What better day than Valentine’s for a little tongue action? Sledgehammer subtle innuendo aside, those who love these little delicacies, love them a lot. (Those who don’t love them think they’re cod offal…)
Cod tongue connoisseurs can be found anywhere cod is king; along with my native Newfoundland, cod tongues are prized from the Magdalenes to Norway to Portugal. (Not on this coast though, over here on the West Coast they worship false cod; for more on that, see my East vs West: Battle Cod post).
Cod tongues are not the actual fish’s tongue, everyone knows fish don’t talk, but they do sing scales (bada bump!) Where was I?
Oh yes. A cod “tongue” is a actually a little flap of flesh in the back of the cod’s throat. The tongues have a texture somewhat like a scallop; the larger ones are more jelly-like, and the smaller the most prized by cod tongue lovers.
And like scallops, cod tongues need a deft hand to cook them lest they become knots of rubbery unpleasantness (tongue-tied, if you will). Traditionally, that means a dip in seasoned flour and a quick sauté in hot butter. The trick is to cook the larger ones long enough to firm up the jelly-like consistency, while not crossing into tough ground. How? Well, they don’t take longer than a few minutes, so before you think one is done, haul it out of the pan and test it. If it’s not ready, cook in 30 second increments until you’re happy with the texture.
If you’re not going to cook them quickly, they can be braised to ensure tenderness.
(WARNING: BLATANT BOOK PLUG AHEAD!)
In my book “A Real Newfoundland Scoff”, I serve up a recipe for Mediterranean braisedtongues, as well as a riff on the po’ boy sandwich using tongues instead of oysters.
An unofficial poll of cod tongue purists indicates that the traditional flour and fry is the way to go, however, so to stop tongues wagging, that’s all we’ll talk about today.
Cod tongues are served with little garnish, maybe a squeeze of lemon juice or tartar sauce. On the side, usually boiled potatoes with butter. I like to pair them with brewis, cakes of hard bread soaked til soft and most often seen alongside cod in the Newfoundland classic “fish & brewis”.
Once the hard bread has softened, I cook a few strips of bacon and then heat the bread with the bacon in a pan, adding butter and salt. (Salt and fat, the two staples of early Newfoundland kitchens). If it’s a special occasion, canned green peas (always canned, not fresh or frozen) go on the plate too.
And a final word to the wise: if you have a frisky feline, watch how you’re handling the plating of your dish. Because if you drop one, the cat might get your tongue.