We consider heart and tongue to be delicacies. I don’t remember ever encountering these on a plate before we started raising and eating our own animals, but I had no problem learning to love them. Both are muscles, and don’t convey the strong innard-y smells and flavors that challenge my quest to love liver. However, as very specialized muscles, their textures differ from each other and those of other muscles, and so certain preparations are preferable.
The photos above show the tongue and heart of the goat kid featured in this series. For the preparations described here, I also used the heart and tongue of a second kid that we butchered on the same day.
In deciding how to handle the heart and tongue, I recalled some useful general meat advice in Joy of Cooking. Some muscles will be tender if cooked quickly & at high temperatures with dry heat; such cuts are mostly from muscles that don’t get heavy use, such as the backstrap or loin (the muscle on either side of the spine). Other muscles will only tenderize through long, slow cooking in moist heat; these tend to be well-used parts like leg. Common sense suggests which category heart and tongue fall into. The heart never rests, and goat tongues barely do: eating and cud chewing require nearly constant tongue action during a goat’s waking hours. These are active muscles, and so I concluded that a moist heat cooking method would be essential. This is Eric’s usual approach with such pieces; he brines them first, so I figured that I would as well.
The process of brining contributes salt and other flavors to meat, and it can help to produce results that are moist and tender. I used a brine based on Michael Ruhlman’s “All-Purpose Brine” in Charcuterie, but I scaled it down to an appropriate amount for the quantity of meat I had. I wasn’t yet sure exactly what direction I was going to take this meal, so I went with aromatics that were readily available. Here’s what I used:
- 1 quart water
- ¼ cup salt (I used canning & pickling salt)
- 2 Tbl sugar
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed but not peeled
- a few sprigs of winter savory and sage, freshly harvested
- green sprouts from some sprouting yellow-potato onions
I brought this to a boil, then cooled it to lukewarm before combining it with the two hearts & tongues in a half-gallon jar. Brining for too long can result in too salty meat, so after 6 hours in the refrigerator I drained off the liquid, noting the nice smell from the aromatics.
Braising the heart
I spent considerable time looking at recipes and see-sawing back and forth on exactly what direction to take this meal. Most recipes I found involved some kind of brown sauce or gravy, but that’s not what I wanted to eat, so I ended up letting the refrigerator dictate the result. We had a couple of items that had come from the freezer, were fully thawed, and needed to be used; these included a roasted tomato pepper sauce (Rick Bayless-style), as well as part of a quart of sweet corn. The vaguely Mexican theme suggested by these ingredients didn’t quite go with the sage/winter savory flavors of the brine, but I shrugged and decided to use what needed to be used.
Improvisation is highly compatible with braising, so I proceeded based on the general outline for that technique provided by two fine books on cooking that I had read in the last year or so: Michael Pollan’s Cooked and Kathleen Flinn’s The Kitchen Counter Cooking School. They both summarize the braising technique, which is roughly as follows:
• Brown the meat: I cut the hearts in half, trimmed fat, dried them off, and browned them in a frying pan with a bit of chicken fat over medium heat. I transferred these to an oven-proof dish.
• Saute some aromatics: I chopped a medium yellow onion, sautéed on medium-high until starting to brown.
• Add something liquid-y: I added about a cup or two of the tomato-pepper sauce, and heated until nice and warm.
• Combine everything in an oven proof dish and let it cook for a nice long while: I poured the sauce over the heart pieces in an oven-proof dish, put on a lid, and put that into the oven at 325ºF.
Above left: Browning the heart halves. Right: Cooking the onions, then adding the sauce.
Above left: Everything goes into a pan in the oven. Right: I added defrosted sweet corn later in the process.
Boiling the tongue
The tongue has an outer membrane that needs to be peeled off, so the basic technique of brown it & throw it in a braise isn’t quite compatible with that. Recipes for tongue pretty much universally call for boiling. So I did. I’ll admit to having cooked tongue before, since I’m slightly more likely than Eric to say, “Hey, isn’t this interesting piece of animal supposed to be edible? Let’s try it.” But Eric had more or less taken over the tongue cooking again, once it became a standard thing to do every time we processed a goat or deer.
I simmered the tongues in lightly salted water for about 20 minutes (based on advice from a source that I now forget). Then I transferred the tongue to cold water for a brief chilling before (attempting to) peel the tongues. Sometimes peeling goes well, and the outer white membrane comes off with virtually no effort. Not this time; I basically shaved it off with a knife. Eric & I still haven’t figured out why tongues sometimes peel easily and sometimes they don’t, but he thinks that longer cooking often helps. Now that I look back at various cookbooks, most sources suggest longer cooking times (though they also call for larger tongues). Some advice says to chill the tongue very briefly, just enough to be able to handle it, and that is supposed to help with peeling. But Eric has had some peel beautifully that have chilled for a long time.
Although they were annoying to peel, and not very pretty after, this inconvenience didn’t really matter as far as eating is concerned. I quartered one tongue and added it to the heart braise in the oven, and the other I sliced to feature and savor, cold-cut style.
I may not be an expert at cooking tongue, but I can offer this piece of advice. When preparing tongue, keep any feline friends out of the kitchen. After all, what would you say if the cat got your tongue?
I pulled the braise out of the oven after about a couple of hours of cooking, and served it alongside the tongue slices with slices of leftover baked potato.
The braise made it clear why braises deserve praises. The flavor of the sauce was rich and complex, with the juices from the meat flavoring the sauce in a way that just doesn’t happen in vegetarian cooking. We even tasted the cooked sauce side by side with a little bit of the leftover original roasted tomato-pepper sauce that was still in the refrigerator, and this comparison made it clear just how much the mingling of the meat and veggies in the oven resulted in a better balanced and rather extraordinary flavor.
The herbs from the brine did infuse thoroughly into the meat, and the sage flavor was a bit jarring in contrast to the vaguely Mexican-style sauce. If I had a full plan when I had started the brine, I would have omitted the herbs or used something like oregano that might have paired better with the tomato/pepper theme. This is a secondary level of critique, though, and we both agreed that the results were quite delicious overall.
The tongue was delicious, too. The herb-brined approach certainly worked well for the tongue slices served with potato. Tongue has a unique texture that doesn’t appeal to everyone, but Eric & I quite enjoy it. It’s a rarity on our table, since we serve only the meat we butcher, and the tongue is a pretty small piece. When it comes down to it, we just love the taste of heart and tongue.