The first step in cooking a tongue is getting over the fact that it looks like a tongue. But some of the tastiest things—foie gras and most seafood, for example—aren’t exactly the prettiest, and for carnivores who have conquered steak, offal can be a way to be more creative with meat.
That’s why chef Ed Szymanski likes working with it, anyway. At Cherry Point in Brooklyn, Szymanski puts off-cuts in a starring role, and now, he says, the restaurant might even sell more offal than burgers. “If you go into the world of offal, there’s a much wider range of flavors that you can get,” he tells us. “I don’t just want to regurgitate the menu of every other neighborhood restaurant. You need to keep yourself engaged; you don’t want to open the bag and put it on the grill.”
When Szymanski visits the MUNCHIES test kitchen, he’s brought along some beef tongue to teach us a dish that he says is a favorite for both staff and guests: grilled tongue salad with watercress and mustard. Tongue might not be the most immediate choice for home cooking, but it’s versatile, Szymanski says, mentioning its presence in tacos and even tongue sandwiches at Katz’s Deli.
Although you’ll want to prep this recipe several hours before you plan to eat, most of that time is spent letting things sit. Once we’ve made all the tongue jokes we can think of, he gets started. Szymanski puts the meat underneath cold, running water for about 20 minutes to remove any impurities that come from it being, well, a tongue.
Then, he pats the tongue dry and places it in a deep container, which he fills with neutral oil for the confit. Confit typically refers to meat cooked slowly in its own fat, but beef fat is expensive, so Szymanski opts for canola or vegetable oil. “Put it in the oven when you leave for work and by the time you get back it’ll be ready,” he says of the process, which breaks down the protein and collagen to give you super tender meat. Don’t toss the oil at the end—use it in anything that might benefit from a boost of beef flavor.
Once the tongue has cooled, Szymanski peels off the tough outer membrane. “You really don’t want to eat this,” he says. “Every time you see a cow it’s got its tongue out. It’s a very well developed muscle.” Everything that looks tough and leathery gets cut off, and Szymanski adds with a laugh, “If it doesn’t look good, don’t eat it. That should be the foundation of most recipes.”
At this point, the tongue looks tender and meaty, with all of its gristly bits cut off. You could go in different directions here, Szymanski suggests, like cutting the meat into thin pieces and putting it in a sandwich. For this salad, though, he cuts the meat into thick slices, then grills them in a smoking-hot cast iron pan until they’re dark and charred to give the salad a rich, smoky flavor.
While the meat cools on a plate, Szymanski makes croutons for the salad. He's brought along a loaf of day-old bread, which he cuts into chunks and cooks in a generous mixture of both butter and oil. The butter adds flavor, while the oil gets things nice and crunchy. “The biggest crime people do when they’re making croutons is not using enough butter or oil,” he says.
To assemble the salad, Szymanski cuts the meat into crouton-sized chunks. Then, it all comes together quickly: he mixes dijon (what he calls “the king of mustards”), lemon, olive oil, capers, shallot, watercress, and parsley into a bowl, and tosses in the warm croutons and grilled tongue.
So, sure, tongue might not ever be your go-to cut, especially on a weeknight when you’re pressed for time. But when you’re looking for something new, putting some tongue on the grill will definitely get you out of your comfort zone—and it tastes pretty damn good, too.