There is certainly something vaguely titillating about being able to utter – Russian tongues, anyone? – when lowering yourself to a hungry diner.
I then add – Organic, salt beef in fact, over which I’ve been labouring for the last seven days. With beetroot horseradish relish too, you know.
Karina (my fellow Russian Revel) and I have been asked more and more to do catering for events. And so we’ve been working on our canape range. These little tongues have worked particularly well as both a delicious mini-buterbrod, that is quite unusual and quite Soviet.
Now, I hereby publicly declare:
I am not a fan of canapes.
I like big food. Generous, lavish food, food over the top. Roman style food orgies, that’s what I do. I realise my Russianess in my preference for sizable foods, foods that don’t require tweezers (unless it’s a pig’s trotter) and cool, slender fingers (although the latter I may have, I prefer to use them for a different purpose). I don’t understand the psychology of a canape. Moreover, I don’t understand the sociology of a canape – I see a class struggle raising its ugly head when I think of canapes. These are the foods that require a disproportionate amount of time to assemble, quite a lot of food waste and a moment to eat. You need many, too many, to be full.
I know, size no matter. But there are certain things in life where dimensions play a tangible role. After all, a canape just lies there still, thinking of the Queen.
But I’m starting to appreciate the beauty of a small tasty morsel. I suppose the way to think of canapes is to think of them as a delightful foreplay full of teasing, rather than a maincourse with its fireworks and satisfaction of hunger.
…But back to the tongue.
I’ve written before about my love of a good, slowly cooked tongue. This time I’m offering a more elaborate and, arguably, that much more exquisite way of dealing with the tongue.
I’ve known for a while that a traditional Salt Beef Sandwich is in fact often made with the tongue that’s cooked in a fashion similar to brisket. The curing and then slow, slow cooking, results in meat that’s just a touch spicy, aromatic and in texture so much more relaxed, melt in your mouth.Whereas your brisket almost completely disintegrates, the tongue still holds its shape, working beautifully in sandwiches.
For all those pathetic skeptics scared of a bit of tongue! Try this:
Cut a thick slice of a tongue, fry it slowly for a few minutes, preferably in beef dripping. Fry your bread in the fat leftovers. Smear some mustard (Russian, quite sweet mustard would work really well), slice a few gherkins, put your tongue in between the bread and Go. A shot of freezer cold vodka works wonders here.
Salt (corned) ox tongue with beetroot horseradish relish.
(recipe amended from www.americastestkitchen.com)
This would make 2 beautiful tongues, each enough to make at least 20 sandwiches!
(you can easily freeze a tongue by wrapping it in brown paper and then clingfilm tightly)
For pickling spice:
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 tablespoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1/2 tablespoon chilli flakes
1 tablespoon allspice
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
8 dried bay leaves, crumbled
1/2 tablespoon cloves
2 teaspoons ground ginger
4 litre of water
1 cup (about 200 gr) brown or white sugar
2 cups (about 400 gr) kosher salt
20 gr or so salt peter (optional, but it gives meat that attractive bright red colour, ask the butcher)
half of the pickling spice you made above
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 beef tongues
1. For pickling spice: Combine peppercorns, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds in small frying pan over medium heat until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to mortar and pestle or spice grinder and crush until coarsely cracked.
2. Transfer to medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss to combine.
3. For tongue and brine: Combine water and sugar in large pot and bring to boil, stirring occasionally. Once boiling, add salts and stir until dissolved. Add half of the pickling spice and garlic. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature; refrigerate brine until chilled.
4. Place tongues in brine and weigh down with plate to keep submerged. Refrigerate 5 to 7 days, turning tongues every couple of days.
Now this weighing down business may be tricky for domestic kitchens like mine. So I put the tongues into a large saucepan, cover with the brine, place a small-ish plate on top of the tongues submerged in the brine. Place the whole thing in the fridge, and then put a bowl of water on top of the plate. I don’t bother with covering it with clingfilm but you could try.
5. After 7 days, take the tongues out. Rinse them well, get rid of the brine and pour some clean, cold water instead. Place the tongues inside. Bring to boil.
6. Add the remaining pickling spice and simmer for at least 2.5 hours. 3 is better. Here again you may have to revert to the process above for making sure that your tongue is submerged. But here I do cover the saucepan with some foil as otherwise the liquid will evaporate too quickly.
7. Remove tongues from cooking liquid. Here I normally put lots of ice and cold water into another, large bowl where I place the tongues for some 10-15 minutes. The water will cool them quickly, which will allow you to take the skins off easily.
Taking skin of the tongues is a perversely enjoyable experience.
8. Sometimes I place the tongues on a big, flat plate and press them down with something heavy for an hour so that they take a flatter shape, easier to slice later. But this isn’t necessary.
9. Refrigerate until completely cooled (Tongues can be wrapped tightly and refrigerated up to four days and frozen up to 2 months.).
10. For the relish I cheat by buying ready made beetroot horseradish relish in my local ‘Russian’ shop and add a bit of redcurrant jelly. But sometimes I buy ordinary creamed horseradish from supermarkets and add a bit of grated beetroot.