A humble corned beef hash can be found on the menu of just about every diner and delicatessen, but the dish never turns out to be as good as I expect. Instead of the tender, subtly spiced, pleasantly salty meat I’m craving, what winds up in front of me is a sad representation: salty, greasy, mushy, and—judging from that off-putting chemical smell—most likely from a can.
I was fed up with the constant disappointment, but making corned beef myself always felt a little daunting. I mean, where does the “corn” come into the picture, anyway? (I soon learned that back in the day, to “corn” something meant to preserve it by covering it for a period of time with very large kernels of salt.) It wasn’t until I worked in a restaurant in which I had to make corned beef about once a week that the whole process became demystified for me.
Now, a little note, since you did not misread the title and this post is about how to make corned beef tongue. Beef brisket is usually the go-to cut for corned beef, but in my opinion, corned beef tongue is better in a hash or a Reuben than brisket because of its supreme tenderness and fatty deliciousness. It wasn’t an accident that the corned beef tongue Reuben was one of the most popular sandwiches on the menu at the restaurant where I worked.
Many people grew up eating beef tongue in their tacos or with Korean barbecue, but if you weren’t introduced to it at a young age, it can sometimes take a little getting used to. But if you can overcome the “Fear Factor” mental barrier of tongue, you will have a delicious, tender, and versatile cut of meat waiting for you at the finish line.
Get started by preparing the pickling spice. I usually make a little extra than I will need so that I’ll have some saved for a rainy day when I feel like pickling something. (Don’t you ever have those kinds of days?)
Toast the peppercorns, mustard seeds, and coriander seeds over medium heat in small skillet until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Toasting whole spices brings their aromatic oils to the surface, contributing to a stronger, more complex aroma when ground.
Next, transfer the spices into a mortar and pestle and crush them until they are coarsely cracked. No mortar and pestle? Here are two simple alternatives: Use a spice grinder, or place them in a zipper-lock bag and crush them with a rolling pin.
After the peppercorn-seed mixture is coarsely cracked, combine it with the remaining pickling spice ingredients.
Now we’re ready to make the brine. After putting the water and brown sugar in a large Dutch oven, bring it up to a boil and add kosher salt and pink salt. Salt peter (also known as pink salt) is a mixture of table salt and sodium nitrate. It’s used to inhibit the growth of bacteria when something needs to brine or cure for a long period of time. I include it in my recipe because I think the pinkish tinge it gives the finished corned beef looks nicer, but since I'm only brining it for about a week, it would be perfectly safe to make this without it.
Once the salts are added, add 2 tablespoons of the pickling spice and the crushed garlic cloves. Transfer the brine to a large container, big enough to hold all of the brine plus two beef tongues. The brine needs to be chilled beforehand to avoid accidentally cooking the tongues; it is easiest to throw the brine together the day before so you have it cold and ready to go.
While my brine cools down, I work on getting the tongues ready for the brine. First, rinse the tongues under cold running water.
Then, trim them a little by taking off the glands found at the base of the tongue.
Place the tongues in the brine, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. The tongues are going to sit in the brine for 5 to 7 days—any less and the brine won’t have a chance to permeate the center of the tongue. It’s a good idea to put something on top of the tongues so they are kept totally submerged. (I used a small bowl.) If they aren’t fully submerged, make sure you turn them over every day so the tongues get brined evenly.
After about 7 days, remove the tongues and rinse them thoroughly with cold water.
Fill up a Dutch oven with about 4 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of the pickling spice, and place the tongues in the pot. Bring it up to a simmer on the stovetop, cover it, and then place it in a 300-degree oven for about 3 hours. I turn them over every hour or so to encourage even cooking. Once they are fork-tender, remove them from the braising liquid and let them cool on a cutting board for about ten minutes, until cool enough to handle.
Since cow tongue skin is about as tough as hide, I wouldn’t recommend eating it. Make a slit in the back of the tongue, and from there the skin peels off easily just by using your hands to naturally pull it away from the meat. (This is sort of where the “Fear Factor” element comes in to play, so just pretend you are on the show and that your prize is a delicious sandwich when you are done.)
My favorite way to use corned beef tongue is to make a Reuben out of it, but some test cooks enjoyed it stirred it into some fried rice or turned into corned beef tongue hash. Since one tongue can go a long way, if I don’t get around to using up the second corned tongue within four to five days, I’ll just wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and freeze it for up to two months.