Cooking Like A Mexican

Tongue and Green Salsa
BY: ALE BORBOLLA

With the recent passing of Anthony Bourdain, the entire food world has suffered a great loss. But the Mexican food world is at a greater loss than anyone. As some of you may know, Mr. Bourdain had a love and a passion for this country, speaking out for immigrants, embracing the culture, and, most importantly, eating our food. He was more likely to be found in small street stands and humble joints than in fancy restaurants, and for that I will always hold him high in my heart. Known for trying the crazier dishes of a country, one thing he was a huge fan of in Mexico was tacos de lengua, or tongue tacos in English. Now I know many of you may be raising an eyebrow and shuddering as you read that, but cow tongue is one of the most exquisite types of meat you can get. All lean muscle, no fat, no nerves, just a huge piece of tender, delicious beef.  

Why do Mexicans eat things like tripe, tongue, brains and eyeballs? Well, Mexicans are not ones to waste food, meaning every possible animal part will find its way into a recipe in some shape or form. And they are all delicious when cooked correctly. Arguably the tamest snack on this list, tacos de lengua are tortillas stuffed with fried beef tongue. This may not sound appetizing – and the giant tongues on display at taco stands or ethnic markets do not look all that appealing to most gringos either – but once shredded or chopped into small cubes and sautéed in lard, the meat is very similar to regular beef in terms of its taste and texture. If cooked well, the tongue should be melt-in-your-mouth tender, although if you prefer a crispier finish it can be charred over the grill. Beef is the most commonly eaten tongue in Mexico, although pork and lamb tongues are both available alternatives.

The “nasty bits,” as you may know them, are also a cheap, great alternative to filling a tummy, but that is not the only reason why Mexicans are so resourceful. It comes, surprisingly, from our European heritage. Before the Spaniards reached Mexico, there was no cattle here, and our diet was mainly plant-based with some protein from turkey, fish, and insects. Then, when the huge ships came with their cows and pigs, we came up with more delicious food. Spaniards already ate what we call “menudencias,” which means the giblets, but there is no way they cooked them in the same way that we do today.  

Tacos de lengua are cooked nationwide, but the recipe I have for you today is from the state of Jalisco in the western part of Mexico, famous for its mariachi, tequila. and beautiful women. Now, before we start with the recipe, there are a few pointers I would like to give to you:

When buying cow tongue, color doesn’t matter and neither does size. You will find it at any supermarket. They vary in weight from one to two ponds typically.  

It comes in a little Styrofoam plate wrapped in plastic, just like any other meat cut.  

When you get home, allow it to come to room temperature and then beat it on the counter. I’m serious. Just make sure your counter is sturdy and the tongue is wrapped in the plastic still, or put it in a plastic bag. Why beat it? Well, rigor mortis is a thing, and more so when talking about tongue. When the animal takes its last breath, they stick out the tongue and it typically gets pretty hard, so soften it up with a little aggression.  

Once you’ve taken out your frustration on it, with a sharp knife and carefully, remove the back part. If you look at it sideways, there are two parts to it, the main cut and the back. The back is irregular and the meat and fats are not great. After you take the back off, you’ll have a long and slender cut of meat.  

 

Okay, now let’s get started.

 

Ingredients

For the meat:

1 clean cow’s tongue (between 1 and 3 pounds)  

2 spoonfuls of salt  

½ onion  

2 laurel leafs

2 cloves of garlic

 

For the green salsa:

2 pounds of green tomatoes or tomatillos.  

15 sprigs of cilantro, disinfected.

3-5 serrano chiles (remember, the more chiles the more spice, so this is up to you)

1 small clove of garlic  

¼ of an onion

For the tacos:

2 pounds of tortillas  

Finely Chopped onion to taste

Finely Chopped cilantro to taste  

Wedges of lime  

Salt to taste

 

Preparation

After following the tips listed above, cut the tongue in four or five palm-sized pieces to speed up the cooking process. This does not affect taste in any way. In a pot, add the meat chunks, salt, garlic, laurel leaves and onion, and cook on low heat for about an hour. You’ll know it’s done when a skewer goes through it with no resistance. If the skewer does not go through softly, you can leave it longer, 20 minutes at a time, and if it gets overcooked, it’s still okay.  

 

Once the meat is cooked, allow it to cool enough to handle with your bare hands. This is when you remove the outer layer, which has a funny consistency and isn’t very tasty. If this step is a little challenging or just grosses you out, you can use tongs. Finely chop the meat.  

Boil the tomatillos in a pot with just enough water to cover them. The time depends on their size, but when they turn a little duller in color and are tender when picking up with a fork, they’re ready.  

In a blender, combine tomatillos, onion, garlic, cilantro, and chiles with a pinch of salt. Do not add water! We want this to be a serving salsa, and tomatillos have a LOT of water in them naturally. Now, if you have a molcajete, and I would be so proud if you did, you can make the salsa there. I’d just chop the ingredients a little, to help you make it easier.  

Heat up the tortillas (in a Comal it’s always better, but really whatever flat pan you have will work). For lengua tacos I personally loooove my tortillas crunchy because the meat is so soft and tender!  

Assemble your taco. Add onion and cilantro, a little lime, salsa, and maybe just a sprinkle of salt and enjoy!  

Pro tip: feed this to your friends and, after they praise your cooking and are done eating, tell them it was tongue!