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Tongue: A Textured Organ Meat

by Jacqueline M. Newman


Summer Volume: 2015 Issue: 22(2) pages: 11 to 12

Chinese adore organ meats, tongue among them. Some ask why this adoration. The answers are many, texture certainly one of them. Expense is another; Chinese like to entertain serving expensive foods. Difficulty of preparation may be another one, but this one is easy to make, only time is needed.

Duck, chicken, beef, and pig tongues all have these attributes, but finding recipes and information about tongue is no easy task. Only one general food history even lists it in its index. That was in E.N. Anderson’s The Food of China volume. He mentions tongue from duck saying “blood, tongues, and brains are choice.” In older volumes, we fared no better. P. Buell and E.N. Anderson’s Soup for the Qan omits it; T.J. Hinrichs and L.L. Barnes in Chinese Medicine and Healing do not mention it, nor does any Chinese Materia Medica volume on our shelves. Cookbooks rarely include a tongue recipe no matter the animal it comes from.

We did ask several Chinese traditional medicinal experts, and none had an answer among the bunch. In spite of that, tongue diagnosis in Chinese medicine is important, and their literature does discuss many relationships between tongue and body primarily as associations to meridians and internal organs.

The tongue is almost always used in TCM diagnosis. Said to be an offshoot of the heart, it is a muscular organ, the chief indicator in man of what he is tasting. So why is its use in books so limited? I do remember writing a Fujianese cookbook and that editor told me, “No organ meats, please.” Eating tongue is not mentioned often, except perhaps in Sichuan cuisine where it is a delicacy.

Westerners talk about regions of the tongue and which areas relate to sweet, salty, bitter, and other tastes. Sweet is best perceived and it is at the tip of the tongue. The tongue recognizes which taste sensation is where; bitter is at the back.

The Chinese have similar associations, but not to taste; rather to internal organs. For them, the tip of the tongue corresponds to the heart, directly behind it corresponds to the lungs. The edges left and right correspond to the liver and gall bladder. The back or root of the tongue corresponds to the kidney, bladder, and the intestines, and the absolute center of the tongue to the spleen and the stomach.

So when a TCM practitioner tells you to stick out your tongue, other than it being light red or pinkish with a thin white coating, he or she is looking for differences, one of them called it ‘abnormalities’ of the tongue. They also look to see if the tongue is extended in a relaxed manner. If one has consumed green tea, various candies, and coffee, they can alter the color of the tongue and not be related to anything except the consumption of these food items. They know that in summer, dampness impacts tongue color making it look more yellow, and that as the day goes on the tongue can look more red and shiny. As a person ages, the tongue can change color, acquire cracks in it, and get thicker. All of these help diagnose the body’s condition.

Rigid tongues cause speech issues, the shape of the tongue indicates excesses and deficiencies, black spots on the tongue shows qi and blood stagnation, wavy edges some refer to as a ‘scalloped tongue’ can mean spleen deficiencies, etc. These are used in health diagnoses and have nothing to do with if one should or did eat the tongue of any animal. Most TCM doctors told us that eating pig or beef tongue is good for almost all ailments, poultry tongues, too, particularly if from ducks. That said, here are a few recipes for your enjoyment and for your health.
Duck Tongues with Sesame Paste
½ pound duck tongues
2 Tablespoons coarse salt
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
8 slices fresh peeled ginger
1 Tablespoon sesame paste
1 Tablespoon sesame oil
2 whole star anise
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Chinese rice wine
1 large piece rock sugar
1. Rub duck tongues with coarse salt, then rinse and drain well.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add the vegetable oil, then the ginger and the tongues and stir fry for one minute before adding the star anise. Boil this for five minutes, then drain and discard the liquid, and let the tongues cool. When they are, bend each one in the center and remove bones and cartilage and discard them.
3. Put the tongues in the soy sauce, wine, sugar, and one cup of water and simmer them for five minutes, then drain and serve.
Chicken Tongues with Olives
½ pound chicken tongues
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
2 Chinese sausages, thinly sliced
3 Tablespoons Chinese black olives
3 Tablespoons hot oil
3 Tablespoons baby carrot slices, cooked for two minutes
3 Tablespoons fresh or frozen green peas
1 scallion, white part only, sliced on an angle
4 Tablespoons chicken stock
1 Tablespoon oyster sauce
½ teaspoon salt
3 Tablespoons chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
2 Tablespoons cornstarch mixed with an equal amount of cold water
1. Boil the tongues for five minutes, then remove and discard any bones and cartilage, and toss the tongues with the soy sauce.
2. Put oil in a wok or large fry pan, add scallion and sausage slices and stir fry for two minutes, then add the chicken tongues, and the olives and stir-fry for two more minutes.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients, and stir-fry at a high temperature stirring until sauce is thick. Then serve.
Pig Tongue and Potatoes
2 pig tongues
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 slices peeled fresh ginger, minced
1 teaspoon sugar
2 small yellow potatoes, boiled for five minutes, then diced
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon Mao Tai or another whiskey
1 Tablespoon cornstarch mixed with same amount of cold water
1. Boil the tongues for half an hour, remove and cool slightly, then peel off the outer skin and discard it. Slice the tongue in half-inch slices.
2. Heat a wok or fry pan, add the oil, and rub the tongue slices with the salt, then brown them in the wok or fry pan with the garlic and the ginger for one minute. Add the sugar and the potato pieces and stir-fry for two minutes, then add the soy sauce and Mao Tai and stir for two minutes before adding the cornstarch mixture and stir until thickened. Then serve.
Goose Tongues with Red Wine Lees
1 pound goose tongues
½ cup vegetable oil
5 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
3 slices fresh ginger, peeled and sliced thinly
1 small hot red pepper, seeded
2 Tablespoons fermented red wine lees
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon crushed Chinese slab sugar
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
1 Tablespoon Shao Xing wine
1. Boil goose tongues in one quart water for ten minutes, and remove them, cool slightly, and remove and discard any bones and cartilage.
2. Heat wok or deep fry pan, add the oil, and fry the tongues for three minutes, then remove them and add the garlic and ginger and fry these for one minute, then remove them and set the oil aside for another use.
3 Add the rest of the ingredients including the tongues and simmer for five minutes, stirring often, then serve.
Duck Tongues with Preserved Plums
2 pounds duck tongues, simmered for five minutes, bones and cartilage removed and discarded
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
10 slices fresh ginger, peeled
2 Cups Chinese rice wine
½ cup preserved plums, pits removed and discarded
2 whole star anise
3 Tablespoons dark soy sauce
3 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
3-inch piece brown slab sugar, crushed
2 Tablespoons Chinese white rice vinegar
4 Tablespoons Zhejiang vinegar
1. Blanch tongues in boiling water for two minutes, then discard the water.
2. Heat wok or fry pan, add the oil, and then stir-fry the ginger for one minute before adding the tongues and the wine and bring this to the boil, then reduce heat and simmer for half an hour, then remove tongues and put them in a medium-size bowl.
3. In a small pot, add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for tn minutes, then pour over the duck tongues, and serve.

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