2000s Recipes + Menus

Tongue Tacos (Tacos de Lengua)

Serves6 (main course)
  • Active time:1 hr
  • Start to finish:5 hr (2 1/2 hr if using pressure cooker)
June 2009
If you’ve ever ordered tacos de lengua from your favorite Mexican restaurant, then you know how flavorful tongue can be and how much fun it is to eat it enfolded in a warm corn tortilla, your lips tingling from the salsa. Here, tongue is simmered with lots of aromatics, then cubed and cooked again in lard and some of the original cooking broth, which produces wonderfully moist, tender bits of meat. The salsa, made of toasty guajillo chiles and blackened tomatoes, onion, and garlic, is warming, not fiery, and would be equally delicious with beef or pork tacos.

For Tongue

  • 1 (2 3/4- to 3-lb) beef tongue
  • 9 cups water
  • 1/2 large white onion, chopped
  • 4 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 1 fresh jalapeño, slit open
  • 1 Turkish or 1/2 California bay leaf
  • 3 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
  • 2 tablespoons lard or vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 24 soft corn tortillas

For salsa

  • 5 dried guajillo or pasilla chiles, wiped clean, then stemmed, halved, and seeded
  • 2 cups boiling-hot water
  • 1 lb medium tomatoes (about 3)
  • 1/4 large white onion, thickly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, left unpeeled
  • Accompaniment:

    sliced radishes; lime wedges; cilantro sprigs; chopped white onion

Simmer Tongue:

  • Put tongue in a 5-qt heavy pot with water, onion, garlic, jalapeño, bay leaf, 1 tsp oregano, and 2 tsp salt and bring to a boil. Simmer, covered, turning tongue once, until tender, about 3 hours. Cool, uncovered, in broth.

Make salsa while tongue simmers:

  • Heat a dry comal or cast-iron skillet over medium heat until hot, then toast chiles, turning once, until browned in spots and pliable, about 30 seconds. Add to boiling-hot water and soak until softened, about 20 minutes.
  • Blacken tomatoes, onion, and garlic on comal, turning frequently, about 10 minutes. Core tomatoes and peel garlic.
  • Drain chiles and put in a blender. Add tomatoes, onion, garlic, and 3/4 tsp salt, then blend until almost smooth.

Fry tongue and toast tortillas:

  • Transfer tongue to a cutting board with tongs and peel off and discard skin and any visible fat. Cut meat into 1/2-inch cubes. Strain broth through a sieve into a bowl, discarding solids. Set aside 1 1/2 cups broth and reserve remainder for another use (such as using in place of water in a bean soup recipe).
  • Heat lard in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers, then fry tongue with cumin, remaining 2 tsp oregano, and 1 1/4 tsp salt, stirring frequently, 2 minutes. Add broth (1 1/2 cups) and gently simmer, covered, 15 minutes. Transfer tongue to a bowl with a slotted spoon and discard liquid.
  • While tongue simmers, toast tortillas, 1 at a time, over a gas burner on medium-high (or in a hot dry comal or cast-iron skillet), turning with tongs, just until browned in spots and pliable, 16 to 20 seconds total. Stack as toasted, loosely wrapping in foil. When all tortillas are toasted, tightly wrap in foil, then wrap in a kitchen towel.
  • Serve tongue with tortillas, salsa, and accompaniments for assembling tacos.
Cooks’ notes:
  • Tongue can be cooked in about 1 hour in a 6- to 8-qt pressure cooker. Follow recipe, bringing tongue, onion, garlic, jalapeņo, bay leaf, oregano, and salt to a boil in pressure cooker. Seal pressure cooker with lid, then cook at high pressure, according to manufacturer’s instructions, until tongue is tender, about 1 hour. Put pressure cooker in sink (do not remove lid) and run cold water over lid until pressure goes down completely.
  • Tongue can be cooked and chilled in broth (covered once cool) 3 days ahead.
  • Salsa can be made 1 day ahead and chilled.
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