good flavor, but mushy meat. Please let us know if we overcooked it or if this is just how tongue is.

    I make tons of recipes from your site and this is the first time I’m thinking I won’t be making it again.

    Good question. It should be tender, not mushy. If you are anywhere near a good taqueria you might order a lengua taco for comparison’s sake. Could be that the meat got overcooked. Could be you had a veal tongue and not a beef tongue. Could be you had a particularly tender tongue. ~Elise

  • Maria Bauer

    I love these tacos. I have a recipe for the slow cooker version. I’ve made it twice and everyone in my family loves it. The meat is so tender it falls apart, with a little help from a fork :) It calls for the same ingredients as the ones posted above. You put it in the slow cooker on HI for 4 hours then change it to LOW for another 8. I start it at 8 p.m. on a Friday or Saturday night, and by 8 a.m. the next morning it’s done. I take the skin off and shred the meat. Enjoy!

  • Cynthia H.

    I am saving this recipe and will definitely give it a whirl. Although the concept of eating a cow tongue . . . leaves much to be desired – I remember with great fondness the tongue my mother used to prepare with regularity. As a child, I never connected the name of the dish with the reality of it – I only knew it was the most delicious, most succulent, most flavorful meat my mother cooked. It wasn’t until I was a teenager and saw an actual cow tongue at the butcher’s counter that it hit me – my favorite dish was a COW’S TONGUE! Oh. My. God! But to have tacos made of it – yum – I definitely missed out on this growing up in Santa Monica. I’m so sad, living out in the woods on the east coast, now – real Mexican food is nearly impossible to find.

  • Patricia Leder

    Elise, I forgot to tell you how I prepared our “venison” version of tongue. . . beef tongue that our friend thought was venison. Simmered several hours on the stove with some herbs, onions, etc. .. it was 25 years ago that this little episode happened, so I’m sure I’d done some good ‘stuff’ to it. . .cooled it, skinned and trimmed it, then cut it into 1/2 to 3/4 inch slices. . . breaded in seasoned bread crumbs as I would porkchops, ground beef, etc. . . and fried in olive oil, turning when they were crispy on the first side, and putting out on a papercovered plate to ease some of the oil out. . . served hot with bbq sauce, or, as the children insisted on, catsup, ketchup, catch-up!! . . .however you want to call it. . . keep up the GOOD WORK!! Patricia

    Oh, a tongue cutlet, what a great idea! ~Elise

  • Hairybizness

    My grandma used to make this all the time growing up, I never knew how to make it. What perfect comfort food! One question, can you do this in a crock pot? I want to put it on before I go to work, and come home to a great meal.

    Yes, I’m pretty sure this would be ideal for cooking in a crockpot. ~Elise

  • Alta

    LOVE LOVE LOVE lengua! I even posted it on my blog last year (along with barbacoa – and yes, for those that are squeamish, turn back now!). I make it in the slow cooker (on low for about 8 hours) but I like your version too. What really amazed me is that the last time I made it, I “tricked” my picky-as-hell daughter into tasting it before I told her what it was, and she really liked it. The crazy part is she actually STILL liked it after she knew it was tongue! I need to make this again. I’m hungry now.

  • tommy2rs

    Tortas de lengua are good too. Lengua, avocado and pico de gallo on a sliced bolillo. Usually if a place has the taco they can do the torta.

  • Mirian

    You are too cool for posting this! My mom used to make them and I remember being able to easily put away 6 as a kid, so good! So good in fact, that all we put on them was cilantro and onion and some lime juice. I have never attempted to make this on my own but I will now. Thanks!

  • Anna

    I’m sooooo glad to see you are posting recipes like this! Who needs yet another recipe for ground beef taco filing anyway? I’m trying to adopt a more traditional “nose-to-tail” eating philosophy and this recipe helps immensely. For two years I’ve been buying a free-range grassfed half bison once or twice a year; this year I was able to persuade the rancher to save the tongue, heart, and liver for me. I have plenty of old-fashioned cookbooks with recipes for tongue, but well, the finished dish looks like tongue! That doesn’t help win over the family to my new food adventures.

    Tacos (or taco salad for my husband and I since we are watching the starch) are very popular in our house, so I plan to give this one a whirl.

  • Matt S

    When I’m at my local taqueria, I usually order lengua y chorizo burritos as the combo is off the hook. However, I saw tongue on sale at the local asian mart and had to buy a 3.3 pounder. Let’s just say, it came out awesome and I can’t wait to make this again.

    Great! ~Elise

  • Regina

    OK – I made the salsa verde last night (I like my salsa cold), and the tongue is simmering as I type, it smells amazing. The only change I’m making is subbing flour tortillas for the corn (I am not a huge fan of the corn). I MAY have also slipped in a couple extra cloves of garlic and I cut the onions in half so they would fit better in the pot. Another 2 hours and I should start peeling (not looking forward to THAT part, I must say).

  • Andy

    There is a great taqueria down the street that serves lengua tacos, but my girlfriend wouldn’t let me get one!! After this recipe I may have to impose my will and go for broke… :)

    They also had cactus on the menu in various forms, I wonder if you have a recipe for that? I believe they had it grilled, would love to see this authentic ingredient with a delicious preparation!

    Hi Andy, check out the nopalitos recipe on the site, basically sautéed cactus paddles with onions and tomato. (And good luck ordering those tacos!) ~Elise

  • Annie

    Et voila – both the Jewish http://tinyurl.com/ydvnbnb and Basque http://tinyurl.com/ybyt5ke versions of pickled tongue!

  • Annie

    Good for you, Elise – I remember the comment you made on Twitter about your childhood experience. :) The tacos de lengua we get at our local place are so crazy tender I would almost compare the texture with tofu. No one sells tongue around here on a regular basis except the grass-fed co-op – not even the Spanish supermarket. I really do want to make my own, since buying the tacos just leaves us wanting more than we can afford! I would love to find out how the old neighborhood deli used to make their tongue (we don’t have any neighborhood delis for miles and miles). It was really delicious and completely different from the Mexican preparation in color, taste and texture. And now I’m off to look up Basque pickled tongue!

  • Brian

    Quick question….are the radishes on the side, raw? or pickled? I love both.

    Raw, though I guess you could use pickled if you want. ~Elise

  • Diana

    This looks great! I love tongue, it has a really distinct taste and texture. Are you sure what you cooked was beef tongue and not veal tongue? From my experiece beef tongue is much bigger (at least in Russian stores in NYC).
    By the way, for the skin to come off easier peel the tongue under running cold water. And pig tongue is pretty much the same in terms of taste but it’s much smaller in size so just more hassle to prepare because you would have to make at least a few of them.

  • Diana

    Coincidentally, my mom made this for the first time just a couple of nights ago. It was slow-cooked (8 hours, I think), so the texture was extra-extra tender and melt-in-your-mouth soft. I’d never eaten it before, so when I watched her take it out of the crockpot, I was utterly grossed out (it was way bigger than the one shown in the photos, and I commented that it looked like something out of a sci-fi movie with outer-space cuisine). But once she peeled/discarded the outer part and pulled the meat apart, it looked so very tender and tasty (I wouldn’t have guessed it was tongue).

    I dared to try one, since everyone else said the tacos were very good (they had seconds, thirds, fourths…). One bite was all it took for me to get hooked. The meat was incredibly delicious and unbelievably tender — perfect taco meat! I had never tasted such delicious tacos like those before. Green salsa, chopped onion, salt, cilantro, and radishes were the perfect accompaniments.

    If you can’t stomach cooking and preparing it (I hate the smell of meat as it slow-cooks), then try these tacos at a good restaurant (or at a friend’s house, if it’s something they make). Very delicious!

    Thanks for sharing the recipe! :)

  • Ian D.

    What a coincidence!

    I went into a Mexican supermarket after school one day and bought a package of pork lengua.

    Can the same method be used for pork tongue?

    No idea. But if you try it, please let us know how it turns out! ~Elise

  • Hanna

    Like you mentioned, tongue is an oft-used muscle and it’s oh-so-flavorful. Here in Korea, I don’t make much in the way of Mexican food since it’s not a budget-friendly option here, but I adore slow cooking tongue and eating pieces wrapped up in leafy greens, Korean style. (Just tuck the piece of meat into a perilla leaf with your choice of aromatics…yum!)

  • Alex

    Hello Elise, Is this seriously from a cow’s tongue? Or does it just feel like a tongue so it’s called tongue? I am dying to know if the answer. Thanks.

    Oh yes, just like rump roast is seriously from the rump end of a steer, the tongue indeed is the tongue. And jello comes from cow toenails, did you know that? Personally my favorite is oxtail, which truly is the tail. :-) ~Elise

  • Arturo Vargas

    Personally I love this dish, not just because I cooked it. Only because my Mom used to make it with all her passion and tender love “para su muchachito Arturito”.
    Greetings to everyone and buen apetito!

  • janene caldwell

    Is this a budget meal?

    The tongue we picked up was $2.70 a pound. 3 1/2 pounds came to around $10, which serves 6-8 people. So yes, I would consider this easy on the budget. While you’re at the market that sells tongue, try to pick up a bag of bay leaves, which are less expensive in bulk than what you typically find in the spice jars. ~Elise

  • Diana

    Hi Elise,
    A follow-up question to the slow cooker comment- is there any risk of over-cooking the tongue? Or can I just throw it in the crock pot and forget about it until it seems done?
    Thanks!

    Great question. I think if you braise any meat too long the water will eventually leach the flavor out of it (think making beef stock). But I do think there is some leeway with the cooking times, and slow cooking is more gentle cooking than what can typically be achieved on the stovetop. ~Elise

  • Rossella

    I LOVE tongue but sometimes I am discouraged by all the preparation it requires (mind you, in Northern Italy it is such a common food that you can find it in pre-cooked packages, so you just need to give it a quick boil and slice it). My aunt Bianca makes an AMAZING version cooked with beer and raisins, a bittersweet wonder that is sliced so thinly it practically melts in your mouth. I’ll try to get the recipe from her and share it with you guys, I am sure it is something good for your parents daring cuisine :)

    Please do! ~Elise

  • Stephany

    Do you keep the water you boil the tongue in for stock or broth?

    Great question. Arturo doesn’t, but I checked Diana Kennedy and she used some of the cooking water stock to make a sauce in one of her dishes. With all of those aromatics, it’s going to be rather strongly flavored. ~Elise

  • Val

    You can also find beef tongue in any good Russian/Jewish delicatessen. This stuff is delicious, especially when cut thinly and spread on some dark bread.

  • Regina

    Man… I’ve always walked by the tongue in the meat section (we have a LARGE Hispanic community here in Alabama), and said that I didn’t want to taste anything that could taste me back, but those tacos look amazing.

    What would you compare the texture to? Maybe a steak of some sort? I may have to try this, as an experiment, when my friend comes to town – he’s Puerto Rican.

    Good question. The texture sort of reminds me of corned beef brisket, cut thin against the grain, but much more tender. ~Elise

  • joanna

    I have a tongue left over from our freezer beef, and have been wondering what o do with it- I’ll definitely try this! Do you think the boiling/simmering could be done in a large crockpot instead of a stockpot on the stove?

    Yep, I think it would cook perfectly well in a slow cooker. ~Elise