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Eating nose-to-tail - make mine a steak.

Fri, 24 November, 2017

I visited a pub of a minor celebrity status last week; one of those no one had ever heard of and then suddenly everybody talks about, thanks to a mention in a weekend paper or an unexpected Michelin star. Very nice it was too, serving just six chips in a fish and chips dish notwithstanding. Maybe they don’t support carbs since the fish portion was quite substantial. Or maybe they ran out of potatoes.

I had beef tongue for my main course, with mash and gravy and (two) Romanesco florets. The mash and gravy were adorable, more so for the fact that I have neither too often. The tongue and I tried to connect with a considerable effort on my part and being flawlessly cooked on the part of the tongue, but we just didn’t get on. I was really embarrassed to leave so much on my plate and there wasn’t enough mash, let alone Romanesco, to hide my unfinished meat, but thankfully the service was excellent: they didn’t ask the annoying post-coital questions.

And that just serves me damn right. I profess loud and often that I eat everything but the truth is that there certainly are things I won’t force down my throat. Poor tongue was just the wrong texture – I scrupulously picked all the meaty bits but anything gelatinous and wobbly makes me shudder.

You’ll ask why on earth I ordered it. Simple: I’d never had it before. And it fits the nose-to-tail principle I try to be faithful to. And since when eating out I tend to order things I don’t know how to, can’t be bothered to or for some reason will never cook at home, it was a no-brainer. Tongue was on the menu, tongue it would have to be. Clearly though I’d sooner speak in than eat them.  It was sadly reminiscent of a similar defeat featuring me vs. calf’s head, a delicacy dating back to French Revolution (figures – a head…).

Tete de veau

My reflections on that little episode were none too edifying: my taste is common as muck. There is a reason why tongue is not as prevalent in butchers’ shops or in restaurants as, say, fillet steak or chicken breast, and that’s because not many are keen; me including as it turns out. There are still unsung heroes – much disdained cuts like ham hock, pork shoulder, veal shin or calves liver but wait and see if their time won’t come. After all pork belly used to be exclusively minced into sausages prior to 1994. People are also – hopefully – becoming less famously, Englishly squeamish about lesser known cuts: oxtails, pig’s cheeks and shanks of sorts are going up in the world and less frequently inducing the eww! reaction. Which only goes to show that times of hardship are ahead; people weren’t squeamish about less choice cuts of pig or cow in the times before Big Macs nearly everyone can afford.

But there’s hope for tongue and me, I won’t be put off. I still firmly believe in eating animals tongue to tail. Just possibly a bit more processed when it comes to tongues – and tails too, I fear – minced or hidden in a pie, instead of just thwacked on a plate almost in its entirety, stuck out at me in defiance.

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