This is a story about making lemonade out of lemons. Art for the sake of art. The triumph of the human spirit, even.
Mostly it’s the story of a failed experiment.
I’m catering a medieval lunch in Mississippi in a few weeks and came across a recipe for salted and smoked tongue. I have cooked cow tongue before in the crockpot with white wine and various aromatics. I peeled the skin off, shredded the meat, and we ate it in burritos. It was delicious. Since my husband and I were already planning on making pastrami, I thought that maybe tongue, which after all is just another muscle, would taste like pastrami if given the same treatment. So we ventured forth. First we failed to find cow tongue so we bought a water buffalo tongue from Popenoe Ranch. I used the pastrami recipe from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curing with a few small changes- I cut the amount of sugar in the cure and forgot the coriander/peppercorn crust before smoking. We had a friend over for dinner that evening and I hesitantly sliced into this, well, giant tongue. Just another muscle, right?
Boy, was I wrong.
The taste testing of the tongue pastrami was interesting. The flavor was good… really good. It was nicely salty and smokey, maybe a little too sweet for us still with the reduced sugar, but the flavor was good.
The texture, on the other hand, was not. It was soft. Not raw-meat soft, more like raw-chicken soft. Squishy. The skin of the tongue had turned a weird rubbery texture and would no longer peel off. We decided to put the whole thing in the fridge for a few days and see what it was like cold.
Cold wasn’t much better.
Meat does not go to waste in this house, especially not $4 per pound water buffalo with hours of added labor. So what is the best way to use up leftover mystery meat? Chop it into little bits and hide it in Tex-Mex food, of course. And so was born Quesadillas de la Lengua.
If you remember the meal plan, the quesadillas were supposed to be made with the leftover pot roast from last night. Well the pot roast was such a hit that there was about 4 bites of meat left… and my husband claimed that for his lunch. So I sliced up the tongue and added it to shredded cheese and sauteed green peppers in the quesadillas.
Dinner turned out delicious. I used up quite a few leftovers- a cup of cooked beans plus a can of chickpeas whirled in the food processor made tasty refried beans, and a smidge of spicy salsa ranchera added to the rice cooker with a bit of toasted cumin made quite passable Mexican-style red rice- and most importantly, used up the tongue in a way that everyone liked.
This weekend- ma’amoul and sauerkraut, finally.