Larks’ Tongues in Aspic
Monday, February 7th, 2011
What did you listen to when you were young? And do you still play the same records? Looking back, I may have been indicted as excessively broad, as wantonly eclectic for its own sake: Experimental jazz, baroque classical, LA punk, progressive rock (whatever that means), and lots of metal, a scattershot gang of vinyl finery parading across my turntable. Partly fair, although, while my Art Ensemble of Chicago CDs may be dusty, Bach, Metallica, and Black Flag still get regular play in our house, the occasional F-bomb and my young daughters’ ears notwithstanding, and I’ve yet to lift my Orwellian sanctions on bubble-gum pop from the likes of Justin Bieber or that silly girl who spells her name with a “$”.
What this has to do with food is that I cannot eat much that spooks my narrowly Western sensibilities, all that ostensibly freaky stuff that tastes impossibly good, without thinking of the King Crimson classic that birthed this post. Roasted marrow bones at St John, the molten fat oozing over crusty bread and topped with a tangy parsley-caper salad; Thomas Keller’s venison heart confit, the spiritual apex of every Jewish-deli pastrami I ate as a child; and – my most recent moment of carnivorous zen – grilled beef tongue with beets, pickles, creme fraiche and duck-fat potatoes, courtesy of April Bloomfield at the Spotted Pig, and pictured at left. She also made me a wicked salad of crispy pig’s ear on frisee with a refreshingly tart and lemony dressing; given that said ear was enormous and disturbingly recognizable for what it actually was, I suppose it deserves its own freaky due as well. Ah, but that tongue – that is what has relegated every bite I’ve taken since to the flaccid, the tepid, the banal.
I could wax lyrical foodie nonsense about the particulars, but the essential fact is this: But for its unfortunate etymology, and the unappealing imagery it begets, we’d all happily snarf lengua a la parilla like some Bubby’s pot roast. Probably she boils or braises it first, or perhaps I’ve just never had good tongue before, because April’s manages to take on the texture of tender, almost flaky short ribs, slightly smoky from the grill, with a mildly beefy flavor and virtually no noticeable fat; and, while the protein itself is nicely weighty, it acquires a deeper richness from the opulence of the potatoes fried in duck fat. What truly elevates it from the merely damn-good to the sublime, however, is its exquisite balance, the earthy sweetness of the beets, the zingy acidity of the gherkins, and the tart creaminess of the creme fraiche all framing what is, in its soul, a classic plate of meat and potatoes. Very highly recommended.
[Photo credits: King Crimson, Lay Gastronomer, Spotted Pig]