Dish is a Specialty in Many Countries : Tongue Remains a Mystery Meat to Many Americans

Times Staff Writer

Tongue was considered a delicacy, even though it cost pennies in those days long ago when I was growing up in New York City. My mother would boil tongue for hours on the stove, sending wafts of strong, gamy odors that probably made the neighbors in our tenement building think we were cooking up a banquet of hummingbird tongues, cockscomb fringes and doe cheeks.

Who knows what? The point is that my mother, an excellent cook, knew what to do with tongue. No one else I've met since seems to know.

Beef and calf's tongue is a specialty of all countries where beef and lamb are produced. That takes in almost the world. In the United States, acceptance of lamb generally and organ meats in particular has been somewhat retarded. Americans consume 1.4 pounds of lamb per capital per retail weight, compared with 72.5 pounds for beef in 1988, according to the American Meat Institute. Organ meat, in all red-meat categories, had a per capita consumption of 8.5 pounds in 1988 (2 billion total pounds domestically), with beef liver probably making up the bulk, according to Jens Knutson, an economist at the American Meat Institute. Export of organ meats to European markets amounted to 565 million total pounds in 1987.

A Vons Grocery Co. meat buyer claims that sales of beef and lamb tongue have dropped dramatically in the last 10 to 15 years--about 40% to 50%.

"People don't know how to use tongue, even though it's a fine meat with practically no waste, and it's an available product," said the Vons representative. Most of the tongue consumed in Los Angeles is chiefly by Latinos, Jewish delis, sandwich shops and fancy restaurants. Except for Latino markets, promotion because of low demand is almost nil.

Thanks to French chefs working in the United States who have helped introduce lamb and beef tongue to some measure, Americans are learning how versatile and inexpensive tongue can be, especially during the summer picnic season. Tongue lends itself especially well to serving cold as a first course or salad, as you would pate.

High Fat Content

Nutritionally, lamb and beef tongue fare comparably, providing appreciable amounts of iron and B vitamins. Protein content is about the same as well. A three-ounce serving of tongue that has been cooked has about 240 calories, two-thirds from fat. If you are watching intake of saturated fat, beef tongue, like pate, is a food that should be reserved for special occasions.

You will probably find fresh beef tongue more available than lamb tongue. Smoked tongue, which is cured, but requires further cooking, is also available on rare occasions. An average beef tongue weighs about 3 pounds, compared with 1/4 pound for lamb. Some aficionados prefer lamb tongue because of its greater tenderness and less coarse texture. Cost difference is slight. Beef tongues cost about $2.89 per pound prepackaged and lamb $2.29 at Vons. However, so-called "No. 2" (second-quality) tongues can be as low as $1.59 if frozen or if outer skin is mottled and bruised. "There is nothing wrong with seconds. The skin is removed anyway," said the Vons representative.

Tongue, a slow, long-cooking meat, can be prepared as you would less tender cuts of beef. It may be boiled, pickled, braised, baked or grilled. Any sauce may be added to cooked tongue, including curry, tomato, sweet and sour, as well as cold sauces, such as vinaigrette or dill sauce.

Tongue can be prepared well in advance and kept chilled in the refrigerator for several days. When cooking tongue, be sure to cover with water, skimming off scum as it cooks. When done, cool enough to peel off the outer skin (it will slip off easily) and slice meat as desired.

My mother would marinate tongue and slice it wafer-thin to serve as an appetizer. Sometimes, cold, sliced tongue went to our family beach picnics to serve in a sandwich. Other times, it would appear hot with a sauce as an entree.

To show how versatile tongue can be, we give several methods for cooking tongue and sauces to add to cooked tongue.


3 to 3 1/2 pounds uncooked smoked beef or calf's tongue

1 clove garlic

2 bay leaves

8 whole cloves

1/4 teaspoon mustard seed

6 whole black peppers


Mustard Sauce

Caper Sauce

Sweet and Sour Sauce

Wash tongue and place in Dutch oven or deep kettle. Add garlic, bay leaves, cloves, mustard seed and peppers. Add cold water to cover and simmer, covered, until tender when pierced with fork, about 3 hours.

Remove tongue from water and let stand few minutes. Remove and discard skin, bones and excess fat. Cut meat across grain and serve cold with Vinaigrette or warm with Mustard Sauce, Caper Sauce or Sweet and Sour Sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


3 tablespoons vinegar

6 tablespoons oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

2 teaspoons capers

1 tablespoon chopped parsley

1 tablespoon grated onion

Combine vinegar, oil, salt, pepper, capers, parsley and onion. Blend well. Makes about 1/2 cup.

Mustard Sauce

2 tablespoons dry mustard

2 tablespoons boiling water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup mayonnaise

Chives or parsley, optional

Blend together mustard and water. Stir in salt and mayonnaise. Garnish with chives. Makes 1/2 cup.

Caper Sauce

2 tablespoons butter or margarine

1 teaspoon minced onion

1 teaspoon chopped capers

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup water

1 tablespoon vinegar

1 tablespoon catsup

1/4 teaspoon prepared mustard

1/4 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Melt butter in skillet and add onion and capers. Cook 2 minutes or until onion is tender, but not browned. Stir in flour.

Add water, vinegar, catsup, mustard, sugar, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thickened. Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Sweet and Sour Sauce

4 or 5 slices bacon, chopped

3 onions, chopped

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon grated lemon zest

4 peppercorns

1 quart beef tongue stock

1 tablespoon cider vinegar, about

1 tablespoon sugar, about

2 1/2 cups gingersnap cookie crumbs

6 to 8 prunes, cooked, pitted and pressed through sieve

1/2 cup raisins

1/2 cup sliced almonds

Saute bacon in large skillet over medium heat 5 minutes. Add onions and saute 5 minutes longer or until onions are tender.

Add bay leaf, lemon zest and peppercorns and cook 5 minutes longer. Pour in stock. Add 1 tablespoon vinegar, 1 tablespoon sugar, gingersnap crumbs and prune puree. Simmer 15 minutes.

Taste sauce and adjust seasonings, if necessary, adding more sugar or vinegar to taste. Strain sauce and add raisins and almonds. Makes about 1 quart.

Note: If thicker sauce is desired, thicken with arrowroot, dissolved in cold water or thin with more stock.


1 beef tongue

1 egg yolk, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

6 drops hot pepper sauce

2 teaspoons Dijon-style mustard

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

Fine dry bread crumbs

Simmer beef tongue in water to cover until tender, about 3 hours. Skin and slice.

Combine egg yolk, oil, lemon juice, hot pepper sauce, mustard and curry powder. Dip tongue slices into egg mixture then into crumbs.

Place on broiler pan and broil until browned. Turn and brown other side. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


12 to 18 tiny pearl onions

2 large carrots, sliced

1 beef tongue, cooked, peeled and trimmed

1/4 cup butter or margarine

2 tablespoons flour

1 cup white wine

1/2 cup beef tongue stock

Salt, pepper

Cook onions and sliced carrots in small amount of water until half tender. Drain and set aside.

Brown trimmed tongue in butter in large skillet, turning often so all sides are evenly browned. Remove to casserole and set aside.

Add flour to pan and stir to loosen any pan drippings. Brown flour, stirring constantly. Add wine and stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to boil.

Arrange carrots and onions around tongue in casserole and pour sauce over all. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes or until tongue is tender. Baste occasionally with sauce in casserole to give tongue and vegetables even glaze.

To serve, slice tongue and arrange on warm platter. Surround with carrots and onions. Adjust seasonings in sauce. Pour some sauce over tongue and vegetables. Serve remaining sauce on side. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Thicken sauce (if necessary) with arrowroot dissolved in water. Serve with mashed potatoes or parsley-buttered noodles.


1 beef tongue, cooked, peeled and trimmed

2 tablespoons prepared mustard

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/2 cup toasted bread crumbs

Slice tongue and arrange slices in shallow casserole. Spread top generously with mustard. Melt butter and dribble over slices.

Sprinkle on crumbs and slide under broiler until hot and bubbling. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Note: Serve with boiled potatoes and salad.


1 beef tongue, about 2 1/2 pounds



1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 cup white wine vinegar

2 carrots, sliced

1/2 cauliflower, broken into florets

1/2 cucumber, cut into strips


Shredded lettuce

Place tongue and enough water to cover in large pot. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, peppercorns, bay leaves, cumin and vinegar. Bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 2 1/2 hours or until tender.

Meanwhile, cook sliced carrots and cauliflorets in boiling salted water in separate pans until tender-crisp. Drain.

Place carrots, cauliflorets and cucumber in shallow dish, keeping separate. Pour over 1/2 Marinade. Remove skin from tongue. Cut into crosswise slices and top with remaining Marinade. Chill vegetables and tongue several hours or overnight.

Arrange sliced tongue around platter over shredded lettuce. Arrange carrots, cauliflower and cucumber in pattern on plate. Makes 6 servings.


1 cup olive oil

1 cup white wine vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon

2 tablespoons sugar

Combine olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, tarragon and sugar.


4 pounds smoked beef tongue

Cold water

1 medium onion, quartered

3 or 4 celery tops

1 tablespoon mixed pickling spice

1/2 cup Burgundy

Currant Wine Sauce

Cover tongue with cold water. Add onion, celery tops and pickling spice. Cover, bring to boil and simmer over low heat 2 hours. Add wine and simmer 1 to 2 hours longer or until tongue is tender.

Remove tongue from liquid, cool slightly, then peel off skin and trim bone and gristle at thick end. Strain cooking liquid to make 2/3 cup sauce.

Return tongue to remaining cooking liquid to keep warm until serving time. Serve with Currant Wine Sauce. Or refrigerate tongue in cooking liquid. Slice and reheat in sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Currant Wine Sauce

1/2 cup currant jelly

2/3 cup Burgundy

2/3 cup cooking liquid from tongue

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

Break up currant jelly with fork. Add wine, liquid from tongue and mustard. Bring to boil, reduce heat and simmer 5 minutes, to meld flavors. Makes 1 1/2 cups.


10 to 12 lamb tongues


1 onion, sliced

1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon dried basil

12 ounces bow tie macaroni

1/2 cup sauterne

1 (10 3/4- ounces) can cream of mushroom soup

Parmesan cheese

Place lamb tongues in large kettle. Cover with water and add onion, garlic, salt and basil. Bring to boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until tongues are tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Drain tongues, reserving liquid. Peel and sliced.

Cook macaroni in boiling salted water until tender, then drain. Place tongue slices and macaroni in alternate layers in buttered 2-quart casserole.

Combine wine, soup and 1 cup reserved tongue liquid, stirring to blend. Pour over casserole and bake at 350 degrees about 30 minutes or until heated through. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Makes 6 to 8 servings.


5 lamb tongues

1 large onion, quartered

6 sprigs parsley

Salt, pepper


1/4 cup oil

1 cup diced onion

1 tablespoon ground cumin seeds

1/2 cup minced parsley

1 tablespoon paprika

1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped

Lemon juice, optional

Combine tongues, quartered onion, parsley sprigs, 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons pepper and enough water to cover tongue in large saucepan. Cook, covered, over medium heat 2 to 3 hours or until lamb is tender.

Drain and plunge into ice cold water. Remove skin and slice tongue 1/4-inch thick.

Heat oil in skillet or saucepan and saute onion and cumin seeds. Add minced parsley and 1 teaspoon pepper. Cook 3 minutes.

Add 2 cups water, paprika and almonds. Bring to boil, add tongue and simmer 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Serve hot, sprinkled with lemon juice. Makes 4 servings.

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