Tail & Tongue with Rich Red Wine Sauce
By now, ya’ll know this post is on a nasty tip. Doing this recipe, I didn’t necessarily learn anything new about cooking technique–it was surprisingly pedestrian–however, dealing with the ingredients was a truly unique experience. I probably wouldn’t have attempted this one quite yet if I hadn’t been stopping to say hello to a couple of butchers at pastaworks while they were cutting up a fresh half pig from tails & trotters. The trotter was just laying there on the butcher block, and I jokingly exclaimed give me that trotter!, not realizing that I meant it until it was being weighed on the scale, and wrapped-up tight in brown paper. In case you were curious, it cost me three bucks. Anyway, I didn’t know what I was going to do with it. You can work something out with 3 or 4 trotters, I figured, but one is a little trickier. It lay in the fridge and in the back of my mind for a day or two—I’d of hated for it to go to waste!—until I flipped to this recipe in The River Cottage Meat Book, and discovered that it called for, indeed, a single pig’s trotter! When I showed it to Gabrielle for the first time, she reacted quite similarly to the way you might (you could be cool with it, right?) be reacting to it right now—that is, with the heeby jeeby’s and a horrified shutter. Then I made her touch it.
After deciding to proceed with this recipe, I went out and discovered how naive I am. I thought it was going to be difficult to find an oxtail (which is really the tail of a cow, & yet), and a cow’s tongue. Mercy, me! All you have to do is ask if you cruise the places I hang. At Laurelhurst Market, they had as many as I needed! And there I was only needing of one of each. The butcher wrapped up my oxtail, and handed it to me, feeling in my hand like a rulers scepter, and then he handed me the tongue, which had an opposite effect with its misshapen contours, and clunky wield. This probably illuminates why I became confused when a co-worker later remarked that it looked like a sex toy; I thought she meant the oxtail. Oh my! So, at this point I still hadn’t seen or touched either of these curiosities, but they were in my possession. In case you were thinking that I’m crazy for even getting involved with this stuff—even though it may even upstage my post!—let me try to relate to you a segment from this book, titled The Professional Charcuterie Series by Marcel Cottenceau (if anyone wants to buy me this book as a present for being awesome, I’ve updated the ‘about’ page with my addy!) that the butcher shared with me. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: You start off by taking a whole pig’s head, and carefully remove the entirety of it’s face, snout and all, in one piece. Meanwhile, you’re going to want to have about 30 pig’s tongues braising in some sort of delicious aromatics, and when those are ready, you’re going to wrap them all individually in caul fat (basically sausage casing), and then proceed to build a kind of castle out of them, using fine-ground sausage as mortar. Next, you bring the pig’s face back into the equation, and stuff the tongue castle you just built into it, sew it up, and bake it. When it’s done, draw in a new pig’s face (eyes, rosy cheeks) with your best friends make-up (not tested on animals.) I think that you’re supposed to serve this in slices, nice big slices. This is the kind of gourmet shit they used to make when your parents were my age. That’s actually only about half the steps, now that I read it over. Anyway, it probably makes this cross-section of the oxtail look pretty tame:
Tail is surprisingly meaty
The ingredient list for this is pretty spare. It calls for the oxtail, cut into pieces, the cow’s tongue, and the pig’s trotter, as well as two carrots, two stalks of celery, two onions, a turnip, about half an orange worth of orange zest, some herbs (bay, thyme, parsley), and a bottle of red wine. Basically, you just chop up all the veggies, but them in a pot with the extremities, bring to a slight simmer, and hold it there for a good three hours or so. Braise it until you can pierce the tongue with a fork, and it slides in like nothing.
Once it’s all done braising, remove the trotter, the tail pieces, and the tongue, and set aside until they are cool enough to handle. In the meantime, strain the stock through a couple layers of cheese cloth through your strainer. Once its all strained add the stock to a clean pot, and pour in half the bottle of red wine. Crank the heat up to high and boil it rapidly, reducing to about a quarter of the volume, or even further if you prefer. For me, the real winner in this recipe is the reduced stock. It was absolutely delicious. I was just sitting in the kitchen, drinking it. Man, it was good. But, in any case, it’s going to take a while to reduce, so you’re going to need something to do. By now the oxtail should be cool. Dig in and pick all the bits and chucks of meat out of those lovely, lovely vessels, and set aside into a bowl. Next, peel the tongue.
(click on the picture to purchase your Meat Mustache Mug)
That’s right—you may have noticed the svelte white sheath encasing the tongue meat proper. Truthfully, you needn’t peel it, so much as shake it off. This was probably the most shocking aspect of this recipe for me, or ever, really. Using the tongue raised a lot of questions about tongues in general. You never realize what a complicated, and sophisticated instrument it is until you have held one in your hands, and touched the tastebuds; felt how equally smooth, and rough it is depending on the direction you stroke it. Then with the revelation of the sheath, and the minute striations visible in the cross-section. But, despite its strange, awkward beauty, you have to chop it up. This stage involves a bit of preference, but I discovered that I’m not really feeling big chunks of tongue, and like it a little more in much smaller pieces. The book calls for 3/4 of an inch dice. i found out that that’s crazy talk. I say go with like 1/10 of an inch. I’m just going to come clean: I thought the tongue was nasty.
This is the final product. The pig trotter imparts a vast amount of gelatin to the stock, and allows for the meat and stock to be set in a mold. Alternatively, it can be served hot with mashed potatoes. I tried it both ways, and they were equally *meh* to me, but some other people tried it cold, and *said* it was pretty good. Some people really dig this kind of preparation. I’ve never been a huge fan of meat in a jello mold, and making this didn’t change my mind.
However, making this dish became totally worthwhile for me after I pulled the pig’s trotter from stock. Long and smooth going in, it emerged from the braise gnarled and bunched into a tight fist, the bones bursting through skin and fat. Examining it, I found that it almost mirrored a sculpture by the artist John Chamberlain that Gabrielle and I saw while visiting the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX last winter. I don’t know if you can see it, but to me these two examples are basically identical–one made of steel and paint, the other of skin and bone. Truly strange and remarkable.