Tongue and Greens Casserole

That’s right, tongue.

No mid-century ingredient conjures as strong a contradictory reaction as beef tongue.  Not even the venerable liver and onions dish can bring to life memories of pungent savoriness so deeply burned into our psyches like some Darwinian survival instinct as tongue does.  At once a vivid memory of our mothers’ or grandmothers’ home cooking, and at the same time a repulsive thing to behold in it’s original form.

Nothing says 1950s like the casserole, and this book is chock full of them. The cover of the 1956 Culinary Arts Institute cookbook.

Perhaps it’s the fault of modern butchery, where we’re only exposed to the sterilized styrofoam packages of neatly wrapped packages of flesh.  There’s no connection to the original animal, and it makes us feel better that way.  When was the last time you had to butcher your own cow or pluck your own chicken?  And God knows Costco would sell a lot less chicken if it came with head and feet still attached.

Traditionally  a poor person’s meat, tongue ranks up there with brains, cheeks, tripe and trotters (pig’s feet), as affordable sources of protein.  People have been eating tongue as long as they’ve been eating cows, and you can find the organ in mexican food (tongue tacos!), Jewish cuisine (pickled, roasted and boiled), and other eastern European menus.    And now even haute cuisine restaurants are serving inexpensive cuts like tongue.  Hey, if you’re killing the animal anyway, don’t let anything go to waste!

Although I haven’t cooked it yet myself (I’ll have to swallow my tongue for that one), I hear it can be as flavorful and tender as other pieces of meat, if prepared correctly.  So before you get all high and mighty, consider this recipe to fill the stomaches of your hungry children and husbands.

This recipe was written by the ambiguously named author “Staff Home Economists” of the Culinary Arts Institute from the not-so-ambiguous book titled “The Casserole Cookbook”, 1956.  But after you read through these recipes you might have a better understanding as to why these home economists chose to keep their names out of print.

I haven’t been able to verify the current status of the Culinary Arts Institute (not to be confused with the Culinary Institute of America–CIA) and if it went out of business or was bought out by someone like LeCordon Bleu. In any case, this little 68 pager is packed with all kinds of classic casseroles.

The casserole itself is a relatively modern invention of time-saving housewives, although records of meals cooked and served in the same earthenware dish date back to the early 18th century, and some braziers have even been found in Ancient Greek ruins.  The name is believed to be derived from the French “cassoulet,” a cookware that is used in the oven and for serving.

"Ya know what really tastes good? Tongue."

Also of note here is the use of monosodium glutamate, a classic flavor enhancer popularized in the 1950s and 60s as a miracle of modern science.  Like asbestos, DDT, agent orange and leaded gasoline prove (not to mention artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin), chemistry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  Adverse health effects can result from ingesting MSG, so why not just stick with regular salt?

Feelin’ hungry?

TONGUE AND GREENS

To Cook Tongue–Wash thoroughly in warm water: 1 fresh beef or veal tongue

Cover and simmer in water to cover with:

2 tablespoons salt

1/2 teaspoon monosodium glutamate

1 onion

Cook (about 1 hour per lb.) until tender.  Slit skin on under side of tongue and peel it off.  Cut away roots and gristle.  Cool tongue in cooking liquid if not used immediately; drain.  Store in refrigerator.

For Casserole–grease a 1 1/2 qt. casserole.  Slice enough of the cooked tongue (3/4 to 1 lb.) to line bottom and sides of casserole.  Line casserole with tongue and set casserole aside.

Wash, cook and chop:

2 pounds greens such as spinach, chard or tender beet tops (or use  two 12-oz. pkgs. frozen spinach; cook according to directions.)

Meanwhile, panbroil: 4 slices of bacon.  Crumble and set aside.

Heat slowly in skillet until onions are transparent, stirring occasionally:

2 tablespoons bacon drippings

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

Using a fork, gently combine greens, onion, crubled bacon and:

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon prepared horse-radish

dash of pepper

Lightly pile greens in tongue-lined casserole.  Sprinkle over top:

1/2 cup buttered bread crumbs

Bake at 350 degrees 20 to 25 min., or until crumbs are browned.

How easily satisfied we were back then. Fashionistas take note: eating tongue is definitely an occasion to wear a bow tie.

Please share your favorite tongue memories–I’d love to hear them.  Cheers!

UPDATE:

For the first time I ate a tongue taco!  Or, more accurately, lengua.  It tasted fine, and was tender.  But seeing taste buds in the tortilla was a little strange….

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