If you, like our senior video producer Guillermo Riveros, have a love for offal that knows no bounds, follow along as he learns to make pastrami tongue from chef Jeremy Salamon of The Eddy (sadly, now closed).
Making this pastrami beef tongue recipe takes some time, patience, and a little elbow grease. Maybe a bit of mental/intestinal fortitude as well, depending on how you feel about organ meat (but if you like brisket, you should really try tongue). You also need a smoker—a stovetop smoker will suffice—and a coffee grinder or spice grinder for the crust, because freshly ground spices always have the best flavor. Ingredients-wise, the tongue should be easy enough to come by (ask your butcher or meat counter employee if you don’t see one, or check a Mexican market), and you can buy the pink curing salt online.
Scroll down for the pastrami tongue recipe in full, but keep reading for a little background on the chef and the special dish he shared with us.
Cooking as a Superpower
Jeremy Salamon is young for an executive chef, yet he drew largely on the past for his menu at The Eddy, with dishes inspired by his grandmother’s Hungarian and Eastern European roots. He recalls telling his mother that he wanted to be a chef one day when he was only 9, and believes he was drawn to cooking in part because it seemed like a superpower—how his mother and grandmothers were able to bring everyone in the family together with the call of dinner, all strife forgotten, at least for the moment. The chef as peacemaker; a meal as unification; food as love, contentment.
A Good Kitchen Is a Refuge
It makes sense, then, that chef Salamon puts a premium on harmony and respect in the kitchen. Working in other male-dominated, super-stereotypically-macho kitchens where chefs screamed and insulted as a matter of course made it clear that he didn’t want to be that kind of chef. Instead, he strives to make his kitchens open, all-inclusive, welcoming places (not just to other LGBTQ chefs, but to everyone), where they also make delicious food. No doubt, that drive will carry over into the next kitchen chef Salamon helms, wherever that may be; we’re guessing he’ll tack up another motivational poster too, because this reminder can only improve any space it graces:
Tongue Is on the Menu (Right Where It Belongs)
Just like the golden rule of kindness, beef tongue itself is simple, time-tested, and too often overlooked. Treated right, it’s a revelation—and it’s a little ironic, that what was once an affordable, workaday staple is now something rather subversive for many diners. (According to chef Salamon, Romanian Jews, who we have to thank for pastrami, traditionally made the dish with goose; when that proved to be too expensive in America, they turned to cheaper alternatives, including tongue.)
Among organ meats, tongue is one of the more visceral, owing to its sheer size and somewhat macabre appearance—unlike the abstract honeycomb of tripe, there’s no mistaking what a severed tongue is (although it does also bring to mind a shell-less geoduck from certain angles…but get up close and you can see the tastebuds). There’s also the fact that it was once inside an animal’s mouth; putting it in our own can seem somehow disturbing, on a meta level. But it’s beloved in many cultures (lengua tacos, anyone?), and cooked properly, it’s tender and tastes fantastic. It’s still pretty cheap, too; always a plus.
How to Prepare a Beef Tongue
Per chef Salamon, you brine the beef tongue for several days, then simmer it until soft. At that point, it’s time to get a bit more intimate and peel the outer layer of skin off the tongue. Then, slice it into portions; crust it in a warm blend of pastrami spices including allspice, coriander, fennel, and pepper; and smoke it for a few hours, until it’s burnished, imbued with a hazy tang, and the outside has a nice crunch while the meat itself is succulent (that’s thanks to the fact that tongue is really high in fat, even more so than the aforementioned BBQ darling brisket). Served with sharp and refreshing elements to cut through that richness—sour cream or tangy labne, pickled radishes, and a fresh parsley salad—this dish is a labor of love that’ll work its magic on the table: tongues will soften, fall silent, and all strife will be forgotten, at least for a moment.
The Smoking Section
We’ve gotten some pitmaster tips on smoking meat before and strongly suggest you consult them, but if you don’t have the space (or cash) for a Traeger pellet smoker or an electric smoker box, you can use a stovetop smoker. Just make sure you have all your windows open and your vent fan on. Don’t forget to soak your wood chips 24 hours before smoking, too (luckily, the spice-crusted tongue benefits from a 24-hour rest in the fridge, so you can do those steps in tandem). Chef Salamon likes hickory chips for this.
Charcoal Companion KitchenQue Indoor Stovetop Smoker, $56 on Amazon
Stuck indoors? You can still smoke (with proper ventilation).
Pastrami Tongue Recipe
This is chef Salamon’s recipe for a delectable, spice-crusted, smoked pastrami beef tongue. Eat it in honor of The Eddy, in homage to grandmas, in celebration of Pride, or because it’s simply delicious (or all of the above).
For the brine:
- 2 2/3 cups salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 head garlic, crushed
- 2/3 ounce pink curing salt
- 1 beef tongue, 5 pounds
For the pastrami spice:
- 2 tablespoons allspice berries
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
- 2 tablespoons yellow mustard seeds
- 2 tablespoons red chile flakes
- 2 tablespoons red peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
1. Make the brine. Combine the first 4 brine ingredients in a large pot with 1 gallon of water. Bring to a boil (to dissolve salt and sugar), then chill. Once cold, stir in the pink curing salt and add the tongue. Refrigerate for 4 days.
2. After 4 days, pull the tongue from the brine and submerge in another pot filled with cold water. Bring the water to a boil and lower to a gentle simmer, then cook the tongue until soft when pierced with a fork, 3-4 hours. While the tongue is still warm, peel off the outer layer of skin from the tongue (use a sharp paring knife to make a vertical slit down the center of the tongue, then simply peel back the skin on either side and keep going until you’ve worked it completely off the muscle).
3. In a small, dry pan, toast the coriander and fennel seeds until fragrant, stirring constantly. Combine with the remainder of the pastrami spices and grind in a blender or coffee/spice grinder.
4. Once the tongue is peeled, portion it into roughly 6-ounce steaks. Liberally dress the portioned tongue in the pastrami spice, pressing to coat all sides. I like to let the tongue air-dry on a rack for a day in the fridge to help ensure a nice dry crust. (Note: Your wood chips need to soak in water this long too, so do them at the same time.)
5. Smoke the tongue at 225°F for 3 hours until tongue is tender and maintains a crispy exterior. (Note: Refer to the directions for your smoker for best results, but chef Salamon likes to add fresh wood chips every hour or so for the first two hours, to ensure there’s plenty of smoke and steam. Be sure that you’ve soaked your wood chips 24 hours ahead of time.)
6. Serve with a dollop of sour cream or labne, sliced pickled radishes, and fresh herbs and/or greens—or try it on a sandwich, or in our pastrami hash recipe.