Lengua, otherwise known as beef tongue, is a highly-loved dish in many parts of the world. If you were slightly taken aback by the previous sentence, don’t worry – you’re not alone. Hopefully this article will soothe your fears and get you excited to try some lengua!
In this article, we will dive into the origins of lengua, the taste, and a few tried and true dishes that should wow your next dinner guests.
What is Lengua?
“Lengua” directly translates to tongue or language. “Lengua de vaca” is the tongue of the cow, or cow’s tongue. Most often, lengua dishes are made with beef tongue, though I’ve seen a few recipes floating around using pork tongue as well.
Most often, lengua is prepared in Mexican and Puerto Rican cuisine–think beef tongue tacos. Thanks to the emphasis on not wasting any part of the animal, there are hundreds of dishes that turn lengua into a mouth-watering meal. If this still grosses you out, think of lengua like the Southern delicacy head cheese. It’s delicious and unwasteful–what’s not to love?
What Does Lengua Taste Like?
In a turn of events that will surprise no one, lengua tastes like beef! Who would’ve thunk? In all seriousness, many reviewers describe lengua as having a meaty, springy texture with a gamey flavor. The flavor is milder than a filet mignon, almost like a lamb shank.
Like a steak or chuck roast, lengua can be tough when not prepared properly. However, when cooked, braised, or roasted for long periods of time, it can be incredibly tender and soft. Pull-apart-level soft!
How is Lengua Prepared?
More often than not, when you buy lengua, it will still have the outer layer of skin on it. First things first, you will clean it and then blanch it. After it has boiled for somewhere between 1 and 6 hours, you can take the tongue out and peel off the thick, outer skin. If you have a pressure cooker, you can cook the lengua in it to shorten the blanching time
The base of the tongue is completely edible, though a little rougher than the other parts. If you don’t care for that texture, you can cut it off after peeling off the skin.
Then, you can slice it up and fry it, dice it into small blocks, shred it, or braise it to make it soft and tender. Truly, the possibilities are endless!
Will I like Lengua?
If you like steak and meat, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll love lengua. For any of my fellow herbivores out there, lengua may not be your favorite dish.
The gamey, umami flavor of lengua is most often compared to lamb or steak. So, if you’re a meat-lover, I see no reason why you wouldn’t love lengua!
How to Make Lengua Taste Better
If you, like me, are not the biggest fan of beef, never fear. There are plenty of ways to mask the gamey taste of lengua and add some spice!
If you want to stick with the Mexican tradition, adding cilantro, onions, lime, and avocado will smooth out both the flavor and the texture. Maybe even sprinkle some cotija cheese on top!
For stews, consider adding tomatoes, onions, and peppers to soften and mask the beefy flavor.
Sticking with the main components of a well-balanced dish (salt, acid, and fat) will help you alter any recipe to suit your palate.
Interestingly enough, one serving of lengua contains 44% of your daily zinc intake. Zinc is an important nutrient that promotes cell growth and immune function. There are also smaller (but still valuable) levels of potassium and iron. Best of all, lengua is chock full of B-12 and other B-complex vitamins.
Lengua is a good source of protein and healthy fats. Alongside the healthy fats, there are some unhealthy saturated/trans fats as well. Although lengua could not be classified as a “lean meat,” it still serves as a great alternative to beef, chicken, or pork.
Examples of Lengua Dishes
There are so many different ways to prepare lengua, but these are some of the most popular:
- Lengua tacos
- Stewed lengua
- Lengua BBQ
Tacos de lengua (beef tongue tacos) are perhaps the most popular lengua recipe out there. The shredded or diced lengua combined with cilantro and lime makes for some happy tastebuds.
BBQ lengua (Gyutan) has Japanese origins, but the delicious flavor is recognized worldwide. And the stewed lengua promotes that tender texture alongside the tomato and onion flavor.
That being said, there are plenty of other ways to prepare lengua. You could even replace the beef in your favorite Irish stew with lengua!
The following recipes all feature lengua prepared in a variety of ways. We’re talking flavor and texture here. These recipes are great for beginners and those new to lengua.
This Cuban recipe features tomato, peppers, and onions, plus tender lengua. What could be better?
This Latin American classic is beloved for a reason. The lengua works beautifully with cilantro and lime. And who doesn’t love tacos?
This one is for all the spice lovers out there! The scotch bonnet pepper in this dish literally kicks things up a notch!
This grilled BBQ lengua served with a fresh, citrus twist will delight barbecue lovers and experimental eaters alike. Serve it at your next cookout and see if anyone notices!
Simmering the lengua in the roasted, homemade salsa is a game-changer. This simple recipe is flavorful and perfect for beginners.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is lengua meat?
Yes! Lengua is very much so meat. It’s the tongue of a cow.
Is lengua vegan?
No. Lengua comes from cows, which makes it inherently un-vegan.
Lengua, or beef tongue, is a staple in Latin American and Japanese cuisine. Its most well-known for its gamey, beefy flavor and tough but tender texture.
Hopefully, this article inspired you to step outside of your comfort zone. If you’re looking to try something new, check out any of the recipes above for some lengua inspiration. Happy cooking!