Tacos de Lengua

I wish I could tell you these tacos are delicious and leave it at that, but I should probably address the issue of lengua — tongue.

Watching hours of Anthony Bourdain and reading more about food convinced Michael and I that we ought to be less discriminating in our meat choices. We like to be informed carnivores, people who eat meat, well aware that it came from a live animal, instead of ignoring what a steak once was.

We realized, if we’re going to eat the spinal muscles (T-bone) and diaphragm (skirt steak) of cattle, we shouldn’t squirm over tongue just because someone couldn’t come up with a more marketable name for it.
So at a Mexican restaurant in LA, Michael ordered a huaruche de lengua. It was awesome. A month or so later we made tongue and oxtail stew. Friday it was tongue tacos after Michael got a tongue from Missouri Legacy Beef. (See Michael’s portrait of Mark and Susie here.)

For the tacos, the meat was cut so small and mixed with other ingredients, even Kat was OK with it (It was her first time trying beef tongue). Cooking tongue might be difficult for some because there’s no hiding the fact you’re cooking a giant tongue. But it didn’t really bother me, especially the second time around.

If you can get over the idea of eating tongue, it’s to your benefit. The meat is really tender and tasty. Plus it’s so cheap. Remember, it’s just another muscle of the animal. Nothing to be afraid of.

Tacos de Lengua

Original Recipe

  • Beef tongue (1 pound = about 6 servings)
  • 1 small yellow onion (or half a large white)
  • 2 cups tomatoes, chopped (5 romas)
  • 1 jalapeno pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon cumin (I put whole seeds in, but ground is good too)
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • Salt and pepper

Fill a large pot with water. I added some ingredients to flavor the water (an onion peeled and cut in quarters, garlic, fresh cilantro stems, whole cumin, coriander seed and peppercorns, dried oregano and chipotle peppers), but they aren’t necessary. Bring water to a boil and then down to a simmer.

Allow tongue to cook at least 1 hour per pound, but the more the better. Ours was 0.82 pounds, but it simmered for about 3 hours.

When it’s done, take it out of the hot water and allow to cool for a few minutes. (You might want to save some of the water for the next step of cooking, but otherwise you don’t get a very flavorful stock. There aren’t bones or enough fat in tongue to make a good stock on its own.)

In the meantime, dice tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers.

When the meat is cool enough to handle, slice into the tough outer skin and peel it off. Discard. Then chop the meat into small pieces.

Heat a little oil in a large pan over medium high heat. Add tomatoes, onions, garlic and peppers with a little salt. When they start to soften, add meat and a half to a full cup of the broth that the tongue cooked in. Add cumin, chili powder, and black pepper. Allow to simmer. (No set amount of time. The whole thing is cooked already.)

Serve in tortillas or taco shells with your favorite toppings. We had corn salsa, queso fresco, lettuce and a squeeze of fresh lime.

Also, I found a good step-by-step with photos and another tasty sounding recipe at the LA Taco blog.

*Tacos served with Jicama, Broccoli and Orange Slaw.

18 Replies to “Tacos de Lengua”

  1. Thanks for the recipe! Is that an orange and jicama slaw on the side?
    Top photo is perfect, btw.
    Really enjoying the Farmer Portraits series, too.

  2. Your tacos look super yummy! Maybe big upping cow tongue is going to become trendy–keep spreading the word haha!

    On a side note, your mention of t-bones and skirt steak is a really good point. I heart weird animal parts!

  3. I really respect the sensibility that led to this post! My partner is a bird-hunter & we eat everything she hunts–it’s made me much more aware and thoughtful, less squeamish. But beef tongue? That I have not yet tried! You make the argument very eloquently & thoughtfully here, so…I bet I can find a taco truck (or a dozen) here in Houston to initiate me!

  4. I’d also like to add that another delicious, yet often thought “gross” part of an animal often used in tacos like this is Chicharron, also known as fried pig skin. It’s delicious and fatty, not terribly meaty, but full of flavor, and its soft, not grisly. Certainly harder to find at the store, but easy enough to order at those taco trucks 🙂 I’ve had it in both LA and Chicago. mmmm.

  5. Mmm. Making this right now, my husband love tacos de lengua. So I learned how to make them. Most people I have to trick into eating it, or they would never know how good it tastes! Lol! I know im evil! Haha
    My sister would refuse to eat it if I told her what it was. So I just told her it was simply beef. She ate it and loved it. I then broke the news. She was a little mad but she sure did eat another one! I think people should stop being so ” narrow minded” about different foods, u never know what your missing out on!

  6. Charlotte — I’m glad to hear you tried the recipe. Hope it worked well for you. Tongue is a great piece of meat, and people who try it really like it, even if you have to trick them a little. One time I made tongue and oxtail stew, which my roommate tried and said was so good, it reminded her of something her mom used to make. Then she asked what it was, and I couldn’t lie, so I told her. Well the next thing I know she was spitting it in the trash can. It’s really just the idea of the meat that gets to people, which is a shame.

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  8. my family loves tacos de lengua, even our 3yr old grandchild. does anyone have a good recipe for beef brain tacos. my mama use to make them.

  9. Lupe — I’ve never had brains of any sort. From what I’ve read, it seems that people often steam or boil them first (10-15 minutes, not nearly as long as beef tongue), then you can sautee them with any spices, sauces or flavorings like any other taco filling. But I can’t say for sure.

  10. I so love your comment about the steaks and such. We eat lengua quite regularly since trying it about 2 years ago. I have yet to find any meat on the cow that has the texture and taste of tongue. Love it!
    Oddly enough, it is the one cut of meat that my 4 year old son LOVES! Give him steak, hamburger, etc, and you can forget it. But let him know (and let him watch the preparation) that we’re having beef tongue and he’s all over it!!

  11. My grandmother used to make pickled tongue, its a German/Jewish delicacy also found in delicatessens on the East coast, which I also make. It is delicious in sandwiches made with crusty French bread or good sourdough. The tacos described in this recipe are excellent. Excellent recipe

  12. I like to cook lengua in the crockpot.I start with onion,garlic,cumin,salt and pepper then cover with water. Set crockpot on high for 3 hours then on low for 3 hours.Top with your choice of Mexican condiments on a grilled corn tortilla in a smudge of butter.My son and I have ate a whole tongue in one sitting.Try it you’ll like it.

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