Central California and Northern Nevada are dotted with Basque hotels (formerly home to the shepherds when they would come down from the hills for the winter). You sit at a shared table and enjoy a family-style meal that always includes baked chicken, pasta and vegetable soup, sometimes beef or lamb…. And, if you are lucky, a prized dish of pickled tongue. It’s not really pickled but marinated and, once you acquire the main ingredient, Pickled Tongue Basque-Style is super easy to prepare at home. A 2-3 pound tongue, sliced without the connective muscle at the back, will serve 6-8 as an appetizer portion.
One beef tongue, or several lamb or pork tongues, 2-3 lbs total
Aromatics or pickling spices for cooking water
6-8 bay leaves for cooking water
1/3 c olive oil
1/3 c red wine vinegar
4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley or garden herbs (I used marjoram) for garnish
Method: cover tongue with water and bring to the boil. Lower heat to a simmer and add aromatics or pickling spices and bay leaves. Cover and cook one hour for each pound of tongue. Transfer tongue to a bowl and refrigerate overnight.
In the morning, peel the tongue being careful not to tear the underlying meat. Slice on the bias into ¼ inch slices, starting at the tip*. You may want to stop before you get to the less-attractive connective muscle at the back, and use the remaining meat for sandwiches or a tongue hash.
Assemble the tongue pieces, salt and pepper, garlic, oil and vinegar and garnish in a bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Allow to marinate 2 hours or longer. Arrange the tongue slices on a platter and serve cold.
*If you want to preserve the tongue-y bumps on the surface, cut carefully with a sharp knife. I found I got better results when I pulled the knife toward me rather than pushing it, for some reason. This recipe, which has several other interesting features and comes from a well-known Basque restaurant, suggests it will be easier to slice if it’s cold.