Monday, 14 November 2011

Tongue Tied

I have been dipping my big toe into buckets and buckets of visceral, wobbling matter for some time now, exploring and tasting the vast possibilities that offal has to offer. I have wolfed down scrambled brain on sourdough toast in St John, slurped up numbingly spicy intestines at Chilli Cool and sliced tender, slightly uretic slivers of kidney for breakfast at Smithfield's stand fast, The Cock Tavern. I have prepared and eaten all manner of cheeks (ox, pig, cod and bum), cooked a whole pig's head for brawn, barbecued chicken hearts and flashed calves liver in pans lightening fast to ensure a consistency of melting butter. I have even spent an afternoon ploughing through 30kgs worth of lamb's testicles, deftly scoring each one before plunging my thumb in and around the thick outer membrane to pop out a beautiful, salmon pink, quivering prairie oyster. Wince inducing? Hell no. Towards the end, I was dispatching them with such a speed that I fancied changing my name by deed poll to 'The Bollockinator' and getting a t-shirt printed and everything. So until now, I thought I pretty much had offal sewn up.

Then I went and bought an ox tongue.

Now the problem with ox tongue is that...... well, by design, that's pretty much what it is, a tongue. And whilst I appreciate the beautiful fact that offal comes in all different shapes and sizes and textures, when I came up close and personal to this collossal muscle
for the first time this weekend, parallels were drawn that were just a bit too close for comfort. Holding it up to my face, weighty and wandering, I was suddenly reminded of a first kiss in the darkened corner of a school disco and the unexpected thrashing in my mouth that tasted of cigarettes and chewing gum. Holding the tongue further still, the scene changed to a grilling from a interdentally challenged policeman, soaking me with spit because I drunkenly dared to ride a kids bike on a caravan park (read wrongly as stolen). Two bonky eyes then appeared on either side of the tongue and morphed fully into a Friesian cow which stared dumbly back at me whilst chewing aimlessly on a clump of grass before finally changing back into a plain old, huge tongue. I had to check myself and ask the question 'how much copydex did I sniff earlier?"

But I think it came down to the fact that I was about to cook an organ that we encounter and visually connect with every day, when conversing, when eating and when (if you're lucky) commiting certain carnal acts. It certainly felt weird at the time but after simmering in a stock pot for a few hours with carrots, leeks, onion, celery and a bouquet garni and then leaving to cool before slicing thinly and serving with a celeriac remoulade, those initial vapours and fears soon disappeared. Instead, all that remained were wonderous salt beef flavours, reminscent of the corned kind but much more delicate and satisfying, light yet encompassing, fluid and sensuous, just the kind of thing you'd expect from a tongue. I can't wait to make it again.

But first, let me talk to my shrink.

Ox Tongue with Celeriac Remoulade (serves quite a lot depending on the size of your tongue, the ox tongue I mean)


1 Ox Tongue, approx 1.5kgs

1 carrot, chopped

1 onion, chopped

1 leek, chopped,

1 celery stick, chopped

1 bouquet garni (parsley, thyme and bay)

for the remoulade

1 medium sized celeriac, sliced into matchsticks with a mandolin (if you dare) or with a sharp knife

1 egg

2 tsp white wine vinegar

pinch of salt and pepper

250ml rapeseed oil (I used Farrington's Mellow Yellow)

1 tbs of capers


As ox tongue is usually cured, it's a good idea to soak overnight, changing the water once or twice during that time. Place in a stock pot with all the chopped vegetables and bouquet garni and cover with water and bring up to a gentle simmer on the hob. Leave to softly bubble away for 3 hours, keeping an eye on the pot to top up water levels when necessary and to skim any funky scum off the surface. Take the tongue out and leave to cool completely, placing in the fridge overnight if necessary. When it's fully cold, here comes the icky part. Peel the pale outer skin off completely, revealing the dark pink tongue underneath and trim off any fatty bits.

For the remoulade, crack the egg into a bowl and add the white wine vinegar and a pinch of salt and whisk to blend. Then slowly and steadily pour a stream of oil into the bowl, whisking all the while so that everything starts to emulsify and thicken, speeding up towards the end. The mayonnaise doesn't have to be Hellmans thick though, a nice loose, torpid consistency will do. Throw the celeriac matchsticks in, mix, taste for seasoning and leave to steep in the fridge for an hour.

To serve, slice the ox tongue thinly and arrange on a plate with a dollop of remoulade to the side. Scatter all over a liberal sprinkling of capers. Enjoy.

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