I had been looking through a Mario Batali cookbook in March when it was still chilly and came across a recipe for warm lamb tongue vinaigrette, which looked terrific. Paper thin slices of tongue layered with chanterelles and garnished with a three-minute egg: an elevated presentation of an offal dish.
Tongue had been on my mind anyway, after a visit to DGS Delicatessen in Washington, D.C.. There tongue joins turkey, chopped liver, chicken cracklings and tomato on rye for the club sandwich at D.C.'s swishy take on a traditional Jewish deli.
Despite tongues on menus, I figured I wasn't going to readily find a gussied-up version of tongue here, so I decided to make it myself. I had been feeling guilty about eating out every meal and wanted to commit to a labor-intensive meal at home.
I called Wild Purveyors in Lawrenceville to special-order some lamb tongues.
"You should cook with goat," said Cavan Patterson, one of the proprietors.
I had never cooked with goat. His prompt did not convince me.
"It's very similar."
After a conversation about the flavors of lamb versus goat -- including Mr. Patterson's assertion that he prefers goat meat -- I embraced the challenge when he sold me nearly 20 tongues.
I felt like I was creating an homage to The Rolling Stones.
When I got home I cut off the weird muscles and glands under the tongue, kind of like the weird muscle on a scallop that you generally don't want to eat. Then I soaked them overnight so as to draw out any blood, so they'd taste less of iron. I changed the water once in the process.
Then I defected from Mr. Batali's version, prompted by a discussion with an out-of-town chef friend who suggested a warm potato salad from Thomas Keller's "Bouchon." I was intrigued by the mix of ingredients, as opposed to Mr. Batali's recipe that's predominantly meat.
A shopping trip the next day yielded stock from Marty's Market, fingerlings, beets, leeks and thyme.
Once I was home, I learned that cooking tongue requires some patience.
First, it has to braise for several hours until you can stick a knife through it. The nice thing about braising it in stock and aromatics is that the kitchen smells heavenly.
Then comes the tricky part. Once a tongue is ready, you have to peel the skin and tastebuds off the meat while it's still hot. It will come off as a solid sheet if you don't wait too long.
After scalding my hands a half dozen times, with the help of a towel and a paring knife, this took me a couple of minutes per tongue.
Then I sliced each tongue into medallions and set them aside.
In the meantime, I boiled and cooled fingerlings, prepped beets and mache. Then I assembled the salad with herbs, oil and sherry vinegar. When the tongues were done, I fanned them over the potato salad.
As terrific as this may have been, it's probably not the best initiation into how to cook goat.
"I give them a chop and tell people to salt and pepper it then throw it on the grill," said Mr. Patterson. "Do whatever you do to a lamb chop."
So I did that. It was much easier and took maybe 40 minutes, start to finish. Some of that was seasoning the goat and bringing it to room temperature.
After spending several months with goat, it's in my cooking loop.
My friends are entertained by this. Now I have various people sending me everything from goat recipes to Gawker articles such as, "Goat escapes slaughterhouse, captured on New Jersey Turnpike."
I've even had a friend buy me a tongue dog toy after I fed her the tongue salad. So now my dog runs around the house with a giant red tongue hanging out of her mouth.
My friend Alexi was curious about the name of the goat farm I talked to for this story. I imagined him telling his young son elaborate stories about goats growing up on a farm. I'd like to think that local goat farmer, Brad Thoma, is good to his goats until it's their turn to go. After all, the 24-year-old Butler native had been raising them in dog runs since he was 8.
This retelling for the food pages will likely inspire me to make goat chili or the roast leg of goat with spinach raita, from the forthcoming "The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook" (Andrews McMeel; June 4, 2013; $27.99) that my colleague Bob Batz Jr. left open on my keyboard.
Despite the hours-long process of peeling tastebuds and all, another round of tongue isn't out of the question, either.
Warm tongue and potato salad with warm vinaigrette
The original recipe calls for lamb tongue, but I used goat, with terrific results.
For the tongues
4 tongues (about 1 1/2 pounds)
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 generous cups of diced leeks
2 cups diced onion
1/4 cup diced carrots
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 cloves garlic, skin on
3 bay leaves
3 large thyme sprigs and 3 large Italian parsley sprigs, bundled
4 cups chicken stock
For the beets
4 baby beets
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and fresh ground pepper
2 teaspoons sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons minced shallots
2 teaspoons minced chives
For the potatoes
8 ounces fingerling potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 garlic cloves, skin on, smashed
For the mache
1 ounce mache
1 tablespoon chervil leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Trim away fat and glands on back of tongues. Place tongues in a bowl covered with cold water and refrigerate for 12 hours. Change soaking water periodically until it remains clear.
Heat oil over medium-high heat, in an oven-safe pot large enough to hold tongues in 1 layer. Add leeks, onion, carrot, salt, peppercorns, garlic, bay leaves and herb bundle, then lower heat and cook gently for 5 minutes to soften vegetables. Add tongues and chicken stock to the pot and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cut parchment for a lid, then cover pot with parchment and a tight-fitting lid and transfer to the oven. Cook for about 2 hours. Check tongues occasionally. They should be at a gentle simmer. Add water if need be to make sure they are covered.
Pierce 1 tongue with a small paring knife. It should be extremely tender throughout. If not, return to oven for a bit longer.
Remove tongues from liquid and place it in a bowl or other container. Strain liquid over tongues through a chinois strainer. Let tongues sit until cool enough to handle. Pull away and discard the skin surrounding tongues. Return to liquid and refrigerate overnight to let flavors mature.
For the beets: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Wash beets and trim stems, leaving about an inch attached. Place on a piece of aluminum foil and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Fold the foil into a packet and place in a small baking pan.
Roast for 40 to 50 minutes, until beets are tender, offering no resistance when pierced with a paring knife. Let them sit until they are cool enough to handle. Cut away and discard the stems. Cut each beet into 8 wedges.
For the potatoes: Combine potatoes, peppercorn, thyme, bay leaf and garlic in a large saucepan and cover with an inch of cold water. Season the water aggressively with salt. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 10 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Drain the potatoes in a strainer; season with garlic and herbs.
To complete: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Remove the tongues from the refrigerator and discard any fat that has risen to the top of the liquid. Remove the tongues from the liquid and dry on paper towels. Trim the tongues of excess tissue, squaring off the back end of the meat. If there are 2 small bones at the back of each tongue, remove and discard.
Starting at the base, slice into 1/4-inch thick slices. Arrange the tongue slices and the potatoes in a single layer in a large baking pan. Season with salt, olive oil and pepper. Heat in the oven for 2 to 3 minutes, long enough to warm through.
Toss the beets with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil, sherry vinegar, chives and shallots. Season with salt and pepper.
Arrange 8 beet wedges in the center of a serving plate. Intersperse tongue and potatoes to form a mound on each plate. Lightly toss the mache with chervil, a few drops of sherry vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil. Season with salt to taste. Arrange a small mound of mache over each salad and drizzle additional olive oil around the salads.
Makes 4 servings.
-- "Bouchon" by Thomas Keller (Artisan, 2004)
Roast leg of goat with spinach raita
6 cups buttermilk
6 garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6- to 7-pound, bone-in leg of goat
For the raita
1/2 cup chopped, cooked spinach
1/2 cup plain, nonfat Greek yogurt
6 tablespoons buttermilk
2 tablespoons golden raisins
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Stir together the buttermilk, garlic, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper in a baking dish large enough to hold the goat leg. Add the goat leg, turning to coat. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for as long as 24 hours, turning the leg a few times.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Remove the goat from buttermilk and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a large roasting pan and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 1 to 11/2 hours, until the internal temperature is 150 to 155 degrees for medium-rare. Allow the roast to rest, tented with aluminum foil, for 10 minutes.
While goat is roasting, make the raita. Mix spinach, yogurt, buttermilk, raisins, garlic, cumin, coriander and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
To serve, slice the goat thinly and serve with raita on the side.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
-- "The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook" by Diane St. Clair (Andrews McMeel; June 4, 2013; $27.99)
Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 and on Twitter: @melissamccart.