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Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lengua a la Veracruzana inspired by Kitchen Confidential #cookthebooks

Lengua a la Veracruzana
I've said it before and I'll say it 'til the end of time...I am a bookworm. I love to read almost as much as I love to cook...maybe just as much, actually! To be fair to books, I have been reading longer than I've been cooking (by a few measly years), so I should definitely give books credit where credit is due! So, imagine if you will how thrilled I was to stumble across the group Cook the Books. Cook the Books is group of bloggers (I think mostly or all foodie bloggers, but since I'm not positive I won't confirm) who pick a book to read on a bi-monthly schedule, then cook something up...related to the book in some form...and blog about it! Brilliant. So I jumped on the bandwagon (let's call it a bookmobile in this instance) and rented this month's pick from the library. I think I'd actually started it before, but never finished, here was my chance. The book du jour this time was Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain.

Ah, Tony (think he'd mind me calling him Tony??)...what can I say. He is a paradox. He's the kind of guy you love to hate...but also, you hate to love him. He's a food snob. Yet, he loves the salt of the earth people...and their food and their cooking. He has a loud mouth, but he knows when to shut it (okay, usually). If you haven't worked in a restaurant kitchen before, you may find yourself picking up your jaw after reading about the, shall we call them...antics, that go on behind the scenes. But for somebody who has done their time in the trenches...picked up those scalding saute pans bare-handed and kept on working...thrown jabs with the big guys...hoarded side towels, had their mise en place raided, worked all night...and the next day, too...worked side by side with some of the greatest misfits in town...I found myself laughing, nodding my head, reminiscing and actually identifying with parts of this book. Now, I am definitely not claiming to have seen or done all of the crazy things Mr. Bourdain has, but I could tell a few tales. Hmmm, maybe I will write it all never know, right.

Communing with Tony made me want to make something a bit different than I make on a day to day basis. It's hard to think of him without thinking of his travels and mis-adventures. He makes me want to make something cringe-inducing...okay, I don't actually think he would cringe at what I decided to make, but I think some people would. Even though there's not really any reason to shy away from....Lengua. Tongue. In the U.S., most of us weren't raised to eat the offal. Offal is considered to be garbage or waste. I usually consider parts like kidney, liver, heart, tripe, sweetbreads, ears & snout to be offal. I'm pretty sure tongue would fit into that category, though. My husband loves lengua...but I have actually never prepared it at home. We usually order it in tacos if we're at the Taqueria. But, going along with the theme of this book, tongue also reminds me of a time while I was doing my culinary apprenticeship.

I did my apprenticeship on the campus of a large University...this enabled me to see most, if not all facets of food service. Sometimes I worked in the dining halls or with catering, sometimes in the test kitchen, other times in the bakery or the support facility/prep/warehouse. You may think I'm leading up to some of my time spent in the Butcher shop. Reasonable assumption...but nope, I'm actually going to tell you about something that happened while I was logging in some time at the fine-dining restaurant.

I was very fortunate to do my apprenticeship in a place where we made everything from scratch. I squirmed my way through killing my first lobsters (they still move even after their tales are removed!), I butchered so many types of fish, broke down sides of beef, lamb and pig...even had a chance to see live eels come in one day! You seriously have to slam them on the head and then skin them! Bourdain tells the truth about this business....brutal, but true. But, I digress... One day there was a big, long beef tongue hanging in the cooler. This was the first time I'd ever seen the tongue separate from the cow. If you've ever been licked by a cow, you know how long their tongues are...but picture a tongue all by itself! So... it's the time of the day when we cook employee meal (or family meal). Usually the front of the house & the rest of the staff (the restaurant is in a hotel) doesn't know what the day's meal is until it's in the window. Well, this particular day it happened to be shredded beef tacos. Every one ate with gusto, a lot sent their compliments to the chef(s)...all went on with their shift. Not one of them was any the wiser...the shredded beef they had just devoured so readily was actually TONGUE! Seriously, tongue is tender and beefy tasting....and obviously, when mixed with a few seasonings can pass as some roasted "regular" beef. I didn't actually cook the tongue, as I was the lowly apprentice (which actually surprises me....seems like they'd have forced me, just to get a reaction), but I was in on the secret.

Since the book coaxed the memory of the, shall we call it... "tongue incident", not to mention the constant reminder from hubby at how much he wants me to make some...I decided to do the deed myself and make a dish with Beef Tongue. So, this is for Tony & my devoted hubby. I looked to Rick Bayless for guidance on preparing the tongue...I followed his technique and adapted one of his recipes. I also have to say that I debated for a long while about whether or not to post pictures of "the tongue." I decided on the ones that were least cringe-inducing. I wanted to share the technique...but wasn't sure what kind of reaction it would get. If you want to see more pictures of it, click here.

Lengua a la Veracruzana
adapted from the recipe by Rick Bayless from Authentic Mexican

~3 lb Beef Tongue
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 can stewed tomatoes w/ Italian seasonings
1 can whole tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 Tbs capers (plus more for garnish)
2 pickled jalapenos + 1 Tbs of pickling juice
1 1/2 tsp mixed dried herbs (marjoram, oregano, thyme)
2 Tbs chopped parsley (plus more for garnish)
3 bay leaves
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 c reserved tongue broth
salt, to taste

Soak the tongue in salted water for 3 hours, in refrigerator. Place tongue in large pot and cover with more cold, generously salted water. Add some onions, garlic & herbs (separate from ones listed above) to the pot. Bring to a boil, lower to simmer and cook for 3-4 hours, until tender.
beef tongue
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Strain and degrease broth. Reserve 1 cup. Strip off the tongue's skin. Pull out any bones from the big end (if there are any) and cut off ~3/4 inch from that end. Cut off the fatty section along the bottom. Slice into 1/4" thick slices. Lay slices, overlapping in several rows in a baking dish.

Prepare the sauce: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium. Add onion and cook, stirring until golden. Add garlic and cook another minute or so, until soft. Add tomatoes and their juices. Simmer for ~5 minutes, pressing down on tomatoes to break up a bit. Add the remaining ingredients and simmer for ~10 minutes, until cooked down a bit. Discard cinnamon stick and bay leaves.
Spoon sauce over prepared tongue. Put in preheated oven and cook for 20-30 minutes, until sauce is bubbly.Serve garnished with some more capers and parsley.Lengua a la Veracruzana
I enjoyed making something that is out of the norm for me. And it really was delicious! I "hid" the tongue from the kiddos until it was not recognizable as a tongue anymore...but I didn't create another tongue incident (I couldn''s not like saying tuna is chicken...). I showed the pictures to my oldest and you should have heard the reaction..."OH MY GOSH....GROSS...NO WAY...TONGUE!...HOW CAN YOU EAT THAT!?...OH GOD...OHHHHH MOM!" and so on. Tee was like a dinner bell, drawing in the rest of the little ones, but I have yet to show them the photos. I'll definitely make it again. Someday.
I can't wait to see what the next book choice will be. If you'd like to hop on the "bookmobile" too, head on over to Cook the Books for more information. I finished early...still time to do a dish inspired by this book by Anthony Bourdain!