Birria-Style Lengua

By: J.T.

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients:
2 beef tongues, rinsed, trimmed
3 bay leaves
1 star anise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 1/2 tsp salt
4-6 Ancho, Poblano, or New Mexico dried chiles, seeded and stemmed
1-2 onions, quartered
Tomatoes and/or tomatillos as desired
Water or beef stock to cover (bone broth would also work)

2 tsp chile powder of choice (or more to taste)
2 tsp cumin (or to taste)
Chopped cilantro and onion for garnish

Instructions: Rinse the tongues well and make sure that any large bits of fat, bone, or blood vessel are removed from the large muscle mass that connects the tongue to the jaw. There are typically two small slabs of fat on either side where the lower muscle mass meets the tongue; remove these with a sharp knife. Emphasis on SHARP knife, here, kids… tongue skin is really hard to get through. Use a fresh razor blade if you have to. Do not attempt to peel the tongue uncooked unless you want to blanch it in boiling water followed by an ice water bath.

Place the tongues in a crock pot and add all the above ingredients but the chile powder and cumin. Cook on low for 6-12 hours. If you have not peeled the tongues, you can either carefully do so while they’re hot or refrigerate the whole crock overnight, skim the surface fat, and then peel the cold tongues.

Final presentation: Cut the peeled tongues into ~1/2″ cubes. Strain the broth and, using your fingers, free the flesh of the reconstituted peppers and add back to the broth. Use a stick blender  Skim the broth and reduce by about half, then add the chile powder and cumin and cubed meat. Simmer for 15 minutes, or until tongue cubes are just beginning to fall apart. Serve with cilantro and onion garnish if desired.

Notes: Birria is usually made with goat meat, but I really like preparing tongue this way. It isn’t the normal chili that you’re used to. The tongue takes a very soft texture when slow-cooked and the spices offset the slight mineral edge nicely. Would go great with a side of sweet potatoes but does nicely all on its own.

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