Sunday, February 27, 2011

Tacos de Lengua (Beef Tongue Tacos)

I'm already pretty sure some of you are cringing in horror after reading "THE T-WORD" in the subject of this post. Beef tongue conjures up revulsion in many people, usually those who have never even sampled this amazing cut of beef (so definitely don't knock it 'till you try it). Beef tongue, being a frequently used muscle, needs to be cooked slowly, much like the tougher cuts used for pot roasts. Much like with pot roast, the slow braising/simmering of the meat transforms a tough cut into a tender, incredibly flavorful meal. 

Beef tongues are extremely affordable, and easily found at most ethnic market, especially Hispanic & Asian markets. Also known as lengua in Mexican cuisine, slowly cooked and seasoned with peppers, onions and tomatoes, the tongue has an extremely assertive BEEF taste; not at all like offal as some would expect. 

Served atop warm, homemade tortillas, and topped with roasted salsa verde, fresh cilantro, queso fresco and a squeeze of lime, there is no better taco to fully encompass the traditional flavors of Mexico. Enjoying one of these, and fully grasping the amount of work involved, will REALLY make you appreciate the measly price of $1.75 charged by local taquerias here in Birmingham

Though the lengua does need to simmer for a few hours, the recipe is not at all difficult. I usually prepare the salsa and tortillas while the tongue is simmering. Though a comal (flat cast iron griddle) and tortilla press aren't absolutely necessary for tortilla preparation, it does make the process much easier. For the salsa verde, the key is all in the tomatillos; you can make this recipe ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until ready to use. Of course, you can always used jarred salsa verde & storebought tortillas for this recipe if short on time or overwhelmed. 

Tacos de Lengua 
Recipe adapted from LA Taco

1 beef tongue
2 large poblano peppers
2 small serrano peppers
2 tomatillos
5-6 Roma tomatoes
1 red onion
1 white onion
2-3 spring onions
8-10 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp cumin seeds (you can substitute ground cumin instead)
OPTIONAL: bay leaves, peppercorns, oregano, onion, garlic & cilantro stems

The ingredients...

The tongue...

All 3 1/2 lbs of it...

Place the tongue in a large stockpot and fill 2/3 full with water. If desired, you can add some seasonings to the water. This is completely optional, but I added 5 bay leaves, 1 Tbsp of black peppercorns, 2 Tbsp of Mexican oregano, 1 small onion, quartered, 4 cloves crushed garlic and some chopped cilantro stems. 

Bring the water to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 45-60 minutes for each 1 lb of beef tongue or until tender. Don't worry about overcooking the tongue; some people slow cook them overnight, and it's very difficult (if not near impossible) to overcook the tongue. 

After 3 hours of cooking...

Remove the tongue from the water and let cool slightly. Reserve 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Once cool enough to handle, remove the light-colored skin from the tongue. Remove the rough patch of meat at the base of the tongue (where the tongue would have attached to the bottom of the mouth). Cut the meat into 1/4" to 1/2" cubes and set aside.

After peeling the skin...


and diced...

Looks just like pot roast...

Meanwhile, roast the poblano peppers. If you are fortunate enough to have a gas stove, you can simply hold the peppers above the flame (using tongs, obviously) until the skin has bubbled and blackened. For an electric or toaster oven, simply broil the peppers or bake at 400 - 450 degrees, turning them so all sides are evenly blackened. Remove the peppers from the oven, place in a plastic Ziploc bag, seal, and let sit 5-10 minutes. The peppers will be much easier to peel. 

After roasting and peeling the poblanos, cut the pepper into strips. Dice the serranos, tomatillos, Roma tomatoes, onions, spring onions and garlic. Combine and place in a large mixing bowl. 

Heat a bit of oil in a large stockpot (you can use the same one used to simmer the tongue). Add the vegetables along with a pinch of salt and pepper. As the vegetables begin to brown, add the diced tongue, the reserved cooking liquid, and the cumin. Allow to simmer to absorb all of the flavors - there is no set cooking time, as the tongue is already fully cooked. 

Serve the lengua atop warmed tortillas with desired toppings (salsa verde, chopped onions & cilantro, queso fresco, avocado, lime juice, etc). 

Red onions.

Queso fresco, crumbled. 

Fresh lime.

Lengua with red onions, cilantro, salsa verde & queso fresco atop a homemade tortilla.

Salsa Verde
Recipe adapted from Hungry Cravings

1 1/4 lbs tomatillos
3-4 serrano or jalapeno peppers
1 yellow onion, quartered
1 bunch cilantro, trimmed
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp ground cumin
Juice of 1 lime

The ingredients. 

Husk the tomatillos and place in a medium pot with the peppers. Add enough water to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 6-7 minutes or until tomatillos are soft. Transfer tomatillos and peppers to a plate with a slotted spoon and let rest 15 minutes.

Once cool enough to handle, remove pepper stems. Place tomatillos, peppers, onion, cilantro, garlic, cumin and lime juice in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Season to taste with salt

Flour Tortillas
Recipe adapted from Rick Bayless via Budget Bytes

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
5 Tbsp lard
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup very warm water

Combine the flour, shortening and lard in a large mixing bowl and work the fats into the flour until completely incorporated. Dissolve the salt in the water and pour about 2/3 cup over the flour mixture. Work in with a fork - the dough will be in large clumps. If the dry ingredients have not been dampened, add the remaining liquid.

Place the dough on a floured surface and knead until smooth - the dough will have a medium to stiff consistency (not as soft as most bread doughs). Divide the dough into 12 equal portions and roll each portion into a ball. Place on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 30 minutes. 

I didn't do the best job of rolling the dough into balls. 

Heat an ungreased comal or heavy skillet over medium to medium-high heat. Flatten a ball of dough with a tortilla press, or roll into a 7" circle with a rolling pin. Lay the tortilla on the hot griddle and flip over after 30-45 seconds. Cook another 30-45 seconds, then remove from heat and place in a tortilla warmer or in foil. 

Tortilla press...

A comal, or cast iron flat griddle skillet. 

Place a ball of dough on the press...

Close the press...

Pull the handle down...

Now you have a single tortilla! 

Place the tortilla on the hot comal...

Flip after 30-45 seconds and cook the other side...

Keep warm in a tortilla warmer or in foil. 


  1. I am so excited to try this!!
    The only way I EVER had beef tongue growing up was on a sandwich!
    It was good! but I bet this is AMAZING!!!

  2. Thank you, Jess! Please let me know how it turns out!

  3. Looking forward to trying it - the photos are outstanding!

  4. Thanks for getting this all on one page, made it this weekend and I was pretty happy with the results. One minor thing: you mention cooking the vegetables until they start to brown, but with the tomatoes and tomatillos in the pot that can't happen, they give off too much liquid. Do you really want to brown the onion, pepper, and garlic or are you looking for more of a stew?