Cook the Book: Bite-Your-Tongue Tacos

Cook the Book: Bite-Your-Tongue Tacos

[Photograph: Jennifer May]

Tongue is a funny sort of meat. When sliced into a mustard-slathered Jewish deli sandwich served on rye, it's delicious in a corned beef or pastrami kind of way. How about tucked into warm corn tortillas and sprinkled with cilantro, lime, and salsa? Well, that's just a great taco.

But when you meet a whole beef tongue through the class of your butcher's case, things start to go the way of a horror movie. I guess that's because tongue is one of the only cuts of beef that is really recognizable, in a, "Wait a second, I have one of those in my mouth, too," sort of way.

These Bite-Your-Tongue Tacos from Joshua and Jessica Applestone's The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meats were my first foray into the world of tongue cookery, and I have to say upfront that there was a teeny-tiny amount of apprehension. But knowing full well the joy that comes with a plate of lengua tacos, I sucked it up.

For something as daunting looking as a whole beef tongue, it requires hardly any effort. It's just a matter of long simmering, cleaning, and more long simmering until it's tender enough to be pulled apart into shreds. And as far as seasoning goes, salt is really all there is to it. If you've ever had tongue at a deli, it's prepared in a similar manner to this one, and the flavors are strikingly similar.

Once you've got your shredded tongue, it's time to make the taco topping salsa verde, using a recipe from Juan Pablo Lopez, an employee of Fleisher's Meats who's been making their sausages since day one. What sets this salsa verde apart from other versions is an avocado that's mixed into the tomatillo sauce—because everything is better with avocado (right?). Now it's just a matter of serving up your lengua and salsa with warm corn tortillas with chopped cilantro and sliced radishes.

So there you have it—tongue tacos. The prep is a little scary for tongue novices, but the plate of tacos you're left with vanquishes any sort of tongue related trauma.

As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meats to give away this week.

Reprinted with permission from The Butcher's Guide to Well-Raised Meats by Joshua and Jessica Applestone and Alexandra Zissu, copyright © 2011. Published by Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House, Inc.

  • Yield:serves 4 to 6
  • Active time: 45 minutes
  • Total time:4 hours


  • For the tongue:
  • 1 tongue (about 2 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon salt 
  • For the salsa verde:
  • 1 pound fresh tomatillos (11 or 12), husked
  • 2 to 3 jalapeño peppers, to taste
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 ripe avocado, diced
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • To serve:
  • Handful fresh cilantro leaves
  • 1 bunch of radishes, thinly sliced
  • Warm flour tortillas


  1. 1.

    For the tongue: Rinse the tongue under cold water and make sure it is clean. Put the tongue in a large stockpot with enough room so that it doesn’t touch the sides. Cover withwater. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then cover the pot and lower the heat to low to keep a good, solid simmer. Let simmer for 3 hours; the tongue is done when a sharp knife pierces it easily and the membrane looks ready to slide off.

  2. 2.

    Remove the tongue from the pot and let cool on a plate for about 15 minutes. It should be cool enough to touch but not so cold that the membrane sticks. Peel off the membrane and clean the underside of the tongue of any tough bits. You may need a sharp knife.

  3. 3.

    Put the tongue back in the stockpot, add the salt to the water, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and lower the heat to low to keep at a simmer. Simmer about 1 hour, until the meat is tender and can be pulled apart easily. 

  4. 4.

    For the salsa verde: Put the tomatillos, jalapeños, and garlic in a medium saucepan and add 1/2 cup water. Set the pan over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, until the tomatillos are soft and have lost their vibrant green color. Drain, reserving the liquid, and let the vegetables cool. 

  5. 5.

    Transfer the cooled vegetables and liquid to a blender. Add the salt and puree on high speed until smooth. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the avocado, onion, and cilantro. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour, then adjust the seasoning if needed.

  6. 6.

    To serve: Shred tongue and serve on warm tortillas with a dash of salsa verde and some fresh cilantro leaves and thinly sliced radishes.