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Pickled Tongue Recipe

Pickled Tongue Recipe

May 28th, 2012  · stk

Growing up in Bakersfield, California meant eating Basque food. Why? Because the Basque followed the sheep at the turn of the 20th century and Basque boardinghouses were clustered down by the old Bakersfield train station. One of the things we ate was pickled cow tongue. Not tried it? Just head down to your local grocer (or butcher), buy a tongue and use the easy "Randsco Basque Pickled Tongue Recipe" herein! You'll either love it or hate it, but either way ... it'll be a culinary conversation piece!

Basque Pickled Cow Tongue Recipe

Randsco Basque Pickled Tongue Recipe

When you think of appetizers, most don't think of pickled cow tongue. Heck, if you've spent any time around cows, you know what they use that long tongue of theirs for - picking their nose! Eating that nose-picking thing doesn't sound very appetizing at all!

But it is! Pickled cow tongue may be an acquired flavor, but because I grew up in Bakersfield, California - it's a dish I've learned to love!

If you too, love pickled tongue, or are a brave soul eager to try a new Basque delicacy, I'm happy to say, "You've come to the right place!" We have an authentic (and easy) Basque Pickled Tongue recipe for you to try.

Bakersfield Basque & Noriega's Hotel

In the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, there was in influx of immigrants to the United States ? Basque sheepherders came from the Pyrenees mountain region, between France and Spain, on the Atlantic coast. They came to tend flocks of sheep and lived fairly solitary lives, settling mostly in the west, from Southern California all the way up into Idaho.

The Basque culture and cuisine has been well persevered in some of these areas. The authentic Basque restaurants that remain were once Basque boarding houses, built to serve as a home-away-from-home for immigrant sheepherders. Hotels served as boarding houses, social centers and informal banks to the Basque community. They were full-service operations where the difficult Basque language was both spoken and understood, and where a sheepherder could find a job, property or even a spouse, since young female immigrants often worked as hotel staff.

Growing up in Bakersfield, California, my family often ate dinner at one of several Basque restaurants, some of which remain today. One of the more authentic is Noriega’s Hotel. It opened as the Iberia Hotel in 1893, undergoing a name change to Noriega's in 1906. Noriega’s is the only Basque boarding house in the western U.S. that has stuck to their traditional ways ? they still rent to boarders and everyone eats at the same time for lunch and dinner, at family-style communal tables.

Noriega's Hotel, Bakersfield, California

Noriega’s was one of only five restaurants to be honored with the prestigious “America Classics” Award in 2011. This award is given by the James Beard Foundation to restaurants with timeless appeal, that serves quality food that reflects the character of their community.

American Basque food is amazingly hearty fare, with meals often consisting of a dozen or more courses. Dinner at Noriega’s is no exception. It consists of a traditional "set up", which includes tureens of cabbage soup, bowls of beans, spicy Basque tomato salsa, platters of thinly-sliced, pickled cow tongue, cottage cheese with mayonnaise, boiled vegetables in a white sauce, a fresh, lettuce salad made with an oil & vinegar dressing and sour dough French bread, brought in from the Pyrenees Bakery just around the corner. And this is just “the setup”!

The entrée varies daily, but may include a tureen of lamb, beef or ox-tail stew, a plate of boiled spaghetti in tomato sauce, hand-cut French fries, cooked vegetables and finally, a main meat course which may include steak, prime rib, roast leg of lamb or fried chicken. As if this isn’t enough, the meal closes out with big wedges of blue cheese and sherbet ice cream. The meal also includes House red wine to drink.

All this food is fairly reasonably priced at $20, which includes tax. Children are uniquely priced at $1 per year up to age 12. Dinner starts promptly at 7 PM and reservations are recommended for busy Friday and Saturday nights.

Canadian Pickled Cow's Tongue

There aren’t any Basque restaurants in our small Canadian community on Vancouver Island and every once in a while, I get a hankering for some of my favorite Basque food. Pickled cow tongue tops my list!

When I found out that one of my firefighter friends raises and butchers his own cows, I asked him what he did with the tongue meat.

”I usually fry it up and feed it to my dogs,” he admitted.

”Oh my,” I thought! Of course, this was a Basque crime and I relayed the story of growing up in Bakersfield and running into Basque sheepherders while riding motorcycles in the foothills of East Bakersfield, traditional Basque family-style restaurants and how my Dad and I used to fight over the pickled cow's tongue! To his credit, he was game to give it a try.

So last year, when he slaughtered two cows, he gave me both of the tongues. My mom sent me her Basque pickled cow tongue recipe and I made some pickled tongue. I took the pickled tongue over to a summer pot-luck party and although Brian liked, the rest of his family (and most of the other guests) didn’t. Seems they couldn't wrap their head around the idea of eating cow tongue.

This, of course, is fine by me (Brian and few others) since “there’s more for us to enjoy!”

I’m completely happy sharing this recipe and posting gross pictures making the pickled cow tongue. I find that people generally fall into one of three categories, when it comes to Basque pickled cow tongue:

  1. They try it and “love it”.
  2. They try it to be brave and "don't love it".
  3. They refuse to try it because the thought of eating cow tongue is too distaste ful.

I’m happy with all three, although it did annoy me when I discovered that my 7-year-old daughter “loves pickled tongue” too. Kind of the same way it annoys me that she loves olives. It would be so much easier if I was the only person in our household that loved olives, pickled tongue, smoked salmon and a number of other delectables … (the whole “more for me” things applies)!

So ... slip your wife some tongue ... see if she likes it!

Randsco Basque Pickled Tongue Recipe

Preparing Basque Pickled Cow Tongue

Click a pic to start the show

  • Cow Tongue at the Market
  • Cooked Cows Tongue
  • Peeling a Cow Tongue
  • Cooked, Peeled & Cooled Tongue
  • Pickled Tongue Ingredients
  • Slicing the Cow Tongue
  • A Batch of Pickled Tongue
  • Noriega's Pickled Tongue & Beans

Randsco Basque Pickled Tongue


  • 1 beef tongue
  • 1 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 3/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 4-6 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 tsp salt
  • pepper to taste


  • Ingredients to boil with tongue meat (see directions)
  • Substitute rice vinegar for red wine vinegar
  • Substitute 50/50 parsley & chive for parsley
  • Add a few drops of Tabasco sauce
  • Add 1/2 cup of Ortega chilies (chopped)
  • Add 1 medium onion, thinly sliced
  • Add 2 teaspoons of Worcestershire sauce



Rinse tongue, place in a large pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 2-3 hours. (If you like, you can add the following ingredients and reserve the water as beef stock for soup: 3-4 Bay leaves, 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, 3-4 garlic chopped garlic cloves, medium sliced onion).

Remove cooked tongue and plunge into cold water. Remove when it is cool enough to handle, gently peel away the skin and any visible fat. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge to cool, overnight.

Make the marinade from the ingredient list, including any optional items. Remove the cooled, firm, cooked tongue from the fridge and slice as thinly as possible (using an electric meat slicer is ideal, but not necessary). Arrange thin-sliced tongue meat in a shallow glass or seal-able plastic container. Cover with the marinade and refrigerate for 1-3 days, turning occasionally. Arrange marinated meat onto a serving platter. Enjoy!


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1.flag Geovannie Comment
Thanks for sharing your recipe and awesome story. I'm originally from Bakersfield too. I currently reside in Hawaii and definitely in severe withdrawals for pickled tongue! I can't find beef tongue on Oahu. I'll be visiting Bakersfield next month and definitely plan on having dinner at Noriegas, woo hoo!
One of my biggest goals is to make pickled tongue at my mom's and I'll be using your recipe. It's going to be one of my hi-lites of my trip. Looking forward to going home! Many Mahalos for your insight~~ Aloha!
2.flag stk Comment
Aloha Geovannie,

I was just back in Bako for the first time in ages (1999) this last November (for a HS reunion). I had some pickled tongue at Luigis. (To be honest, mine was better! ... tasted very vinegar-y)

Let me know how it turns out for you! (Still looking for a supply of cheap tongue meat here in Nanaimo).
3.flag Cyndy Comment
How do you store the pickled tongue? How long can you store it? Can you freeze it? I'm not sure one person can eat a whole tongue!
4.flag stk Comment
Cyndy - You must not be a pickled tongue lover. My problem isn't storing it, it's refraining from eating it! LOL (I keep mine in the fridge and nibble on it for a week or so ... I *try* to make it last longer, but it just keeps disappearing!) :p
5.flag Tom Comment
I used to live in Quebec and it's a common bar food. I've never known a supermarket there not to stock pickled tongue in jars. Now I live in California and have never seen it. I'm going to try your recipie and see if it is what I remember. Cheers.
6.flag Billk Comment
Since I grew up in Taft, 30 miles away, and Noriega's is my favorite restaurant in the world, I'm really glad to see this recipe.

Sometimes the farmers at the Farmer's Market have cheap offal, including my favorite tongue, liver, and oxtails.
7.flag Billk Comment
Well, my daughter bought 1/8 cow and gave me the tongue. Yippee, skippee! A big tongue, I pickled the tip part and put the rest into a basque tongue stew (google it). It's really good, too!,1502281

It was just as good as I remember from Noriega's although I didn't slice as thinly.

I put it and the pickle into a gallon freezer bag and flop it from time to time, keeping the sealed end folded up.

It's about two weeks now, (we're eatinging sparingly) and it's good as ever. (Remeber, it's pickled; how long does your jar of pickled turkey gizzards last?)
8.flag Rob Comment
I bought a tongue today for dinner tonight. Things got in the way. Now it's too late in the day to cook it, so I put it away, and thought I'd look up pickled tongue.

Up popped your site, and this tongue will be pickled!

When I was a kid we had friends in Shafter, near Bakersfield, and we often went to Noriegas or The Wool Growers for dinner.

This was 50 years ago and the pickled tongue always started things off.

This is what is on the agenda for tomorrow. The batch of homebrew just got bumped!

I can't wait!
9.flag stk Comment
Rob - Lucky you! (I'm still trying to find a source for tongue here in Nanaimo, Canada!) LOL

You just made my mouth water, thinking about eating some pickled tongue!
10.flag Ginger Comment
Looking forward to trying this as our 1/2 beef is almost ready for pickup from the butcher & I made sure to ask for the tongue. I grew up enjoying pickled tongue in Bakersfield too, but at Wool Growers, yum!
11.flag CBailey Comment
Been away from my hometown for way to long. Wool Growers and Noriegas were always the place to be. Mom always made us try something new we had never had. When the pickled tongue came around I took my obligatory sample and much to my surprise it was fantastic! Mom been gone now for some time but I've never forgotten her rendition of this fantastic dish. I've had the urge to make this and was blown away to find this site! Can't wait to try it with some wine and sourdough bread. Pyrenees bread, that's what I need...
12.flag stk Comment
Ginger & CBailey,

It's been a few years since I made this - one of my last blog posts - and I'm STILL looking for a local supplier of beef tongue.

Mind you, Pink salmon are on offer for $0.27 per 100 grams at the grocer ... so there's plenty of delectables here (Pink salmon smoke up very nicely and who doesn't like smoked salmon?)


I hope all your Bakersfield pickled tongue dreams come true!
13.flag CBailey Comment
STK I'm back to make another batch of tongue. This is a great recipe but added some fresh dried basil and a bit of cayenne.
I looked at many recipes for tongue and never seen one with oil. They don't know what they're missing!
14.flag stk Comment
CBailey - Jealous of your second batch. I'll have to add basil &/or Cayenne to the mix! Let us know how it works out.

As for oil ... huh? We go off of an old Basque recipe. What are others using?

Simple. Pure. Yummy!
15.flag CBailey Comment
All I've seen is vinegar based no oil. Unbelievable!
16.flag stk Comment
Does seem odd. I believe that the olive oil is an essential ingredient that imparts that "authentic" Basque flavour. Because the Basque area is what I'd consider "Mediterranean", I would suspect olive oil would be readily available and a common ingredient.
17.flag Cindy Comment
I am another displaced Bakersfield native. Thank you for posting this recipe. I miss Basque food so much. Can't get it in Texas.