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Pickled Tongue Recipe
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!
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 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:
- They try it and “love it”.
- They try it to be brave and "don't love it".
- 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
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!