Pork tongue salad

So, once upon a time, Bill & I purchased a hog with 7 of our friends. We knew we were in for something else, but we didn’t know exactly what.

One thing no one anticipated was exactly which “weird” cuts we’d get. I figured we’d end up with a heart, maybe a couple of kidneys. And we did. We also got the tongue, which was not something I had ever considered eating before.

This is funny, once you stop to think about it. A tongue is just a muscle, and a well-used one at that. It’s probably damn fine eating. But not once in my time on this earth had I ever considered the possibility that animal tongues might be food.

Now, of course, I realized when I saw it that there was no guarantee we’d end up with the tongue. Indeed, every person who came and got their share of the hog was offered the tongue. Every person declined. I guess I’m not the only one who hadn’t considered the possibility of eating a pig tongue.

To be fair & honest, I hadn’t exactly wanted anyone to take the tongue. Once it was in my possession, unexpectedly, I wanted to keep it. I was curious. I wondered if I’d actually be capable of cooking it. I wondered if it would be delicious. So, I was pretty glad when everyone declined. Of course, then, I had to figure out what to do with it.

I asked on twitter, and was directed to ask Rob Levitt of The Butcher and Larder, a fairly new butcher shop in Chicago. He had a great suggestion, and we followed it as best we could. This is what we did, how we did it & so forth.

First, we brined the tongue. If I recall correctly1, we used a bunch of salt, some mustard seeds, some brown sugar, some orange peel and black peppercorns. I tossed it in the brine, discovered it floated, then weighed it down with my chain of pie weights.

At Levitt’s advice, we just left it in there for a couple of days. We, I’ll admit, marveled a great deal at how it looked. It’s not the most attractive cut of meat, is it? And, you know what? It only gets worse before it gets better.

After a couple of days of brining, two or four or something, we pulled it out. We stared at it. We took a deep breath and then looked each other in the eye and said, “Okay. We can do this.”

Then we put it in a pot of water, maybe 2 quarts, and boiled the bastard. Which is, of course, where it all went sideways.

See, look at the “right before boiling” photo here:

Levitt’s directions were to boil the tongue “until the fat part is fork tender”, which he said would be about an hour and a half. We screwed up here, I am sure. Because, see, though there are some fatty parts visible, none really seemed like where we were supposed to be stabbing & twisting.

Trust me. We poked a lot. Nothing seemed to be tender. So we boiled longer. And longer. My guess is that we finally said, “It HAS to be ready by now, right?” around 2.5 hours in. It was a long time, is all I recall. Basically, what was vaguely possible to be our lunch became our dinner. You can tell by how the light changes in the photos.

So. We boiled it. Then we pulled it out. We were supposed to peel off the skin, then cut it in half length-wise & grill it. Of course, once we looked at it’s post-boil glory, we knew we had to take pictures to share with you. Sorry?

I have to be honest. At this point, the tongue started looking like something I didn’t even remotely want to eat. Especially the parts in that second photo. I spent a long time thinking, “Those look like tastebuds. But this is clearly not the part of the tongue that tasted things…”

I still don’t know for sure, but I suspect I’ve discovered the reason we have “aftertaste” and something you can taste “in the back of the throat”. Yeah.

Anyway, this was eye-brow raising, but I was sure this was the part we had to skin off. So, we got out a small knife and got to work. It was a bit difficult, and you can see in the following photo that I probably lost more of the edible meat than I needed to. Still, I’m okay with that. My first (and so far only) time making tongue? A little slippage here and there is fine.

Okay. Bam. Starting to look edible, if still a bit weird. At this point, we’re supposed to throw it on the grill to get some char.

So Bill goes out & fires up our loaner grill. He’s trying to figure out how to char “all sides”. I think he settled on just charring the two larger & easier to grill sides. Which was fine be me. Because, frankly, he pulled that baby back in, and I was thrilled. It smelled wonderful. It looked yummy. (Grilled meat always looks delicious.)

Okay. That’s a lot of work. But we were almost done. Now to slice it up & serve it on a salad. Levitt suggested “arugula or other sturdy greens”. We used some of the sturdy seeming lettuce from the CSA. We weren’t (and still aren’t) great at identifying most kinds, so we don’t know what kind.

Levitt suggested a “tangy and delicious” dressing. I think we used a balsamic vinegarette, but I couldn’t swear to it.

After all of that, what was the verdict?

I thought it was WONDERFUL. I was so happy with it. I wanted to go hog wild. It was tasty, had an interesting texture, and played very nicely with the greens.

Bill, on the other hand, wasn’t so much a fan. He thought the taste was most excellent, but the texture was utterly off-putting to him. I suspect this was due to our boiling like crazy people, but I’m not sure. I have, since, had cow tongue one other time, and the texture was still a touch “off” for his tastes.

Moira, our surprise guest that evening, also loved it. Of course, she grew up eating tongue regularly, so she didn’t blink. Indeed, I’d be shocked if our first attempt at tongue was half as good as what she’s used to. Still, she liked it enough to eat the tongue bits like popcorn as we chatted.

So, my vote? Go find a butcher (obviously Rob Levitt is a good choice if you’re in Chicago) and give it a whirl. You might love it. Lots.

fn1. Part of why this is just a simple retelling of what we did is because we made this back in June. I simply don’t recall what I brined in. I’m posting this because I rediscovered the photos & said, “Oh, right. I’m trying to keep track of everything we made out of the hog.”