On Friday afternoon my host mother came home with a special package. A treat, she said. The makings of a great, big, fabulous Saturday lunch. She put a great big hunk of meat on the kitchen counter and told me to guess what it was. I didn’t like where this game was going. Guess The Meat games never seem to go well for anyone. I guessed anyway. Kidney, perhaps? Leg? “It comes from a cow,” she said. That hint didn’t help.
Isabelle decided to put me out of my misery. “C’est la langue de boeuf!” I suddenly wished I didn’t understand French and almost thought I didn’t. Cow tongue? Impossible. The piece of meat was bigger than my head and so, so round. I’d seen cows before and I didn’t think they could have tongues that big. I squeezed my own tongue between my teeth. It was so spongey. How would the tongue of another animal feel in my mouth? How would I handle that? How was she going to cook it?!
I had every ounce of faith in my host mother. I knew she would make la langue de boeuf into an edible and likely delicious meal. My host sister didn’t have as much faith. When she found out what her mother had planned for lunch, the gagging noises filled the house. But Isabelle deserved every ounce of confidence. She attacked the cow tongue with passion and an electric knife. I knew it would be a culinary adventure. My taste buds just weren’t sure what to expect.
I’m still not quite sure what la langue de boeuf tastes like and I’ve now had it for two meals. It doesn’t taste like beef or fish and it most certainly doesn’t taste like chicken. The texture is just so overwhelming that the taste is forgotten. Imagine chewing on someone else’s tongue. That’s what it feels like because that’s what it is.
During lunch yesterday, as I was trying to wrap my head around the taste of cow tongue, I thought about whether or not I could ever cook this meal for my family at home. I imagine my brother’s reaction would be even stronger than my host sister’s. He might refuse to eat it on principal alone. More than that, though, I think it would be hard to find cow tongue in the United States. I mean, it’s possible that butchers in Holland, Michigan cut and sell cow tongue and if that’s the case, there are probably people who buy it and cook it and eat it. I, however, have never seen this cut of beef in the freezer at Meijer.
Isabelle explained to me that she decided to cook la langue de boeuf in part because farmers have told her what a tough time they have selling non-steak-ready parts of cows. She told me she thinks it’s important to use all of the parts of the animals we raise to eat. It’s an incredible waste to raise a cow and then throw most of it away.
Okay, so I’d heard that before, I’d read it before, and I’d even thought and argued it before, but I had never done it before. I suddenly felt like such a foodie hypocrite. It’s one thing to read some books and feel like an activist, but it’s another to buy, cook, and eat cow tongue for Saturday lunch. Isabelle did that and she did an awesome job of it. I admired her so much all of a sudden–for making a pretty ambitious dish and for practicing her philosophy and for doing it so well!
La langue de boeuf was an adventure for me. I’m not sure I’ll ever have it again, but now I know a pretty good recipe for it, so I have no excuse not to try it when I get home to Michigan. Watch out, Donk family. Cow tongue coming at you.