Tongue: Tacos de Lengua

Despite what the supermarket aisle may lead you to believe, there's more to an animal than neatly wrapped Styrofoam trays of meat. From tongue to tail, offal (pronounced awful) encompasses all those taboo edibles that don't make the cut at your local grocer. Just Offal is here to explore these oft-neglected byproducts of butchering, featuring different offal meals from establishments across the Valley.

Pop quiz! What's one of the strongest muscles in the human body? No, no, put away your love gun. Instead, get ready to flex your lingual libido, because this week we're kicking it off with tongue.

The Ick Factor: Unlike some of the more hidden offal mystery meats, tongues are working 24/7 to speak, eat, and swap some saliva every now and again. You see them daily and this intimate familiarity with their many varied functions leads to the inevitable "I know what you used to do..." recognition during dining.

(all the juicy details after the jump)

The Offal Choice: Lengua (beef tongue) tacos at Taqueria Mi Casita in Chandler. Bonus! Cabeza (beef head) tacos are also on the menu. Mix and match a sampler platter at $1.18 a taco.

Tastes Just Like: Any other chopped beef tacos you've consumed. Beef tongue is just another muscle on the cow, after all. If this place had shredded their tongue instead of chopping it into bite-size pieces, I would have been hard pressed to tell the difference. A rough surface down one side of the meaty cubes where the taste buds used to be (don't worry, they made sure to peel them all away) was the only visual cue that screamed tongue.

After clearing this minor mental hurdle, the tacos de lengua were moist and tender, and the taqueria was certainly generous with their helping of tongue. It was delivered wrapped in corn tortillas and accented by chopped onions, cilantro, red hot salsa, and little limon wedges that added a fresh citric spritz.

I had trouble distinguishing a difference in flavor between my lengua and the carne de res of my dining partner. Tongue is a very lean cut of meat and I liked that there were no weird fatty globules that can sometimes characterize other taco fillings. The tongue was texturally a bit softer and less toothsome than skeletal muscle, despite not being marbled in fat, the usual culprit when it comes to tenderizing a cut of meat. Not exactly spongy, but definitely more "give" to the meat than I expected.

You Know It's Cooked Improperly When: It looks like a giant slab of gray, boiled beef tongue. Aside from making more sensitive dinner guests a bit squeamish, it neglects the opportunity to introduce extra flavor to the meat during the cooking process. As Taqueria Mi Casita demonstrates, slow braising is the way to go.

Always been a DIY-er? Pick up some beef tongue from your local butcher or carniceria. If you don't have a meat man, ethnic grocers tend to carry tongue with the greatest reliability, so try Phoenix Ranch Market or Super L Ranch Market. Tacos de lengua are only a quick recipe away. And don't skimp on the cilantro.

Know of some offal we have to try? Leave the details in the comment section.   

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Erica O'Neil