March is the time when it's “traditional” in this corner of the world to brine some corned beef and drink a pint of Guinness.
Problem is – when I opened my freezer this weekend to grab a brisket to thaw, there was no brisket to be found. What to do?
After tsk-tsking lightly under my breath (as I really love corned beef and look forward to the annual ritual), I realized we had a plethora of beef tongue left over from our last beef purchase, so my mental wheels started turning. I've been looking for creative ways to use tongue – perhaps a several day stint in a brine might be just the ticket for a firm muscle like tongue.
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And sure enough, I wasn't the first one to have thought of this. America's Test Kitchen even has beautiful step by step photos of their method of preparing it.
So, this year, it's corned beef tongue in our house with our absolute favorite horseradish cream sauce. (It will make you swoon. I promise. Even if you don't like horseradish.)
And then, of course, the leftovers will be used in Reuben sandwiches and picnic buns. I can't wait!
And by the way, I liked this preparation of tongue so much that in future years, I may well turn to using tongue for this purpose anyway, as tongue is far cheaper than brisket and it's great later when it's shredded.
Corned Beef Tongue
1 beef tongue
1 cup unrefined coarse sea salt
1/4 cup unrefined cane sugar (optional, no substitutes)
Pickling spice (recipe follows)
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups whey or sauerkraut brine*
2 cups celery juice
*Get sufficient whey by straining 2-3 quarts of yogurt in cheesecloth for an hour or so – plus you end up with thick Greek-style yogurt. Delicious!
3 bay leaves
1 stick cinnamon, broken into pieces
2 tablespoon mustard seeds
2 tablespoon whole coriander seed
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon whole cardamom pods (optional)
1 tablespoon juniper berries
If your meat is frozen, thaw it completely. This is necessary to allow the spices to really adhere to the meat, as well as to allow the brine to easily penetrate the meat.
Rinse the tongue and pat it dry.
Mix the salt, sugar, pickling spices, and garlic together in a small bowl, breaking up the bigger items with the back of a spoon (or use a mortar and pestle to make it easy). Rub as much of the mixture into the meat as possible, massaging it in if needed.
Place the tongue in a restaurant-style prep bin or glass container with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the whey and the celery juice over the brisket, along with any of the salt mixture that fell aside. If the brine does not cover the tongue entirely, add enough filtered water to cover it. Weigh it down if necessary with a plate or a jar filled with water.
Place the lid on the container and set in the refrigerator. Let it cure for 5-10 days, turning once each day and ensuring that the meat is covered in brine at all times. Add filtered water if necessary.
Once the meat is cured, toss the brine and rinse the meat to reduce the saltiness.
Preheat the oven to 300° F. Partially submerge the tongue in fresh water in an oven-safe stockpot or a Dutch oven and bring to a boil. (You may add a few tablespoons of pickling spice if you'd like.) Place the pot in the oven and braise for about 3 hours, or until the meat is tender. Alternatively, place the rinsed tongue in a crockpot with 2-3 inches of water and cook on high for 5-6 hours.
When the meat is cooked, you'll need to remove the skin, as it's very tough. Slice through the skin lengthwise on the bottom of the tongue, then peel it off. (The photos at America's Test Kitchen show this step very clearly.)
Slice the tongue into 1/2-inch slices (if possible) or shred the meat. Pile on the serving plates and pour or dollop the horseradish cream beside.
Mashed potatoes and boiled beets accompany this meal superbly.
This recipe is from my book, Restocking the Pantry. (Get free sample pages.)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup sour cream OR crème fraiche
6 tablespoons finely grated fresh horseradish OR traditionally fermented horseradish, such as Bubbies
1 tablespoon Dijon-style mustard
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh chives, finely snipped
1/2 teaspoon unrefined sea salt
black pepper to taste
Place the heavy cream in a large bowl and whisk until it begins to thicken and form soft peaks. Add the sour cream, grated horseradish, mustard, and vinegar and whisk vigorously again until the mixture is smooth. Add the chives, salt, and pepper and stir to incorporate well.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Sauce can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 2 to 3 weeks.