New Year's Eve has always been a problematic holiday for me. Honestly, by the time I've made it through Thanksgiving, several rounds of Christmas parties, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day celebrations, my digestive track is uttering a sigh of relief that the season of gluttony is almost over with New Year's.
Don't get me wrong, I do love New Year's because I love the ideas of a new start, wiping the slate clean, and starting a new year with the right foot and the best intentions. Since I've been on an academic schedule my whole life, I've come to really appreciate the week between Christmas and New Year's as sort of a magical week to reflect upon the whole year. I've made it a yearly ritual to read through all my journal entries of the year, the blog entries, and to write and reflect on what I've accomplished this year and what I hope for the next. I also fess up to last year's resolutions triumphs and failures.
But, all this reflection still does not solve the problem of what to do on New Year's Eve, when frankly drinking too much (or eating too much) sounded awful. This is not to say that we weren't a little bit tempted to ring in the new year at Revolver, devouring a multi-course dinner of exquisitely prepared local food paired with all the best wines. However, last year when we were in Omaha, we had an extravagant tasting menu dinner with wine pairings at The Boiler Room, and I was so disgustingly full and tipsy after that, I went to bed at 10 pm. Kent woke me up to get his kiss at the stroke of midnight.
As I read through everything I wrote in 2010, the theme of simplicity kept coming up again and again. Last year, I made the resolution to not be such a perfectionist, and as a result, I was more productive in everything I did from cooking to writing. At times, I was so productive I stretched myself thin and had too many pots on the metaphorical stove. So for 2011, I want to work on simplifying my entire life. Simplicity in the kitchen is hard for me as much as I love cooking complicated 25 ingredient recipes. But, at the same time, I 've realized that the effort isn't necessarily worth the output. I overwhelm myself with too many complicated cooking projects and have a pantry stocked with 9 different kinds of rice and 5 different kinds of salt. Another foodie resolution I have, is to eat through my freezer and pantry before the 2011 canning season begins. (So be prepared for some recipes using ingredients dredged up from storage in the coming weeks.)
From all this reflection, I figured out the perfect dish to make for New Year's Eve. Pickled Cow's Tongue. I've had a cow's tongue moldering away in my freezer for the past year. (It was a Christmas present in fact. When you're a foodie, with foodie friends, you tend to get some interesting presents, like offal and duck fat.) Ever since I tasted Chef Michael Bulkowski's Pickled Cow's Tongue at Revolver this fall (I've had it three times since), I've fallen hard for it. In fact, I ate Pickled Cow's Tongue on the night of my 5 year wedding anniversary, and again the night we celebrated my new job at BGSU in the General Studies Writing department. So, it seemed fitting to end the year with this landmark dish AND to honor my my resolution of cleaning out the freezer.
|For the squeamish, the skin, and therefore the taste buds, are removed before eating.|
Tongue is rich, but if prepared improperly can be tough, stringy, and grisly (such as some langua tacos I choked down in a sub-par Mexican restaurant). Not so with Bulkowski's cow's tongue. It was sliced thin, across the grain (not to mention well-trimmed), and literally was melt-in-your-mouth quality. Served with a soft boiled egg, a bit of lemon juice-dressed arugula, and some roasted beets, this was a dish of delicately composed balance. Hmm. Sort of like the balance of simplicity I'm trying to strike in my life. No? I was so enthralled by the dish, that when we ended up shutting the restaurant down that night, I introduced myself to the chefs (who by this time were sitting around the bar drinking beer), and they gave me a verbalized crash course in tongue cooking.
Here's what I came up with:
Pickled Cow's Tongue
Serves 8 as an appetizer or 4 as an entree
Feel free to change the accompaniments here. For instance, you could 86 the soft-boiled egg without major repercussions if you wanted a less rich dish, and even the beet for that matter if you really wanted to simplify. However, the arugula and lemon are key. The tongue is unctuous and rather fatty in such a way that the peppery arugula and lemon juice cut through it and balance the flavors nicely. I also imagine that the pickled tongue would be amazing in a sandwich with a bit of arugula and mustard. One final note, while this seems complicated because there are so many parts to it, each individual item is prepared simply and roasting the beets can be done ahead of time.
For the Pickling Brine:
1 beef tongue
3 cups water + water for cooking
1 cup cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon coarse Kosher salt (if using regular tablesalt increase the amount of salt slightly)
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns, slightly crushed
1/4 teaspoon whole mustard seed, slightly crushed
For the Accompaniments:
1/2 to 3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 baguette, sliced
2 small beets, peeled
2 handfuls of arugula
juice of 1/2 a lemon
To prepare the tongue:
Place tongue in large stockpot and cover with water. Simmer for 4 hours. Watch that the tongue does not go to a hard boil, as it could be tough if boiled too hard. Add more water as needed. When the tongue is cooked, remove to cutting board and let cool until cook enough to handle.
Meanwhile, combine 3 cups water, vinegar, salt, bay leaves, peppercorns and mustard seeds in a pot and heat to a simmer. Remove from heat.
Peel skin off of tongue. Slice tongue crosswise into thin (1/4 inch thick) pieces. Trim any grisly parts around the edges. Place tongue slices in a non-reactive container, pour brine over, cover, and refrigerate at least overnight or for up to one day.
To prepare the accompaniments:
Wrap beets individually in aluminum foil and roast for about 30-45 minutes at 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, brush baguette slices with melted butter or olive oil and bake in oven with beets for about 10 to 15 minutes or until slightly crisp, turning once.
Prepare soft boiled eggs. In a pot, cover eggs with water by at least one inch. On medium heat, heat eggs until water just begins to simmer. Meanwhile, prepare a bowl of ice water for eggs. Once eggs come to a simmer, remove from heat and cover for EXACTLY 2 minutes. Then, drain, and transfer eggs to ice water. Wait a few minutes for them to cool, and then peel as normal.
Finally, remove tongue slices from brine. Heat butter in skillet over medium heat. Fry tongue slices in butter until brown, about 2 minutes each side.
Plate with accompaniments and squeeze arugula with lemon just before serving.