If you’re following along, you’ll know I was in Mexico last week. My mother, after retiring, decided that she’d had it with the Pennsylvania winters and took action. She bought a tiny casita in a town called Ajijic in the state of Jalisco, and every year, just after Christmas, she heads south. Looking outside this morning, I totally get it too. (Before I go on, I just want to point out that I love you, Mom, and I can’t wait to visit next year!)
The nice thing about this part of Mexico is the weather. Year-round, it’s between 60 and 80 degrees, which, for mom, is just about perfect. The bad thing about Ajijic—ironically—is the American presence there. We’ve taken over. It’s one of the reasons my diminutive 60-something mother from Pennsylvania was drawn to the place—you can thrive there without a word of Spanish in your vocabulary.
I am not going to get into the depressing socioeconomic implications of retired Americans invading Mexican towns here. Instead, I’m going to talk about the depressing food.
The restaurants in this charming little town (it really is quite pretty) mostly cater to ex-pats and serve what can gently be called outdated-and-boring-Continental-cuisine. There is one exception that I know of: Mom introduced me to a delicious pozole at the family-run Cenaduria Memo, and when I visit next year, it’s the only place I want to eat. Needless to say, when I returned home, I had a hankering for Mexican food.
Sourcing Mexican ingredients out here in Amish country is actually a lot easier than you might think. The Amish are notoriously thrifty and, if I may, have been eating on current trend since they came to this country in the early 1600s. Think pickles, pies, and offal, and you either see an image of a Brooklyn hipster or an Amish table. With that in mind, I started planning my ode to the tongue taco.
If you are not into eating tongue because you think it’s gross, or whatever, you should get over it. This is a shockingly flavorful, cheap, and tender muscle. It takes about four hours to become flavorful and tender, but the resulting broth will cure anything—I’m sure of it. So save it for soup. Tongue is not common on the American table (with the exceptions of the Amish and Jewish cuisines) because it’s been considered poor people’s food. But, after having witnessed what the rich ex-pats eat, I’ll take the cheap stuff any day.
Makes enough for a fiesta
1 beef tongue
2 leek greens, chopped
1 small onion, halved
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 cups fresh (or jarred) tomato salsa
Accompaniments: Corn tortillas; Pickled red onions; Crumbled queso fresco; Cilantro
Place the tongue in a sauce pan just big enough to hold it and the vegetables, add 1 teaspoon salt, then cover with water and bring to a boil. Boil the tongue, add more water when needed, until it is easily pierced with a knife. Remove the tongue and let it cool to warm, then peel it. (Sounds a lot grosser and less obvious than it is.)
Strain the broth and save it for another use.
Slice the tongue into pieces, then heat oil in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat until hot, then sear tongue, turning once, until browned. Add salsa to skillet and cook until thickened, about 6 minutes. Serve tongue with accompaniments.
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Ian Knauer has traveled the world for Gourmet magazine, written for too many other magazines to list, cohosted three food television shows and written a cookbook, The Farm. @iknauer | TakePart.com