Pickled Beef Tongue

Where's the bread?

Where’s the bread?

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 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 clove

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.


Filed under Cured and Pickled, Deli, Meat, Snout to Tail

27 responses to “Pickled Beef Tongue

  1. Pingback: Mustard «

  2. I just bought a fantastic looking trimmed tongue. I haven’t had a pickled tongue sandwich for 50 years. I NEED to do this before I die. I don’t have pickleing spices, I wonder if I can use the brine that is in the jar of Kosher pickles I have?
    Also, my mother used to make a tongue as a potroast with potato and carrots. How delicious was that? WOW!!!!!

  3. gordon

    I would go with real pickling spices. Short of that you can whip up your own. Use the braise seasonings in addition to the others listed in the brine recipe. Pickle juice contains vinegar which, after a week, will result in mushy meat- ugh!

  4. susan b matthews

    I am living in NO GOOD FOOD HELL. There is no tongue, no corned beef, no pastrami, no good bagels, bialy’s, kishke, knish, matzoh ball soup, chopped liver, anything New York, Jewish, Deli, ANYTHING , within 200 miles of where I live…H..E…L…P…!

    • donna saunders

      OMG where do u live ? Sounds like my home Belgrade Montana

      • Well, first of all to Gordon, I did as you said and bought regular pickleing spices. It was DELICIOUS. (I don’t need no stinkin Deli’s) Well, maybe for Corned Beef, Rolled Beef, hot Pastromi sandwiches. OMG
        To Susan, I am in Powell, OH but brought up in Hull, Massachusetts, 2 blocks from the ocean.

  5. tom

    My sympathy to all of you…you should try Northern Maine for 40 years, if you really want to know suffering. But, with all due respect, the French, up in St John Valley have some very nice ethnic foods, Still I would kill, right now, for a real Pastramii on on Jewish rye and a deli pickle.

    Tom, from Highbridge, Bronx

  6. Dee

    Aloha you all! Brought up in Brookline Ma and Hull Ma. Now live in Paradise, Honolulu. People here never heard of these foods. Did find some pickled tomatoes (Bubbies) and thought i died and went to heaven. Miss deli food so much it hurts my brain just thinking about it.

  7. tom

    here i venture in what seems to be a futile quest to aquire the elusive, and now aparently,non-existant… lengendary and ever so delectible PICKLED LAMB TONGUE(s) . anybody know of anywhere in MA. that they can be purchased ? or any where on the planet for that matter…seriousely “jonesing” for some…it has been years

  8. Dee

    No answer on the lamb tongue… but did make a pickled beef tongue and it was delish… Left it curing in fridge for a week. Next time I’ll leave it about 10 days as there were a few spots that weren’t quite pink.

  9. Mary

    I am just checking on the recipe, is it really one pound of kosher salt in the brine?? I have never made or ate pickled beef tongue, thank you for the recipe. (I do have the tongue, just did not know what to do with it!)

    • gordon

      Mary, provided you use the full amount of water it should be fine. You might not need all of it (depending on the side of the tongue), but you need to get the whole thing under the brine.

    • Dee

      I just used the recipe above. Did cook it differently though. Put meat in a large pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and discard the water. Repeat three more times. Cover with cold water again, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer covered for about two hours or until tender. Peel off the skin while it is still warm. Cool meat and slice.
      Funny, I was just thinking yesterday that it was time to make another one. Now you’ve got me drooling!

      • Mary

        Thank you it is in the brine solution, and if I understand correctly I will cook it on Thursday. I will follow your tip on bringing to a boil and discarding the cooking water, that should help with the saltiness. Thank you again, your tips are much appreciated!!

      • Dee

        Make sure you leave it in the brine at least 10 days (or more). The meat should be pink throughout after being cooked. Mine still had a couple of spots that were not quite pink. I’m going for 10 days next time.
        Wish I could be at your house to help you eat it!

    • Dee

      By the way, Mary you don’t have to pickle the tongue. My mother used to make it pot roast style just as it comes from the market.

  10. Dee

    Let us know how you decide to cook it.

  11. Pamela Iles

    Hi looking for good tongue recipes and yours certainly looks great. The only question I have is why do you not take the outer skin off before cooking in your seasoned broth? Thanks Pam

    • amiee

      It is very difficult to remove the skin without taking a bunch of the meat with it until after the tongue is cooked. Most tongue recipes call for a long cook time with the skin on. Its overall an easier process that results in tender meat. I have seen some recipes that are shorter cook times (still 1.5-3 hours) with the skin and tendons removed first. But again it is a skill to be able to do it without hacking up the meat.

    • Dee

      I think it is difficult to remove before cooking. Never knew anyone to do it.
      Also, I find handling it rather gross so I don’t care to fool around with it in its uncooked state.

  12. ArielJoy

    I live in Cotacachi Ecuador (the high, northern, Andes). No KOSHER salt in all of Quito, the capitol city. Certainly no kosher salt here in the mountains and we are not supposed to bring food items into the country. We do have many small 2.5 pound beef tongues (I am guessing from calves). On Thursday morning at the meat market there were probably 15 tongues ready for sale.

    I miss pickled tongue. Grew up in the San Fernando Valley.

    Is there a substitute for kosher salt? I can get very good sea salt here but it is $16.00/pound. Pretty pricey for one tongue.

    Can I safely use the same brine for more than one tongue?

    Thank you.

    • amiee

      Yes, you can use any salt. Salt without iodine or other additives (like anti-caking agents), is recommended because they can effect the flavor of the finished product, but pretty much any salt can be used safely. If you don’t have access to pink salt (DQ curing salt #1) you need to cut the brining time to no more than 5 days, as that is what prevents things like botulism. I’m not sure what the meat handling standards are in your area, but you can safely go without the pink salt in the US with the shortened brine time. You can use the brine for multiple tongues as long as they are all fully submerged in the brine for the entire brining period. Good luck!

    • Dee

      I think I purchased the pink curing salt on either Ebay or Amazon for about a dollar or two and I found someone who was offering free shipping. You only need a small amount. I have enough to supply a whole deli case in a supermarket! You could probably buy Kosher salt on line also. Hope you try the tongue. It’s really worthwhile.
      Let us know.

  13. Louise Houta

    Haven’t done this before so here goes…I went a little overboard with the brine and left the tongue in it for 18 days. My recipe advised me to put the raw tongue in the brine mixture, it also said curing salt was optional if you could not find any. I finally found pink curing salt on the 9th day and added it to the brine on day 9. I just boiled it up with onions, carrots, bay leaves and garlic, I have peeled it and it looks pink and beautiful. Has anyone else left the tongue in the brine for longer than 10 days?

    • amiee

      I would recommend starting over. 9 days without pink salt is pretty long time. Even if you ignore the risk of botulism, over-brining usually results in an overly salty taste and a mushy or spongy texture to the meat.

  14. Dee

    Never thought about the the risk of botulism. How interesting.

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