Ox tongue with onion and orange lentils and zhug

Ah. Yes. Sorry about that. You probably weren’t expecting to see a massive cow’s tongue when you opened this post. It is, admittedly, pretty visceral and probably to early, even if you’re looking at this at ten to midnight. My bad.

This recipe comes from my sixth and final ‘Offal Project’ piece for Borough Market. There are many words on the subject over on their website – do have a look. All I’ll say here, is that if you can get over the grim nature of an animal’s tongue, it’s economical to buy, and easy to make the most of.

Of course you can slice is thinly and serve with pickles, but I like it once it’s been slow-cooked until wobbly and juicy, almost like brisket, and then used in similar fashion, whether that’s in a taco, a chilli, or as ‘steaks’ flash (re)fried at the last minute; which is what happens here.

It’s not unusual to see tongue served with lentils and green sauce – though this is a Middle-Eastern twist on that treatment. The lentils are fresh and zippy (a versatile side dish in their own right), and there’s a healthy kick from the zhug. Worth a go, a reckon.


Ox tongue with onion and orange lentils and zhug

Serves 4 (with tongue left over)

Prep time: 1 hours (over several stages). Cooking time: up to 4 hours. Plus 5 days in the brine beforehand (which will take an hour to prepare and then cool)

For the brine

  • 2 litres water
  • 150g natural salt (no caking agents)
  • 50g light brown sugar
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 6 juniper berries, flattened
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 cinnamon stick, snapped in half
  • 10 cloves
  • 10 black peppercorns

For the tongue 

  • 1 ox tongue
  • 1 onions, quartered
  • 1 bulb garlic, cut in half across the middle
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 1 stick celery

For the zhug

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted
  • 1 teaspoon flaked sea salt
  • 1 mild red chilli, finely diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 25g parsley leaves, roughly chopped
  • 25g coriander leaves, roughly chopped
  • 3 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons EV olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon caster sugar
  • Juice from 1/4 lemon

For the lentils

  • 200g green or puy lentils
  • 300g onions, quartered (ideally a sweet French variety, like Roscoff)
  • 3 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 2 oranges
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
  • 2 teaspoons Turkish red pepper flakes
  • Sea salt and black pepper

Make a brine by warming 2 litres of water in a large saucepan. Add the salt and sugar and stir until dissolved. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely. Place the tongue in a non-metallic container that fits it relatively snuggly (a 3.5 litre tupperware should be ideal), and pour the cooled brine over the top. Put a lid on top and refrigerate for five days.

After five days, remove the tongue from the brine and discard the liquid. Put the tongue in a large saucepan and fill with water. Add the onion, garlic, bay and celery. Bring to a simmer and allow to cook slowly for 3-4 hours. Don’t allow to boil. If you have a temperature probe, keeping the water at 90-95C is ideal.

While the tongue is cooking, make the zhug and the lentil dish – both are served at room temperature.

In a large pestle and mortar. Grind the cumin and sea salt to a powder. Add the chilli and garlic and mash into a paste. Then add the herbs, one handful at a time, grinding and mashing to a smooth paste before adding the next handful. Add the oil a couple of tablespoons at a time, stirring to incorporate, then finish with the sugar and lemon juice. Put to one side.

To make the lentil side dish, heat the oven to 220C fan then roast the onions until they’re charred at the edges, and soft and sweet within. Put the lentils in a pan with plenty of cold water. Bring to the boil, then simmer for 20-25 minutes until soft. Drain.

Zest one orange with a microplane and put in the drained lentils. Then peel the oranges with a sharp knife, cutting the flesh into segments and adding these to the lentils. Scrape any juice in too, before adding the garlic, pomegranate molasses, red pepper flakes and the cooked onions. Mix, and season with salt and pepper.

After 3-4 hours the tongue should be soft and yielding if you pierce it with a trussing needle or similar. Remove it from the water and allow to cool for 20 minutes before peeling. The membrane will probably come of easily, with just a little encouragement from a knife at the start. Though sometimes it’s necessary to use a sharp kindle throughout.

Cut the tongue into 2-3 cm thick slices across its length. Brown on both sides in a frying pan and cut in half again. Season, and serve with the lentils and a generous spoonful of zhug.