Recent increased interest in eating offal means we’ve been seeing more beef tongue on Twin Cities restaurant menus—in appetizer form at Heidi’s, in taco form from Chef Shack, etc. Beef tongue also is readily available at retail, but pork tongue is much harder to find. What gives?
Erick Harcey, chef/owner of Victory 44 in north Minneapolis, has been serving pork tongue for a couple years and says that some of his suppliers were initially surprised when he asked for the obscure cut—typically processers leave the tongues in the heads (sold for making head cheese) or discard them. The availability of certain meat cuts is partially related to the processers’ extraction and storage costs, but salability also is a factor, which can obviously be hampered by negative public perception. “Hopefully we’re changing that,” Harcey says.
Pork tongue is about 1/3 the size of the average beef tongue, and Harcey says the smaller size makes it easy to create more consistent portions. He also likes pork tongue’s more delicate flavor and texture—it’s less iron-y than beef tongue. I’d describe it as a milder pork shoulder, with a spongier, less stringy texture. “With pork tongue, nine out of ten people wouldn’t have any idea it was tongue if you didn’t tell them,” Harcey says.
Pork tongue is currently on Victory 44’s menu in a ¾-tongue portion (the tip becomes a “chef’s snack,” Harcey says) cooked sous vide then seared in butter and finished with pork jus, then paired with bean puree and bean salad, a little lemon and pork rinds.
The result is reminiscent of a deconstructed cassoulet, garnished with acid, leaf lettuce, and the crunch of pork rinds. (Diners should appreciate the effort that goes into making the rinds in-house: First, the cooks clean and boil the skin, then dehydrate it and break it into shards before it’s deep fried. Harcey says that new cooks are often surprised by how much the rinds increase in volume once they hit the oil—they’ve had a few mishaps with pork puffs overflowing the fryer, like exploding popcorn!)
Harcey also likes to brine, braise, and confit the tongues, which have quickly become a menu staple. “It’s an inexpensive, hearty piece of meat,” he says. “You get a nice portion for a very affordable price, and it’s more exciting than pork loin. It has a better texture, but the same kind of canvas.”