Tongue, as a Cold Cut

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Let’s face it, they’re not pretty. They look like huge, well, tongues. So just don’t think about it being a tongue. Think of it as a culinary delicacy. Tongue is soft, tender, and lean, with a unique texture.

With very little work, you can turn this piece of cow into a fabulous “cold cut” for hors d’oeuvres. All you need to do is poach the tongue, just like you were poaching a chicken.

Not intended to offend anyone, but this is a tongue!

Beef Tongue

1 beef tongue, about 3 1/2 pounds, at room temperature
1 onion, quartered
3-4 stalks celery, quartered
10 baby carrots
1 leek, cleaned, quartered
1 bunch parsley
5 bay leaves
1 head of cloves, sliced horizontally
Handful of whole black pepper corns
2 teaspoons salt

Place all of the ingredients in a large pot. Add enough water to cover everything. Bring it all to a boil on the stove, then simmer, covered, for about 2 – 2 1/2 hours.

You could heat the broth ingredients first, and then add the tongue, but this way works well, and you do end up with a great meat plus a good broth. After cooking, remove the lid and let the mixture cool a bit, then remove the tongue and set on a plate to cool completely.

Remove the fatty chunk at the base of the tongue, but don’t discard it. Peel the tongue – especially the top part of it where you can see the taste buds. It doesn’t all work with the pinch and pull method; a paring knife comes in handy.

Slice the peeled tongue crosswise into 1/4 to 3/8″ slices. Tongue is good at room temperature, or cold. I love it with Dijon mustard and good bread.

The slices are wonderful as part of an charcuterie platter, along with cheeses, olives, and cornichons.

If you don’t want the tongue as a cold cut, sear the slices instead in hot skillet with a teaspoon of olive oil. Add salt and pepper after turning. I sliced up that piece I cut off the tongue to make these non-uniform strips to sear.

I like to put these in flour tortillas and eat with onions and cilantro, and you can make a more involved filling like Rick Bayless’s creamy zucchini and corn. Or, serve the hot seared tongue with crispy potatoes and a couple over easy eggs.

Tongue is also good with pigs’ feet, but that’s another post!

Make sure to use this wonderful broth in another recipe! I added potatoes and leeks for a quicky soup!

Saltado with Shrimp

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Where I live, in a town of 50,000, there is no “fine” dining. There are three restaurants my husband and I go to (I can’t even say frequent) when I want a break from cooking. Sadly, we maintain low expectations. Otherwise, we’d be terribly disappointed, instead of just able to laugh things off.

It’s not only the lack of quality and consistency of the food, but the terrible menus (this problem is not limited to my town) and the crazy bad service.

The only exception is Mexican restaurants. Thank god for these. There are quite a few, and we have our favorites, but it took years for them to reach the quality they are today. I can’t count how many times we experienced rancid chips or stale chips, overcooked chicken, bad salsa, etc. And why serve queso that’s “free” but tastes like dish water?

Anyway, we are now enjoying happier times when it comes to local Mexican restaurants. My favorite is one with a salsa bar. My husband’s favorite serves decent tasting salsa, but it’s served ice cold, and I’m constantly removing tomato peels from my mouth, which drives me crazy. But my husband loves their quesadillas.

We were at this restaurant recently when I spotted a menu item called Saltado, which could be chicken, beef, or shrimp. I was served this lovely plate of food, after choosing shrimp version.

What I loved about this dish was that the shrimp were perfectly cooked, and it was fresh and light. This isn’t typical with Mexican food in Oklahoma, being that we’re so close to Texas. But this Saltado could have been served at a Mexican restaurant in Malibu.

It turns out that Saltado originates from Peru, but when I read about it, it was really nothing like what I was served, so I’m not going to get into it. Like the fact that’s it’s more of a Chinese stir fry with beef, vegetables, and French fries. What? Maybe I shouldn’t google.

So here is my rendition of Saltado.

Saltado with Shrimp

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
2 poblano chile peppers, finely chopped
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of oil
1 1/2 pounds raw shrimp, cleaned, peeled
Tajin seasoning or your favorite seasoning salt
Chopped cilantro

For serving:
Street-sized flour tortillas
Guacamole
Sour cream
Refried beans

In a large skillet, heat the oil over high heat. Add the onion and peppers and toss them around until there’s a bit of caramelization, then turn down the heat and sauté for 8-10 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft. Add the tomatoes and seasoning, and cook gently until there’s no liquid in the skillet.

Once the vegetables are “dry” place them on a serving platter. Cover lightly with foil to keep warm and set aside.

Heat the same skillet, dried out with paper towels if necessary, with the oil. Over medium heat, sauté the shrimp just until they’re pink and opaque. Season them generously with Tajin Seasoning. Place the shrimp over the vegetables.

Sprinkle the chopped cilantro over the top, if desired, and serve immediately.

Offer warm tortillas and bowls of guacamole, sour cream, and pico de gaillo or salsa. If you have (crazy) people eating who don’t like cilantro, serve it separately in a bowl as well.

If you prefer, roast the poblano peppers first, then peel, remove seeds, and chop. You won’t need to sauté them with the onions.

I also served refried beans heated with some cheese. At the restaurant they serve both beans and rice.


And, this mixture works really well for making shrimp tacos!

Escabeche

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My thoughtful daughters gifted me a do-it-yourself fermentation kit for Christmas, 2017. Escabeche immediately came to mind.

I’ve only made escabeche one time, many years ago. The reason I only made these crunchy, zesty vegetables once is that the vinegar smelled up the house for days, which was very upsetting to my husband. I thought perhaps using the fermentation crock will “stink” up the house less.

The recipe I used was from Diana Kennedy’s ground-breaking book on Mexican cuisine, the bible, in a way – The Art of Mexican Cooking, published in 1989.

Escabeche is the Spanish word for “pickle”. Legumbres en escabeche describes a combination of pickled vegetables. It originates from Veracruz, and is a favorite for serving with Mexican dishes.

Chiles Jalapeños en Escabeche
Pickled Jalapeños
Makes about 8 cups

1 pound jalapeños, rinsed
1 1/2 pounds carrots, trimmed and scraped
3 tablespoons sea salt
1/3 cup water
5 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
10 peppercorns
1 teaspoon cumin seed
4 whole cloves
16 California bay leaves
Leaves from 2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 cup safflower oil
1 pound white bulbous onions, boiling onions, or regular white onions
3 cups mild vinegar
1 cup strong vinegar
10 garlic cloves, peeled
6 fresh thyme sprigs
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar

Remove the stems from the fresh chiles and cut each into 4 lengthwise. Scrape out the seeds and put into a large bowl. I don’t have to scrape out seeds because I cut around the seeds.

Slice the carrots diagonally about 1/8” thick and add to the chiles. I used a mandoline for even slices. Sprinkle with salt and toss well. Set aside to macerate for about 1 hour.

Put the water into a blender jar and add the chopped garlic, peppercorns, cumin seed, cloves, 10 of the bay leaves, the thyme leaves, and 1/2 teaspoon of the oregano. Blend as thoroughly as possible.

Heat the oil in a large, fairly deep pan. Add the blended spices and onions and fry until the liquid has evaporated and the onions are translucent, not brown – about 10 minutes.

Strain the chiles and carrots, reserving the juice, and add to the pan. Fry over fairly high heat, stirring and turning the vegetables over for 10 minutes.

Add the chile and carrot juice, vinegars, whole garlic cloves, 6 thyme sprigs, remaining 6 bay leaves and remaining teaspoon oregano, and the sugar.

I wish you could smell this! The depth of odor is remarkable.

Bring to a boil and continue boiling for about 8 minutes. Transfer to a glass or ceramic bowl and set aside to cool before storing in the refrigerator.

But instead, just to take these pickled vegetables a step further, I used the fermentation crock for 24 hours, after the vegetables cooled down. I could have chosen 3 days, but I didn’t want the vegetables to lose crunchiness, which is very important.

The weight, placed over the vegetables and shown in the above right photo, is used to hold down the vegetables and keep them submerged in the pickling liquid.

The first time I used these aromatic pickled vegetables was with chicken and corn enchiladas made with an ancho white sauce.

Note: To better understand the difference between pickling and fermenting, this is a great read.

And if you’re interested in this kit, it was purchased at Uncommon Goods. The packaging is very sweet, and there are directions and recipes.

Achiote Oil

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Achiote oil is a handy ingredient to have on hand. This is especially true if you cook Latin American and Mexican cuisines. The oil is made from beautiful red annato seeds, which are about the same size as cardamom seeds. Why this oil is not called annato oil, I’ll never know. For some reason the seeds have their own name, and the oil, a different one.

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An 8 or 12 ounce jar of achiote oil is easy to prepare, and the oil will keep in the fridge for quite a while.

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To make the oil, crush the annato seeds slightly – I do this in my wonderful little Magic Bullet, but it could even be done with a knife. Be careful, though. The yellow-orange of these seeds will stain your fingers and everything else.

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The suggested ratio for the oil is 1/4 cup of annato seeds to 1/2 cup of vegetable or grapeseed oil. In the end you get a lovely colored oil, along with it the smoky annato flavor.

Bring the oil with the seeds in it to a light boil, then turn off the heat. Let the oil become infused with the flavor and color of the annato seeds, until the oil is cool enough to handle.

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Using a fine sieve, strain the crushed seeds from the oil. Store the oil in the refrigerator.

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This oil can be used in absolutely any dish, either as part of the oil for sautéeing aromatics, or as a little drizzle on top of a finished dish like a soup or stew.

Try it in a rice or risotto dish, in any stew, or rub it over a pork loin! Here I’ve used it in a cornbread.

note: Do not “cook” the annato seeds in the oil. Simply heat the oil to a light boil and then remove from the heat. If you prefer, just warm the oil, and then let it sit overnight or for a few hours. Once I accidentally boiled the annato seeds, and the oil came out very bitter and nasty. Don’t do that!