Historical Food Fortnightly #14 Fear Factor: Neat’s Tongue

The Challenge: “What foods have you always wanted to attempt, but were afraid to attempt to make – or afraid to eat?  Choose a dish that is either tricky to create or nerve-wracking to eat, and get adventurous!  It’s historical Fear Factor!”

The Recipe: “Neat’s Tongue” from The Economical Cook and Frugal Housewife. A New System of Domestic Cookery, by Mary Holland

The Date/Year and Region: Early 19th century (1812) Europe.

How Did You Make It: Boiled the tongue alone, then mixed it with the other ingredients.

Time to Complete: Three to four hours total.

Total Cost: This is the most expensive challenge to date.  The tongue was $19, plus another $8 or so for the beef for the gravy.  I’d say the total was about $30-$35.

How Successful Was It?: It depends on how you define success.  Yes and no; read on.

How Accurate Is It?:  100%.

Raw Beef Tongue

I’m late, again, but December has been a very busy month so far and, well, life gets in the way of the best laid plans sometimes.  BUT I’m only late in posting, I did complete the challenge in time, albeit on the last day of the challenge period. But alas, better late than never.

The very first time I read about the Fear Factor challenge, I knew I was going to make beef tongue.  I chose tongue for a variety of reasons, but the main two were my aversion to offal, and the availability of offal in my area.  I have held a life-long disgust towards organ meat, and while some of it is unfounded, as in, I haven’t tried most of it, I do have some basis for this.  In my childhood, I did try liver, and I hated it.  Then I tried it again as a young adult and still hated it.  Ergo, in a totally irrational way of course, I hate all offal and organ meat.  I almost convulse at the thought of eating black pudding, or steak and kidney pie, or insert-your-favorite-nasty-here.  Cooking these things, and eating them, falls squarely in the Fear Factor for me.  The deciding factor as to which one to choose came down to availability.  My local supermarkets carry beef tongue, chitterlings, tripe, and liver.  I had tried liver, so that was out, and of the remaining three, tongue was the least offensive-sounding; and so tongue won.

So, I brought this hunk of tongue home and opened it up.  Raw, it doesn’t actually look that terrible, but once boiled, it is the ugliest thing I have ever laid eyes on.  To make it worse, I have touched few things more unpleasant than the top of a raw cow’s tongue.  But, like a good little soldier, I kept at it, but before I go into my reaction to the finished dish, let’s look at the recipe.

The recipe is from a book called The Economical Cook and Frugal Housewife. A New System of Cookery, by one Mary Holland.  It looks like later editions of the book went by a slightly different name, The Complete Economical Cook , and Frugal Housewife. An Entirely New System of Domestic Cookery, and if you download the book from Google Books, it has both name plates, which is a bit confusing.  It is actually two recipes, one for the tongue and one for the gravy called for in the recipe.  First, the recipe for the tongue:

Neat’s Tongue

Cover it with water, and let it simmer two hours. Peel, and put it back in the liquor again, with pepper,
salt, mace, cloves, and whole pepper, tied in a bit of fine cloth; a few capers, chopped turnips, carrots sliced
half a pint of beef gravy, a little white wine, and some sweet herbs.  Stew it gently til tender; take out the spices
and sweet herbs, and thicken it with butter rolled in flour.

Quantities, aside, this recipe is surprisingly comprehensive, which, as a recipe redactor, is always nice to see.  Unlike baking, cooking is very forgiving when it comes to seasonings, so I don’t worry as much.  I use what feels right and re-season as I go, but that is also the way I cook non-historical recipes.  One thing I did differently than explicitly stated in the recipe was salt the boiling water.  I don’t know why it was left out but I felt it really needed to be boiled in at least lightly salted water. Here is the redacted tongue recipe:

Beef Tongue Stew

1 beef tongue
1 tsp salt for the boiling
12 cup white wine
10 fl oz beef gravy (ended up being all of the gravy I made from the recipe below)
14 tsp ground pepper
14 tsp ground mace
2 tsp capers, drained
salt to taste
2 whole cloves
12 tsp whole peppercorns
1 spring rosemary
1 spring thyme
2 sage leaves
4 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 turnips, peeled and chopped
2 tbsp salted butter
3 tbsp all purpose flour

Wash the tongue under running water; place it in a large stockpot with enough water to completely cover it.  Add 1 teaspoon of salt.  Bring to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium and cook for two hours, skimming any foam that raises to the surface.  You should turn the tongue every half hour or so after the water starts to boil down to ensure even cooking.  After the two hours are up, remove the tongue from the stockpot, reserving the liquid, and immediately rinse under cold running water.  The tongue must still be hot enough to peel the skin, but not so hot that it will burn you.  Carefully, peel the skin off the tongue, making sure it is completely clean.

Transfer the tongue to a cutting board, slice off the underside of the back of the tongue, which contains quite a bit of connective tissue.  Discard. Cut the tongue into thick slices, and set aside.

Add the wine, beef gravy, ground pepper and ground mace, capers, and salt to what remains of the boiling liquid.  In a small piece of cheesecloth combine the cloves, peppercorns, rosemary, thyme, and sage. Tie with kitchen twine into a small bundle and add to the liquid.  Add the carrots, turnips, and tongue slices.  Cook on medium low heat until the vegetables are tender.

Remove the herb bundle and discard.  With a slotted spoon, remove the solids from the stew and place in a serving dish.  Cut the butter into small cubes and add to the sauce.  Dilute the flour into a small amount of water and add a tablespoon or so of the sauce to it to temper it; add to the sauce and cook, stirring, until it thickens.  When the sauce has thickened, pour over the tongue and vegetables in the serving dish.

There is absolutely no way anyone can make this look appetizing.

There is absolutely no way anyone can make this look appetizing.

I looked for mace blades but couldn’t find any in the immediate vicinity of my house.

Beef Tongue Stew

Finished Beef Tongue Stew

Since I didn’t have beef gravy, I decided to make the recipe from the same book:

Beef Gravy

Cut a piece of the chuck, or neck, into small pieces; strew some flour over it; put it into the saucepan,
with as much water as will cover it, an onion, a little allspice, pepper, and salt.  Cover it close, and
when it boils, skim it; then throw in a crust of bread and some raspings, and stew it till the gravy
is rich and good; strain it off, and pour into the sauce-boat.

I wasn’t concerned about the success of the final dish, but making the gravy, for some reason, is what worried me the most because it was all guessing game.  In the end, it turned out fine, and quite tasty too.  Here is the redacted recipe:

Beef Gravy

1 lbs beef back ribs, cut in pieces about 3 inches long
14 cup flour
14 tsp salt
6 whole allspice
12 tsp whole black peppercorns
1 small onion, peeled and quartered
3 inches off the end of a french baguette
2 tbsp dry breadcrumbs

In a medium saucepan, toss the ribs and the flour together.  Add enough water just to cover the ribs, stir.  Add the salt,  allspice, peppercorns, and onion.  Cover and bring to a boil, skim. Simmer, covered for 10 minutes or so.  Take the crust off the baguette tip and add the crust to the pot; add the breadcrumbs, stir.  Simmer, covered, for a further 20 minutes.  Remove the large solids with a slotted spoon and put the rest through a strainer.  Reseason if needed.

Makes 10-12 fl oz of gravy.

I will say this, beef back ribs make some very tasty gravy! I would use this gravy as a condiment in regular meals, in place of other types of gravy.  It was good.  I know that the recipe called for chuck or neck, but I couldn’t find any, and I figured any meat on bone combination would probably work too.

Now to the final dish!

I will start by saying that the taste was very good.  The vegetables were great, the sauce was delicious, etc.  BUT, I just couldn’t handle the texture of the tongue.  I have to give myself kudos for trying it, Fear Factor for sure, but I had no more than three bites before I started to gag.  It wasn’t just the texture of the tongue, to be fair, it was the fact that even though it tasted alright, I KNEW what I was eating, and my brain was resisting, which sent my gag reflex into action.  All along though I was trying to put on an “I love this stuff!” face for my incredulous husband, who was sitting right across the table from me, waiting for a verdict from me before he dug in.  He did take one bite, kudos for him too, but that was it.  He proceed to move the beef tongue to the side and eat the vegetables and sauce.


Beef Tongue Stew


So, although this dish wasn’t completely to our  liking, it was not through any fault of its own, but rather to our hangups and texture preferences.  If you like tongue, then I highly recommend this stew.

And that’s how I came to know for sure I don’t like tongue!


3 Responses

  1. My mother made tongue once, early in her marriage. It was so bad: they put it out in the alley and the cats wouldn’t even touch it! My family is known for our adventurous eating. (If granny gives you a sandwich you always open it and check for potential suction cups from octopi!) But even we don’t eat tongue! Bravo on your attempt. You’ve gone further into that fear factor than I would! Great blog BTW. It’s consistently a very enjoyable read.

  1. January 14, 2016

    […] were….interesting.  Truthfully, I did not like it at all.  It was possibly worse than the tongue from a previous HFF challenge.  However, that has nothing to do with the recipe itself and […]

  2. March 23, 2021

    […] were….interesting.  Truthfully, I did not like it at all.  It was possibly worse than the tongue from a previous HFF challenge.  However, that has nothing to do with the recipe itself and […]

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