Pork and Pickles

These are a few of my favorite things


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The Taste That Tastes Back

Sometimes I make the oddest impulse purchases. Last week it was a beef tongue that happened to catch my eye. After a brief conversation with the butcher to find out if it had been peeled (it had) and how he liked to cook it, I took it home and left it to thaw. Since the cow’s tongue does a lot of work, it’s a cut of meat that needs to be cooked low and slow, making it a perfect candidate for the slow cooker. Seeing as my new stove hadn’t yet arrived I couldn’t go with my faster slow-cooking technique, where everything goes into an oven-safe pot and I bring it to a boil on the stovetop, then throw it in a low oven for a few hours. The slow cooker turned out to be a better option anyhow, since I had to be out of the house for a good chunk of the day.

Mise en place!

Mise en place!

After a little research, I threw the tongue into the slow cooker with a chopped onion, a whole lot of crushed garlic cloves, some bay leaves, peppercorns, and salt. I think it would have been perfectly fine with just salt and garlic, to be honest – the aromatics mostly just made the house smell good. I left it to cook on low until it was tender, which was probably 6-8 hours.  When it was done I had a slight accident with the slow cooker insert and ended up spilling tongue broth all over the pantry counter and, horrifyingly, inside part of the window. Once I’d recovered from cleaning that up, I was done with the project for the night and had a beer for dinner instead of tongue. Luckily, I hadn’t dumped the entire batch of broth and could just strain it and refrigerate the tongue in its cooking liquid.

La lengua de res es muy deliciosa.Yes, I'm aware of how terrible my Spanish grammar is.

La lengua de res es muy deliciosa.Yes, I’m aware of how terrible my Spanish grammar is.

Last night we needed a quick dinner and tongue tacos (or tacos de lengua, as I generally call them because some people get squicked out when you tell them you’re eating TONGUE. And also because it makes me feel like I remember a little more high school Spanish than I really do) sounded like the absolute perfect solution. I pulled the meat out of its cooking broth (which I ended up discarding), sliced it up, and fried it in a little oil until some of the slices were a bit browned.

Warming through and getting a little bit browned. (Note the spiffy new stove!)

Once the meat had heated through and browned a little, Chris chopped it up for me and then we piled the chopped tongue into warmed tortillas and topped it with sliced radishes, cilantro, and some salsa. I’d have added lime juice if we’d had any, but the salsa we had on hand has pineapple in it, which took care of the fruitiness and acidity.

Tacos de lengua are, without a doubt, my favorite kind of tacos.

Tacos de lengua are, without a doubt, my favorite kind of tacos.

 I wish I’d bought a larger tongue (or more than one) because this was so very good. I’d love to eat it for lunch and dinner today but had to content myself with the leftovers for breakfast this morning with a fried egg. It was definitely a good treatment for my hangover. Oh, and the kids refused to eat this. I talked them both into trying a tiny bite of the cooked tongue while it was still cold, which was a mistake because they hated it so much they refused to try it hot. Next time I just won’t tell them what it is until after they’ve eaten it.

Tacos de Lengua

  • One beef tongue
  • 1 small onion, chopped (optional)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 2 bay leaves (optional)
  • 10-15 peppercorns (optional)
  • 1 tsp salt (NOT optional)
  • lard/canola oil
  • corn tortillas
  • sliced radishes
  • cilantro
  • salsa (salsa verde/tomatillo salsa would be fantastic with this)
  • lime juice

Place tongue, onions, garlic, bay leaves, peppercorn, and salt in slow cooker and cover with cold water. Cook on low until the tongue is tender, 6-8 hours, depending on the size of the tongue. Remove from slow cooker and strain and reserve cooking broth. The tongue can be refrigerated in the broth until you’re ready to use it, or else proceed as follows. If the tongue was not peeled, you can easily peel the skin off now using your fingers and a small knife.

In a heavy pan, heat a tablespoon or so of lard or oil over medium heat. While the pan is heating, slice the tongue in 1/8″ slices (this is much easier when it’s cold). Fry the slices on both sides until they’re warmed through and slightly browned, then dice them up. Serve in warmed corn tortillas with salsa, sliced radishes, lime juice, and cilantro. ENJOY!


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Beefy Borscht

There’s something about the middle of November that just screams “make soup EVERY DAY!”, and who am I to deny an urge like that? I had some stew meat thawed and awaiting inspiration, along with beets, cabbage, and – oh hey – some beef marrowbones in the freezer. CLEARLY it was time to make borscht. Now, I’ve only actually had chunky (Russian-style) borscht once, and I wasn’t eating beef at the time, so this is my interpretation of it with some help from my favorite cookbook ever, The Joy of Cooking.

To start, I had to turn those bones into broth, which I hadn’t done since cooking school. Everything I read said to just put bones in water at first, since they throw off so much scum. They were NOT kidding. The only thing I wish I’d done differently was to have also put the stew meat in with the bones – I added them later, with the veggies, and ended up with a lot of gunk in the broth that I just couldn’t scoop out. Oops.

Not clear and pretty like I wanted, sadly.

So you simmer the bones/meat until they stop throwing off scum (which you need to scoop out with a skimmer of some sort), then you add your vegetables. I threw in an onion, unpeeled and cut into eighths, a couple chopped carrots, a couple celery ribs, a couple garlic cloves, parsley, peppercorns, bay, clove, thyme. Keep this at a bare simmer for as long as you can – the longer you cook it, the more collagen dissolves from the meat and bones, plus there are a lot of vitamins and minerals that leach out of the bones. Strain it and chill it if you’re not going to use it right away. Pick the meat out from your pile of bones and spent veggies and reserve it for the soup.

When you’re ready to make the borscht, you’ll want to gather up the following: beets, cabbage, carrots, potatoes, onion, garlic, canned tomatoes, tomato paste. Start by boiling the beets until they’re tender, at which point you can just slip the skins off. Set them aside to cool. Melt some fat (butter’s good, and I augmented it with some of the fat skimmed from the stock) in your biggest soup pot and throw in a sliced onion. Cook that for a bit and add sliced garlic, then a couple tablespoons of tomato paste. Cook that for a bit to concentrate the flavor, then throw in chopped cabbage, potatoes, and carrots. Saute for a couple minutes, adding a good bit of salt, then add your broth and a can (or jar, if you’ve canned your own) of whole tomatoes with juice. Bring it up to a boil and then simmer until the potatoes and carrots are tender. At that point, cut up your cooked beets and toss them in, along with the meat reserved from the broth. You might need to add extra water to thin out the soup (I did!) – you want this to be fairly brothy.

This really needed more water added to it, but I was nearly out of room in the pot!

Traditionally, borscht is served with sour cream and fresh dill. I have creme fraiche (SUPER DUPER EASY TO MAKE YOUR OWN!) and dried dill – they certainly made for a more-than-passable garnish for the soup.

All set to eat!

I just ate breakfast and now I’m hungry again. I think I know what’s for lunch!

Borscht

  • 2 quarts beef broth, either homemade or purchased (chicken stock is fine, too)
  • 2 TB butter or other fat
  • 1 medium onion, halved and sliced into 1/8″ pieces
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 2 TB tomato paste
  • 1/4 head cabbage, sliced thinly
  • 2 carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2″ chunks
  • 2 medium potatoes (yukon gold or red are good choices here), halved and cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1 28oz can whole tomatoes in juice
  • 3 medium beets, boiled, peeled, and sliced into 1/4″ chunks
  • 1-2 cups cooked beef (simmer stew meat in commercial broth until tender before starting the soup if you don’t make your own stock)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • sour cream or creme fraiche and fresh or dried dill fronds for garnish

Melt butter/fat in a large pot and saute sliced onion until softened. Add sliced garlic and cook until fragrant. Add tomato paste and stir for a couple minutes, until slightly darkened. Add sliced cabbage, carrots, and potatoes, then tomatoes (break them up with your hands first) and broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until potatoes and carrots are barely tender. Add cooked beets and beef and simmer 15 minutes to heat through and meld flavors. Finish with lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, garnishing with sour cream/creme fraiche and dill.