Pickled beef tongue is one of those litmus test foods. Either it completely freaks you out or you think that its one of the best things ever. As for myself, I am deep in the “best thing ever” camp. But I know a lot of people, Jews included who cannot get the image of a cow licking its lips out of their head when then see it. More for me.
I cannot recall the first time I ate tongue. I can remember my mother leaving a small tongue on the stove with pickling spices for hours on the lowest heat. It was a rare treat in Wisconsin as we were far from the delis of the East coast and even a decent salami was a matter of relatives airlifting them from New York.
When it comes to the ultimate deli tongue experience there is no finer place to enjoy it in my humble opinion than Katz’s deli at the corner of Houston and Ludlow in New York. There my sandwich is always tongue and pastrami, on rye (duh!) with spicy brown mustard. When I was younger I would get a full pickle, an order of their enormous steak fries and a Dr. Browns Cream Soda (my father would suggest the Cel-Ray is a more refreshing choice). It was truly a heart attack and heart burn on two plates. Today my appetite is a bit more modest and a just the sandwich leaves me stuffed for the day.
Alas, I live too far away to eat this tasty morsel with any regularity (which is good for my arteries) but I have worked out how to make it at home. All you need is time, about a week and one mail order ingredient. That ingredient is DQ Curing Salt or Pink Salt. It contains nitrite, which will work with salt to kill many pathogens including the ones that cause botulism. In addition the nitrite causes the hemoglobin to set up with a rosy red color (similar to what happens when you have carbon-monoxide poisoning). This creates the color you see in corned beef, brisket, hot-dogs, salami, pepperoni and pretty much every other dry cured sausage you can buy.
It should go without saying that tongue should be enjoyed on rye bread with good brown mustard. The only acceptable alternative is to serve it with fried eggs, hash browns and buttered rye toast.
Recipe after the break
Pickled Beef Tongue
For the brine:
A full beef tongue, 2-3 lbs
1/2 gallon of water
1 lb kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
1 oz pink salt (aka DQ curing salt #1)
2 garlic cloves
1 tb pickling spice
Place half the water in the freezer. Take all brine ingredients except meat and place in small stock pot with half the water, bring to a boil and lower to a simmer for 10 min. Turn off heat and allow to cool to room temperature. When the brine is cool, rinse tongue and set aside. Take a container that will hold the brine and tongue fill with brine and cold water from the freezer. Put the tongue in (best to do this in the sink in case of overflow) and seal container. If you cannot force all the air out of the container use a plate to weight the tongue down so it stays submerged. Stash in the back of your fridge for at least a week.
For the braise:
1 tb toasted and cracked pepper corns
2 bay leaves
24 oz of good lager (no light beer please, PBR is a nice choice)
1 dash pepper flakes
1 dash ground ginger
1 tsp mustard seed
Rinse tongue and dispose of brine. Place tongue and all braise ingredients in a dutch oven or other heavy closed vessel and put in a 250F oven for 5-6 hours or until the meat falls apart with a little prodding. Once the meat is done allow it to cool and then peel the skin off. If the meat is cooked all the way through the skin will just come up with a gentle tug. Otherwise put in back in the braise and let it go longer. You cannot overcook this, its like a pot-roast.
At Katz’s they serve it cold, but I like it hot like a corned beef.