Serious Eats: Recipes
The Nasty Bits: Confit of Pork Tongue with Warm Lentil Salad
If beef tongue is something of a monstrosity, then pork tongue is the smaller, subtler of the two. Even so, at five or more inches in length, the tongue of a pig is not to be sneezed at. Floppy like the sole of an old shoe, a pork tongue possesses the look and feel of any mammalian tongue. An arched, dorsal base, dotted with papillae, curves slightly into an elongated tip. On the underside, the flesh of the muscle peers out from pockets of gristly fat. As with most mammalian tongues suitable for eating (i.e., beef, lamb, and calves), pork tongues need a lengthy cooking time to become tender.
Confiting the tongues confirmed my unalterable faith in the power of fat. Is there anything that can't be improved with a good stewing in fat? The procedure for confiting the pork tongues was no different than that of duck or goose: an initial salting, following by stewing and storage in fat or lard. Like duck and goose, pork tongue takes on a silky texture when treated with fat; unlike poultry, the entire organ is pure meat without any of those fussy bones to eat around.
Even after its confit treatment, tongue maintains a firmer bite than duck and goose meat. Denser than either bird, pork tongue is best served thinly sliced so as to cut through the sinuous muscle groups that run the length of the organ. It can be eaten cold, but I like the confited tongue best with a quick sear in the cast iron skillet to brown its surface. Whenever I prepare confit of pork shoulder or butt, I like to toss in a tongue or two for good measure.
Stored in a wide terrine, tongues make a handy last-minute entrée for unexpected guests or late-night hankerings for tongue. That's the beauty of confit - get a couple of tongues and some gizzards tucked away in a jar, and you'll never have to worry about last-minute meals again. In a flash, I can serve the tongues with a sharp-tasting salad that counters the fattiness of the organ.
My favorite accompaniment for tongue is a warm salad of lentils, a classic pairing for duck confit. Coated in an acidic dressing, a bed of lentils makes for an equally good accompaniment to tongue. Beautiful lentilles de Puy, a type of French lentil, appear in tones of green, blue, and brown. The lentils are distinctive for their texture: a firm yet tender bite that won't grow pulpy when stewed.
I like the earthy-toned lentils of Umbria just as much. Pink and brown like tiny moonstones, Umbrian lentils hold their shape as well as the French variety. The cooked lentils are dressed in shallots, Dijon mustard and walnut oil before being added to the pan of sautéed tongue. Upon contact with the cast iron, the lentils deglaze the surface, picking up just the slightest bit of browned pork and duck fat in the process.
Finally, if you're hesitant to pay the steeper prices for duck fat, consider rendering your own lard from fatty strips of pork (above). The fat, which is generally taken from upper side of the pig, can be bought for next to nothing behind the butcher's counter. The conventional method for rendering lard calls for a slow simmering over the stovetop. I like to render my lard in one of my cast iron skillets, so that the fat can continually season the pan as it renders out. Alternatively, the strips of fat can be rendered in a glass bowl set in the microwave for fifteen minutes or so.
Confit of Pork Tongue
adapted from The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert
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, My Chalkboard Fridge.