Succulent and tender Piedmontese Boiled Cow Tongue


One of the fine dishes of the “Quinto-Quarto” in Italian gastronomy

As a child, my mother once served us tongue for dinner, and to say I was turned off for life would not be putting it mildly.  Neither parent was a good cook, and necessity being the motherhood of invention, I became a cook.

The woman who broke the curse on cow’s tongue was a professional chef and cookbook author who came and cooked in my restaurant.  We were doing a cultural collaboration, and she orchestrated a phenomenal dinner which included as the main course this divine boiled tongue.

It took her all day, but every bite was worth it.  Incidentally, this woman was the one woman that my wife had instant defences against.  She was tall and very attractive, single, and she was most obviously interested.  I fantasised about being conked over the head and being dragged off to her lair by my hair.  I was ready to be naked and tied to her bed.  My wife squelched all interaction after the dinner.  I am an open book.

There are two ways to do this—at a hotter temperature which gives a turbid stock and a firmer meat, or slow and low, which yields a clear stock and very tender meat—this method is for the latter.  If you wish to serve thin slices of tongue, however, opt for the former.

Many photos and online recipes, including fancy ones, omit the key step of removing the skin.  The skin is visually gross and not fun on your mouth as you feel that texture…and will surely turn you off to this for quite some time.

  • 1 whole beef tongue, ca. 1 to 1½ kg, or up to 3lbs
  • 3 cloves
  • 1 red onion cut in half, studded with the cloves
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 sticks celery
  • 2 carrots, cut in half lengthwise and then into a few pieces
  • 3 litres of water per kg of meat

Place all ingredients into a large heavy-bottomed stockpot.  The tongue should be able to lie on its side.  Fill with the requisite amount of cold water, with the level about 1” higher than the meat.

Place the pot, lid on, over the lowest heat, and cook slowly for about 8 hours.  The liquid should never boil, but only swirl and shimmer with heat.  Target temperature is a constant 50°C/120°F.  The meat will feel tender.

Remove the meat with tongues to keep it from falling apart, and while it is still hot, peel off the skin.  Slice the meat into 1 cm thick slices and arrange on a serving platter.  Remove any of the scraggly underside bits for another use, so that the slices are attractive to behold.  Gently salt and pepper to taste. Spoon a small quantity of the broth over the slices and serve.  Serve with one or more sauces as indicated below.  Serves 8.

Optional sauces

A personal favourite is chimichurri, a parsley-garlic sauce from Argentine used with asado.  Another delight is a horseradish sauce.  On this occasion, I used some Mexican sauces—huitlacoche which is made from a corn fungus, and another from Chaya, a wild green that is a bit like a cross between spinach and sorrel that grows wild in the south of Mexico, in Belize, and in Guatemala.  Recipes for those preparations may come soon—or can be provided on request.

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