The Nasty Bits

Recipes and stories for everything but the oink.

The Nasty Bits: Very Crispy Tongue

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I have never really believed that restaurant food is automatically better than home cooking because chefs use twice as much butter and oil as home cooks. That's presuming that cooks at home are stingy or careful with the oil, and not all cooks are. If restaurant food is better, it's because chefs on average know a lot more about, and work a lot more, with food than the people cooking at home.

But the other week I attended a "whole cow" dinner at the newly re-opened E&E Grill House, where I was served a dish of beef tongue that was extremely crisp and brown on the surface. Not to get technical, but the tongue was precisely one order of magnitude above the crispiness and brownness I am used to when I pan-fry tongue at home. Inside, the tongue was tender, fatty, and flavorful, and the contrast between the surface and the interior was really satisfying.

I didn't really care for anything else on the plate: the roasted beets, the blue cheese dressing, the wisps of micro greens loitering at the edges of the plate. The tongue itself was so wonderful, I could have eaten twice as much as I did (three very generous, very crispy slabs) and still had room for the various steaks that followed. Of course none of the steaks were as good as the tongue.

Eating the tongue had me thinking that maybe there is something to the credo that food tastes better when you use a lot of oil.

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Naturally, the first thing I did the morning after my very beefy dinner was start the day with a breakfast of beef tongue.

I got out my cast iron skillet, cut a few slices of simmered pork tongue, which I just happened in my fridge, and pan-fried the tongue in twice as much oil I usually use. I put down about 3 tablespoons of oil for 5 or 6 slices of tongue. It was not deep-frying, but there was a discernible puddle of oil in the skillet.

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I turned on the heat. The tongue sputtered and splattered. Then its surface began to brown and because of all the oil I put in the pan, the tongue achieved the same level of crispiness as that of the blessed tongue the evening before.

Except this time, it was even better. Being at home, I could season the tongue as I pleased. I got out my wok and dropped in lots of dried chili peppers—not so much for their heat as for their fragrance, and some whole Sichuan peppercorns. I added a spoonful of Sichuan chili bean paste, some soy sauce, some rice wine, and moved the tongue around and around in the pan. To finish, a drizzle of chili oil on top.

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The method and the seasonings reminded me of what you'd do if you were dry-frying meat, a technique in Sichuanese cuisine. And as for what kind of animal tongue to use, Nasty Bits readers oughta know by now that cow, veal, pork, or lamb are all very tasty.

This was the best breakfast I'd made at home in a long time.

About the author: Chichi Wang took her degree in philosophy, but decided that writing about food would be much more fun than writing about Plato. She firmly believes in all things offal, the importance of reading great books, and the necessity of three-hour meals. If she were ever to get a tattoo, it would say "Fat is flavor." Visit her blog, The Offal Cook.

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