Cooking’s beef tongue

Learn how to cook this unique but surprisingly delicious cut of meat, as well as how to put it into an aspic.

“Oh no, we don’t do tongue,” said the third butcher I rang. Like the others I had talked to, he seemed uninterested in the mere thought of getting a tongue. “You need to go to an Asian butcher for that.” So I hopped in the car and drove to a Asian supermarket, where three massive beef tongues – or ox tongues, as they used to be known – stared at me from the chilling cabinet. “I’ll have one of those, please,” I said to the butcher, relieved that my week-long hunt for a tongue was now over. “And while I’m here, do you have any brains?” The butcher looked confused and was possibly wondering if I had just delivered an insult to his intelligence. “You know, brains,” I said, pointing to my head. He smiled and nodded, before going to the back of the shop, where he reached under a table and pulled something off the floor. He held up a pig’s head. “Oh God, no, not a head,” I said, feeling a little squeamish. “Just the brains.” “I’ll cut them out for you,” he grinned. “You know what? I’ll just take the tongue,” I said, not wanting to witness the autopsy of a pig’s head that morning.

It wasn’t cheap, at $17 per kilo – the one I bought weighed 1.1kg – so it’s no longer a budget stand-by food as it was in Nana’s day, and to be honest, they’re fairly revolting to look at. I winced every time I had to touch it, but once cooked it’s delicious, tasting like a cross between ham and roast beef. I ate some of the tongue sliced in an old-fashioned salad with iceberg lettuce, boiled eggs, tomato and carrot, with Nana’s dressing I wrote about a few weeks ago, using sweetened condensed milk. I sliced up some gherkins and threw them in at the end, which proved to be the best food combination I’ve tasted for a long time. A bit of tongue with a bit of gherkin is excellent. The rest I put in aspic – a gelatinous glaze made from meat stock – for my parents.


Cooked tongue
Tongue in aspic


Cooked tongue

1.Put the tongue in a large saucepan and cover with water, then add spices and salt.
2.Bring to the boil and simmer for five hours, or until tender. Alternatively, cook in your pressure cooker as I did for 45 minutes at 15 pounds pressure.
3.When cooked, drain and keep the cooking liquid, let cool and then skin.
4.Slice and serve in a salad or cover in aspic.

Tongue in aspic

5.Lay the cooked and peeled tongue in a tight-fitting glass or china bowl.
6.Take the cooking stock – keeping all the spices in it – and work out how much you’re going to need to cover the tongue in the bowl. In my case it was 500ml.
7.Pour it back into an empty saucepan and add Worcester sauce and vinegar. Reheat, but don’t boil.
8.When hot, sprinkle over the powdered gelatine as you stir. When it’s all dissolved, pour back over the tongue in the bowl and then weigh with a saucer or something heavy on it to keep the tongue from floating out of the aspic. Leave overnight to set. In the old days, they would serve this sliced, on a platter of lettuce with the aspic scattered around.

Note: It takes 10g of gelatine to set 500ml of hot liquid, so adjust accordingly.


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