Beef tongue is one of the cheapest cuts of meat you can find, and one of the least-known in this day and age. And just the idea of organ meat is enough to make a lot of people shudder. But if you know how to prepare lengua, you’ll find it’s delicious, with healthy amounts of protein and fat — the tongue, after all, is nothing but a long muscle.
There was a time, not so long ago, that your average Spanish person couldn’t afford to eat much meat, per se, but was more than happy to eat any other part of the pig or cow he could get his hands on. An authentic Spanish cookbook probably has recipes for tongue as well as brains, kidneys, liver and other things you didn’t necessarily consider as foods.
You might be able to get a tongue from your neighborhood butcher. Ask him if he usually carries it, or if you can place a special order (a lot of butchers will do this, and bring you anything you want on a couple of days notice). If your butcher can’t get one, don’t be afraid to go to a casquería.
A casquería sells all kinds of organ meat and various cuts of beef, pork or lamb that range from a bit strange to quite grotesque. You’ll probably be the only person under 60 in the shop. Look for a casquería in one of the more traditional municipal markets (not one of the new gourmet markets) like Mercado de la Cebada or ask your butcher where to find one.
Ask for lengua de ternera and expect to pay around 5 euros a kilo. A tongue weighs around a kilo and a half, so you’ll have enough for yourself and a few friends.
Now you must peel the skin off the tongue and slice it up into filets. Use a paring knife to peel, and a larger knife to cut.
The tongue itself is so simple to make that it deserves a good sauce. You can make it as simple as you want. Here I’ll describe how to make an easy red sauce.First chop and sauté a couple of onions. When they’re starting to lose their color, add about a kilo of tomatoes, cut up into pieces. Smash the tomatoes a bit in the pan, and then add some salt, a glass of white wine (not the best wine you have, something from the box will do) and some more dried herbs. Simmer the sauce for 20 minutes or so, adding a bit of the broth as you go along. When the sauce has reduced a bit, add the tongue filets and cook for another 15 minutes or so. Don’t be afraid to make the sauce a day in advance, tomato sauces gain flavor by spending a night in the fridge.
Serve with red wine and bread or white rice, and enjoy!
Have you tried tongue before? Tell me about it in the comments!
Daniel Welsch is a teacher and author who moved to Madrid at a ridiculoulsly young age. Now, he's not as young as he used to be. He writes a blog for ESL students at madridingles.es and books which are available on Amazon and many other places online. Check out his personal blog at The Chorizo Chronicles.