Prepared correctly, tongue is a delicious meat: it’s tender, smooth and mild. Many people recoil at the thought of eating tongue, though, probably because it’s organ meat.
Like other organ meats, tongue takes a bit of effort; after boiling it, you need to strip off the skin (it comes off easily when the meat is hot), then remove the bones. (Sometimes, the tongue will be fully cleaned, with the inedible parts trimmed off.)
This recipe was inspired by a dish I tasted at The Chairman, in Central. It’s worth buying a few extra lamb tongues (they’re small) and cooking them at the same time; the leftover meat is delicious when thinly sliced then used in sandwiches with rye bread and grainy mustard.
Seared lamb tongue and fennel salad with spicy and numbing dressing
You can buy lamb tongues at shops selling halal and kosher meats, and from some butcher shops; you may need to order it in advance. Pork tongue is good, too, although it’s bigger and the flavour is stronger.
I like the round, warm taste of aged balsamic vinegar – it’s not as sharp as some Chinese vinegars. You don’t have to use the super-expensive versions that come in small bottles, but avoid the cheap, acidic, watery stuff. Aged balsamic vinegar has a nice, balanced, intense flavour, and although it’s more expensive than the low-quality versions, a little goes a long way.
4 lamb tongues, about 150 grams each (or one small pork tongue)
Fine sea salt
Cooking oil, as needed
3 small fennel bulbs, about 150 grams each
3 stalks of Chinese celery
For the dressing and garnishes:
1 garlic clove
20ml soy sauce
20ml light soy sauce
15ml aged balsamic vinegar, or to taste
5-10 grams granulated sugar
About 1 tsp chilli oil, or to taste
½ tsp sesame oil
20ml neutral-tasting oil, such as grapeseed or canola
About 25 grams skinned peanuts
1 ½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns
1 tsp sesame seeds
10 grams fried shallots
Place the lamb tongues in a colander and rinse with cool, running water. Sprinkle the tongues heavily with salt, rub it into the meat, then rinse again. Salt and rinse the meat until the tongues are no longer slimy.
Put a medium-sized pot of salted water over a medium-high flame. Bring to the boil then add the tongues. Bring to the boil again, then lower the heat, cover partially with the lid and simmer. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface of the water. Simmer the tongues for about 90 minutes, or until very tender; test by poking the thick end with a skewer – it should slide in easily. Take one tongue out of the pot, put it on a plate and, as soon as it’s cool enough to handle, strip off the skin. If the skin sticks to the meat, put the tongue back in the pot and let it rewarm while working on another piece. When all of the tongues have been skinned, leave them to cool to room temperature.
Make the dressing. Finely mince the garlic clove. Put the sugar in a small bowl with the soy sauces and the balsamic vinegar. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Add the garlic, chilli oil and sesame oil, then stir constantly while drizzling in the grapeseed or canola oil. Taste the dressing and adjust the seasonings, if needed.
Put the peanuts in a small, unoiled skillet and set it over a low flame. Stir frequently until the peanuts are lightly toasted, then roughly chop them. Put the Sichuan peppercorns into the same skillet (no need to wash it) and place it over a medium flame. Shake the pan constantly until the peppercorns are lightly toasted. Transfer them to a mortar and, when they’re cool, crush them to a rough powder. Put the sesame seeds in the same skillet and toast them over a medium flame, shaking the pan constantly. Leave them to cool to room temperature.
Cut the fennel bulb in half and remove the core at the base. Slice the bulb into 5mm-thick pieces and put them in a bowl. Trim off the leaves from the Chinese celery and reserve them for the garnish. Slice the Chinese celery into 5mm pieces and add them to the bowl.
Starting at the tip of the tongue, cut the meat into 8mm-thick pieces. When you get towards the base, the meat is not as even or pretty – remove the fat, dark bits and bones. Cut the larger pieces in half. Heat a skillet over a medium-high flame and oil it lightly. When the pan is hot, briefly sear the tongue slices on each side, then put them in a bowl. Stir the dressing, then add a couple of spoonfuls to the meat and mix. Add the meat to the bowl holding the fennel and Chinese celery and add more dressing – just enough to lightly coat the vegetables – and mix. Pile the salad onto two plates, then sprinkle with peanuts, Sichuan peppercorns, sesame seeds and fried shallots. Garnish with the Chinese celery leaves and serve immediately.
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