On The Range: Lengua

On The Range is a weekly exploration of the history and lore of Texas menu items.

Nobody gets tongue tied when the subject is, um, tongue.

Writing in the Weekly Volcano (Tacoma and Olympia Washington's "only edgy, irreverent, and thought-provoking alternative newsweekly") Jake and Jason de Paul relate their encounter with lengua at Taqueria La Carreta much like sixteen-year old boys describing their Friday night success stories:

"Jason: Eating an animal's tongue seems to me the highest level of carnivorous consumption imaginable. I ordered cuatro lengua tacos. Beef and pork were also available, but that's like choosing the mild-mannered brunette over the fiery-eyed redhead. Cradled along with chopped raw onion and cilantro in corn tortillas, it beheld the most tender, juicy, fatty meat I have ever had the pleasure of noshing. It rivaled slow-cooked pot roast at Grandma's. My tongue hit that tongue, and it just surrendered, falling apart."

"Jake: Hmmmm, that sounds like how you acted on your first date with your wife."

Yeah. And besides, it's hard to imagine anyone "noshing" tongue. Chewing, gnawing, eating, yes--but not noshing.

Beef tongue is popular around the world: Belgium, England, Germany, Portugal, Russia, and Romania, and so on.

{eople in Latin American countries love to eat lengua as well, and some preparations can be quite extensive.

In The Complete Book of Caribbean Cooking, Elisabeth Lambert Ortiz provides a Dominican recipe for Lengua Rellena, or stuffed tongue, which involves boiling the beef for five minutes, then slowly simmering for two hours. She then stuffs the tongue with garlic, finely chopped onion, ham, carrot, salt, pepper, capers, tomato, raisins, "and enough bread crumbs to hold the mixture together." Finally, she sautes the meat, adds vinegar, onion, tomato paste, oregano, bay leaf, and reserved stock, and simmers for one hour, adding potatoes during the last thirty minutes.

This recipe serves six to eight, depending on how many guests have grown tired of the lengthy preparation time and taken their leave without dining.

In Mexico, of course, lengua is often employed as a filling for tacos and burritos. In The Tex-Mex Cookbook, Robb Walsh bypasses the stove in favor of the much more convenient crockpot. He notes, "Lengua is much easier to make than barbacoa and the flavor is just as good. Just put the tongue in a crockpot on Saturday night and you'll have lengua tacos on Sunday morning."

Or better still, have a restaurant like Taqueria La Paloma make them and save yourself the trouble. Just order a taco plate with three tacos of your choice, including pastor, chorizo, bistek, chicken, or lengua, and you'll be all set. Served with rice and beans and two very good salsas, La Palomas tacos might not be quite as memorable as that first date, but they are certainly good enough to speak for themselves.

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Chris Meesey