A Slip Of The Beef Tongue
After graduating high school in the long-gone world of 1998, I took a job at the now-defunct Reuben’s Deli in the Plainview Shopping Centre at South Oyster Bay and Woodbury Roads. I worked the counter taking orders, cooking hot dogs and knishes, wrapping sandwiches and lamenting the deli’s musical playlist on constant repeat.
During my months-long stint at the kosher Jewish eatery, I learned heaps from the veteran deli-men patrolling the counter and the subterranean prep and storage rooms. For starters, those hot dogs leftover at the end of the day? Throw them in a bucket of water and place the bucket, uncovered, in the refrigerated display case. Another fine lesson regarded the coleslaw. Can’t find a bowl big enough to mix the day’s slaw? Just grab a recycling bucket from the basement, fill it up, dive in shoulder-deep and go to town.
But it wasn’t all disgusting revelations about what goes on behind the scenes at a deli. In between scoops of kasha and squirts of mustard, I’d often descend into the basement to retrieve a brisket or some half sours. And there, amongst the stuffed cabbages and turkey legs, would be an opaque bucket filled to the brim with a thick, aromatic liquid. And swimming in that liquid would be mammoth beef tongues, all brined and ready.
The unadulterated beef tongue is a shocking and horrific sight at first. With taste buds still attached, you can smell the barnyard and hear the moo. But after it’s cleaned, prepared, sliced and placed between rye with some mustard, it is easily some of the best eating anywhere on the cow. Remember, the tongue is a muscle just like any other muscle on the cow. The meat that Americans drool over in steaks, roasts and ribs are also muscle, and yet, people recoil at the mere thought of eating tongue.
The horror is completely unfounded. Tongue is a highly versatile meat. It can be sautéed, deep fried, grilled, roasted, poached, braised and more preparations I’ve probably never heard of. At Ben’s Kosher Delicatessen, the venerable Jewish deli with locations in Manhattan, Queens, Florida and on Long Island, the must-have sandwich is cold tongue on rye with mustard. Fatty, rich and satisfying, the sliced tongue is almost creamy in texture and is a far grander eating experience than pastrami, salami or corned beef.
Sadly, tongue is a rare find on Long Island menus. Tongue should be a staple in far more cuisines and should have a place on more menus across the island. As a deli meat or the greatest pot roast you’ve ever tasted, our tongues should be wagging at the utter brilliance of this underused, under-appreciated cut of beef.