Monday, March 3, 2008

"Tongue in Cheek" -- Braised Beef Cheeks and Veal Tongue with Baby Leeks and Horseradish Cream

After the Great Oxtail Fiasco of 2008, when I told my friends I'd be making this dish, nearly everyone giggled or snerked when I said the words "beef cheeks." No, not because they thought I was talking about butt cheeks (what are you, 12? Pot, meet kettle.), but because the words "beef cheeks" are inherently fun to say. C'mon, try it. Beef cheeks. There, now don't you feel better? After the giggling subsided, my friends then suggested that we try and find someone we can nickname Beef Cheeks, or perhaps make it a more generic call-out. Like instead of "Duuuuude!" it'd be "Beeeeef Cheeeeks!" Yeah, I don't think it works, either. Or, we thought perhaps replacing "Shawty" with "Beef Cheeks" in hip-hop/rap lyrics might be fun. To wit:

Apple Bottom Jeans [Jeans]
Boots with the fur [With the fur]
The whole club was lookin at her
She hit the flo [She hit the flo]
Next thing you know
Beef Cheeks got low low low low low low low low

Yeah, it didn't work there, either. Oh well, guess I won't be the tipping point in getting Beef Cheeks into our everyday vernacular. Damn. Now what will I do with all my free time?

According to The French Laundry Cookbook, this dish originated from the concept of doing a beef, horseradish and tomato confit salad, which, to me, sounds like a very lovely idea. Then, according to the narrative about this dish on page 112, Stephen Durfee suggested modifying the original idea for the dish to add tongue -- thus "Tongue in Cheek." See, apparently The Durfster, smart and clairvoyant as he is, knew one day I'd be making this, so he pulled Thomas Keller aside and said, "Yo, T. You know how we're all logically playful with words like 'Oysters and Pearls,' 'Coffee and Donuts,' and stuff like that? Well, how about we take our perfectly tasty beef, tomato and horseradish combo and really muck it up with something that will make some young, lovely, coquettish gal want to throw up when she cooks this dish?"

And, sadly, Chef Keller fell for Durfee's mesmerizing, dreamy gaze and said, "Sure, Durf. That sounds like a great idea. I think it would be fantastic for some young, lovely, coquettish gal to get the dry heaves and try desperately not to cry while peeling the tastebuds from some calf's tongue. That is, if we didn't already popozão said young, lovely, coquettish gal with our softshell crab dish."

Okay, now that I've veered waaayyy off course with my pathetic French Laundry fanfic (oooo, now there's an idea for a new blog), let's actually talk about the dish. And where better to start than with beef cheeks:

I'd trimmed these suckers a bit, removing the top flap of meat as well as the silverskin from the bottom, and put them in this dish. I then covered them with The French Laundry's red wine marinade, wrapped it tight with foil and plastic wrap, and put it in the fridge overnight. I started this dish two days before I knew I was going to serve it, because there are multiple overnight marinating processes as well as multiple braisings, so when you see the background light in the photos change from nighttime to daytime with little to no explanation, that's why.

Also that night, I faced what I now know was my biggest fear in this cookbook -- calf's tongue. Just look at these and tell me you aren't skeeved:

Bleh. I have bad memories of tongue -- get your minds out of the gutter, people. What are you, 12? Pot, meet kettle. Wow. Dejá vu. Aaaaanyway, my grandfather used to eat slices of pickled pig's tongue sandwiched between two slices of white bread, which grossed me out to no end; and, when I was a little kid, my cousins and I used to sneak down into my aunt's basement after dinner to watch some silent, black and white horror movie in which some dude used a dirty wrench to pull out some other dude's tongue. And, you already know I have texture issues when it comes to certain foods, so the idea of having to peel off the layer of tastebuds, as well as chew on something that I already have permanently attached in my own mouth (AAAAAUUUGGGHHHHHHHH!!!!!) was not something I was necessarily looking forward to. But I persevered nonetheless, because I will not let Stephen Durfee's prophetic vengeance toward me get in the way of my doing this dish.

I put the tongues into my brand-spankin' new Le Creuset pot (courtesy of Le Creuset and the good folks at the Well-Fed Network's Food Blog Awards) and added onions, carrots, leeks, garlic, thyme, salt, chicken stock, and some white wine vinegar:

I brought it to a simmer on the stovetop, covered it with a parchment lid, and braised the tongues in a 300-degree oven for four hours:

I removed the tongues from the braising liquid, and strained the liquid into another pot, discarding the vegetables. Now, here comes the fun part. I had to peel the tongues while they were still hot. And, I couldn't really wear thick oven mitts to do so, which meant I had to TOUCH the TONGUES:

If I'd been drinking Brawndo while doing this step, I could WIN at HEAVING. It's just so gross. Before the braise, the tongues were a little rough in spots, but I figured that would go away after they'd braised for four hours. Alas, that was not the case. I could still feel the tastebuds as I held those tongues to peel off the outer layer. Ew, ew, ew.... Meanwhile, on a related note, who knew when I peeled veal tongue that Gene Simmons' sex tape would get "leaked" on the Internet? Coincidence? I think not.

I put the peeled tongues back into the braising liquid, covered it, and put the pot in the refrigerator overnight:

I did a shot of Ketel One and went to bed. Mama was plumb worn out.

The next day, I removed the beef cheek meat from the marinade and strained the liquid into a pot, reserving the vegetables:

Grimace Vomit, Part Deux, non?

I brought the marinade to a boil and skimmed the impurities as they rose to the top. Once it had reduced to about a cup of liquid, I removed it from the heat. I coated the bottom of a pot with some canola oil, patted dry the beef cheeks, seasoned them with salt and pepper, lightly floured them, and browned those cheeks for a few minutes on each side:

I took the meat out of the pot, drained off the fat, and put the cheeks in a separate Le Creuset pot (which you'll see in the photos to follow). I added the vegetables to the first pot, sautéing them for a few minutes, then plonked them in the pot with the meat, and added the reserved marinade and some veal stock to the second pot. I covered it with a parchment lid, brought it up to a simmer, and braised it in a 300-degree oven for four hours:

I let the beef cheeks stand in the liquid for about a half-hour, then removed them to a cutting board, after which I wrapped them tight and put them in the refrigerator for a few hours so that they could firm up a bit:

I strained the beef cheek braising liquid (discarding the vegetables) into a smaller pot and allowed the fat to rise to the top so I could remove it. Then, I strained it three times and set a little bit aside to use later. I reduced the rest until there was about a cup and a half left:

I grated some fresh horseradish:

I added some of it to the liquid, and reduced it further until there was just under a cup of it in the pot. I then strained the liquid again to remove the horseradish solids, setting aside this meaty, horseradishy sauce for later.

I added the rest of the fresh grated horseradish to the crème fraîche I'd whipped:

Can we pause for a moment here so I can extoll the virtues of fresh horseradish? I love it so. Growing up, I didn't like it very much; it's only been in recent years that I have come to appreciate the beloved horseradish. I'm allergic to peppers in most forms (sucks to be me), and because this allergy presented itself in the last year, I have an even deeper love for something that can add heat to a dish without putting me in anaphylactic shock. Not that I substitute horseradish where I'd originally eaten jalepenos, but you get my drift. I love me some heat every now and then, so instead of something peppertastic, I'll make a roast beef horseradish sandwich to fit the bill. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled programming...

I'd already made the tomato confit (the process of which you can see in this previous post), so I needed to get the baby leeks ready. Except that I couldn't find baby leeks, so I used green onions instead:

I cut the root ends off, trimmed the tops, and tied them together in a bunch so I could blanch them in salt water, which I followed with an ice-water bath. I took them out, dried them off, and set them aside for plating.

The last step was to get the meat ready. I took the beef cheeks and tongue out of the refrigerator. I sliced them as the book described and assembled them so that the tongue was in between two layers of beef cheek:

Slicing the beef cheek was easy-peasy, but slicing the tongue (even though it had been peeled) was still kind of gross. It's kind of stringy and shreddy looking, and I just couldn't shake the image of what it had looked like before. Bleargh.

I put each of those meat stacks (snerk) into a pan with the reserved braising liquid and heated them, turning them over and splashing the tongue layer with the liquid to get it warm:

I reheated the onions, and tossed some mâche with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper, and began plating. First, I put a spoonful of the horseradish-beef cheek sauce. Next, I placed one of the meat portions atop the sauce. I topped that with two green onions and a piece of tomato confit. Then, a dollop of horseradish crème fraîche. And finally, some of the dressed mâche. Have a look:

I do have to say, that the final plating looked gorgeous and smelled incredible. And, it didn't taste all that bad, either. Actually, it was pretty darn good. When I served it, I told my friends we were eating beef cheeks, and they dove right in. About halfway through, someone asked, "What's this tan meat in the middle? Is that also part of the beef cheek?" Of course I lied and said it was. Then, when we were finished, I told them they'd eaten tongue. Sadly, I was the only one who wanted to vomit. They were all fine with it and though it tasted good. Then, we got out my camera and I started showing the kids the pictures of the tongue in its various states of undress, which they thought was so disgustingly awesome. Oh to be eleven again, when gross stuff is actually cool.

Beef cheeks can be really fatty, and these definitely had their fair share of fat, but I think it made it incredibly succulent in the final tasting. Truth be told, texture issues aside, I really liked this dish. It was hearty and carried some heft, but wasn't overly filling or rich. It had just the right amount of horseradish throughout, and was the perfect dish with which to say goodbye to winter and welcome spring (it's 65 degrees here today). Would I make it again? Probably not. But I'd eat it at Per Se or The French Laundry if it was on the menu. Or, if Stephen Durfee put the hexing mojo on me and I unwillingly submitted to his hypnotizing gaze... you know how I roll.

Up Next: Pear Strudel with Chestnut Cream and Pear Chips

Beef cheeks from Smith Meadows Farms
Veal tongue from Union Meat
Clos du Bois Cabernet Sauvignon
Produce and aromatics from Whole Foods
Vermont Butter and Cheese Company crème fraîche

Music to Cook By: The Decemberists; The Crane Wife. I love this music, but I'm sad to say I don't know much about the band, other than they're from Portland, OR and that they once toured with a full orchestra. They're one of those bands that I heard one or two songs from, so I downloaded a few of their albums, and when their songs pop up on my iPod, I'm always happy. It's rare that I listen to an album start-to-finish, but when one of these tunes recently made an appearance in Shuffle mode, I had to listen to the whole album as a set. I feel like their songs are great storytellers -- and that each song could be the most fantastic, allegorical bedtime story, if only they weren't so damn awesome that you want to stay awake to hear every last note.

Read my previous post: "Surf and Turf"


pdxblogmommy said...

That tongue is just vomitacular. Really...along with Grimace vomit, part deux, well, I giggled all the way through as you KNOW I share said texture issues and might even have more of them than you do!

I remember being in kosher delis on long island and seeing tongue in the case. It always made me go up to the glass and stick my tongue out at it right back (avoiding licking the glass of course).

I applaud you in getting through this. You're a better woman than me.

Oh, and the Decemberists? Yet another reason to move or at least VISIT Portland. You know, Voodoo donuts is opening a second shop I hear...mmmmm....maple bacon donuts...

You know you want one.

michael, claudia and sierra said...

i'm first
look at meeeee
totally FIRST
so there

oh - and the dish
i haven't done the tongue thing in years
in regards to food, i mean
but i would - with you
in regards to food, i mean


Anonymous said...

Oh ew. Up until this point, my only contact with beef tongue was through Ramona Quimby. I can't believe you got kids to eat tongue. You fucking rock.

Pear chips sound fantastic.

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go and see if "The French Laundry FanFic" is available from blogspot.

Ramona said...

You're a better woman than me!! I don't think I could handle tongue, just looking makes me squirm. It's all I can do to handle chicken feet when I make stock!
I did actually try veal tongue at Vidalia recently. It was hard to get past knowing I was tasting a cow's tongue with my tongue. Pervy... ;-)

Anonymous said...

Ooooooo, that looks good. I'm an admitted tongue fan (dirty) and I'd eat this dish in a heartbeat. But I can totally understand why you're grossed out by it. Notice I said I would eat it. Not prepare it. ;)

AlaskanGeekArchitect said...

When I was growing up, my mom used to make beef tongue sandwiches, on fresh whole wheat bread and slathered in mayo and horseradish.

I liked them as a kid.

Since then all of my attempts to replicate them (including using various wild-game moose, caribou, elk, etc...) have all failed miserably.

Mind you, she also would deep fry chicken hearts until they were like shoe leather, mix in with popcorn and sneak them into the movies.

So umm...culinary speaking she was a bit odd.

sygyzy said...

I think you are awesome. Even though I don't know you, any girl who cooks from TFL and jokes using quoted hip-hop club music gets my vote.

Anonymous said...

I read your wonderful blog alternating between admiration and sheer horror. I don't know how you managed to deal with the tongue, you deserve some kind of 'Tongue Medal'. No laughing at the back there.
This post has brought back evil memories. My grandmother used to cook tongues, I can see the bleddy things now all curled round in the saucepan. She would do the skinning bit which I never watched and put the thing in a tongue press. Any sensible person would chuck the thing out, but no, it was sliced up for tea. I never ate it.

As for the pig's head brawn.....

excuse me, I must go as I am feeling very queasy.


Holy shit. That tongue is nasty. I'm glad you got the nice Le Creuset pots - because you totally deserved it.

You're really doing an amazing job on these recipes. I haven't had the chance yet to read all of your previous posts, but I will eventually because I'm obsessed with The French Laundry and I have the cookbook also (plus, you're funny as hell).

You're a better woman than I, because I would be omitting SO much stuff - partly from laziness, partly just because I didn't like that particular ingredient. So, I admire your stamina!

Robert said...

The tongue definitely strikes me as one of those things that is WAY more trouble than it's worth. The beef cheeks part looks great, though. Now I'll spend the rest of the day trying to come up with a way to incorporate the phrase "beef cheeks" into my daily vocabulary . . . Maybe as a new form of compliment? "Man, those Le Creuset pots are the beef cheeks!"

JordanBaker said...

I should never have read this first thing in the morning. The tongues are just too much.

On the plus side, you probably just guaranteed that I don't binge eat today. Or, you know. . .eat at all.

Anonymous said...

In a battle between Durfee's imagination and our young, lovely, coquettish heroine, the heroine has come out on top. I can't help but believe that this will create momementum for victory in the world of pastry.

Per Se and Ben's within a week of each other. That's a refined palate.

amber said...

i so love all the pop culture bits that wind up in your posts. i've been boppin' to "low" in the car for the past few weeks now. and now, when i hear it, i'm always going to think of beef cheeks. hehehe

the tongue skeeves me out a bit, but as i've never actually tried tongue, i'd be game to at least see what it's like. the final plating was really gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

So, you're hot AND you use Idiocracy references in your post? Damn. :)

JennB said...

Sorry... but the tongue is just too squicky for me to ever consider this... I applaud your bravery, though! For shiz!

It gives me the shivers just thinking about having to peel one of those. Eww.

Nice work, though!

Hillary said...

Beautiful new pots! Hideous tongue! Beef cheeks, yes -- but unsure about the tongue.

Interesting about the horseradish substitution, I will keep it in mind. I am oversensitive to green peppers -- they just overpower everything -- and I've learned that wasabi is not so great for my system, even in small doses. (Sorry, is that TMI?!) So I'm a little tentative about horseradish, even though I enjoy it.

The Decemberists are frickin' awesome. I saw them on Halloween a few years ago and they performed in full ninja costume, at least until they realized the masks might have been impeding vocals/circulation *just* a bit.

Anonymous said...

Can't believe u had the guts to do that!

mary grimm said...

I admire your tongue-weilding fortitude--I'll just read about it, thanks.
Also love horseradish; I'm going to try growing it this year: fingers crossed.

Anonymous said...


I've never tried tongue. My dad loved sweetbreads so my mom used to make them every once in a while (for all thirteen of us!). My dad grew up on a farm during the Great Depression and there were few animal parts he would not eat.

Please tell me that Tete de Veau is not featured in that book.

Ummm, Pears. Almost impossible to make anything that isn't good with pears.


Anonymous said...

This reminds me of when I was a young sprout, around 14. My mother cooked tongue now and then and I loved it. One night when it was served for dinner, my 6-year-old brother innocently asked, "why is it called tongue?" When she answered, he gave the 1950s version of "ewww...bleghhhhhh" and never ate it again.

I still love it.

Anonymous said...

i couldn't even read this one - the tongue photo was just too much.

The Italian Dish said...

Oh, I must say this post made me cringe. You are a brave woman. My Italian mother used to love to fix tongue when I was growing up and I never ate it and still can't bring myself to as an adult. My hat is off to you!

Anonymous said...

Hi Carol

Cool dish - I love tongue, and I think they're beautiful.

Any plans to do the braised stuffed pig's head?

That's my favorite TFL recipe...It would be awesome to see it on your site!

Anonymous said...

you know the other great thing about horseradish? if you can't find salsify ...

Anonymous said...

I feel for you Carol... that is one vomit inducing prep work for sure. The end result did look good though.

I have to say i do look forward to you working with the pigs head. I tried that this weekend, and it was the grossest thing I have ever done. These animals used to have feelings you know! Anyway, once all the prep was done and the vom-bags were put away, the end result was fantastic!

I think next time I will stick with the trotter version shown in Bouchon.

roxana said...

Carol, I realy admire your tenacity and talent. I am one of those people who really like tongue, just never made this recipe, and cannot say when or if I'll go through all the trouble for it.
Here is my tongue stew, if you need to be reminded of this, at all. I am waiting for Christmas to use pig's head and feet to make some romanian dishes and headcheese, which are part of our traditional homemade food for winter hollidays.

Sherene said...

My mom in law just prepared some tongue and sent it to me. She's a great cook, she serves it with dried raisins soaked in cognac.She also adds "herb de provence" and a bit of paprika powder to the sauce so it does not "taste all tongue". I remember when she served it to me the first time i was "tongue tied".