I was first introduced to tacos de lengua in my pre-hunting days in Denver. I lived nearby the greatest, most underrated little Mexican joint in town. They grilled their tacos el pastor open air on the patio, the horchata was made of clouds and dreams, and the lengua was perfectly brown, seasoned, and delicious. Of course, that was cow tongue. But ever since, I’ve had an affinity for lengua. When I began hunting, it was absolutely front of mind.
It’s common these days to see hunters sharing the photos of the heart of their animals, but tongue is often left behind in the field. It’s not as familiar, surely not as appetizing in its initial form, and it’s easily forgotten in the moment. Personally, I beg my friends to take the tongue out...and give it to me. So far, the ones that remember are the ones who keep it for themselves. I am left to my own tongues.
And as always, my own devices. My personal favorite device for the past few years has been my Instant Pot. If you’re out of the loop on the instant pot, I’d suggest you get up to speed. It’s a pressure cooker that’s as simple to use as your crockpot, and it’s about ten times faster. For shoulder roasts and other cuts that need time (plus heat) to break down into the most excellent kind of meal, an Instant Pot is a time-saving dream machine. Its sauté feature allows you to brown all sorts of things prior to cooking. It’s great for rice, potatoes, and other starches. And it’s a rare week that mine sits idle on the counter.
Tongues, unlike heart, need extended time and heat to become the best version of themselves. Many people boil tongues. You could also throw it in a slow cooker. But for a fast take on cooking tongue, the pressure cooker is the perfect match. For this batch, I had half a heart left from a friend’s whitetail and I put it alongside the tongue as it was frozen. If I’d had more time, I would have simply sautéed it along with the tongue in the cast-iron. That’s my recommendation if you have heart on hand.
For this recipe, you combine the pressure cooker and a cast-iron stove for prime results. And the broth that the tongue cooks in makes for a great soup to accompany your tacos. The end result is browned, delectable, easy goodness. And if you really want to be authentic, refer to these as tacos de lengua.
For Instant Pot:
2-3 cups chicken broth (enough to cover meat)
1 jalapeno, sliced in half
Half an onion, chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 bundle of fresh sage, chopped
1 tbsp olive oil or butter
One onion, minced
One bushel cilantro, minced
Tortillas of your choosing, I prefer corn. Or if you’re a badass, make your own.
Combine all ingredients in Instant Pot. If you’re cooking a smaller deer tongue, 14 minutes on high pressure is a perfect amount of time. If you’re cooking something larger like elk or moose, adjust for size. I’d probably cook a cow tongue for 22-24 minutes, depending on size. While meat is cooking, turn oven to 300 degrees.
Once cooked, pull tongue from broth. Peel skin from tongue then chop into small pieces, about a quarter inch to a half inch big. Place back in pot for ten minutes. Wrap a few tortillas in cloth and place in oven to warm. Combine minced onion and cilantro into a bowl.
Warm oil or butter in cast iron pan until sizzling. Strain meat from broth and place into pan. Add salt to taste and brown until meat is crispy on the edges, then dive up the meat onto tortillas, add onion and cilantro, and eat immediately.
Add leftover onion, cilantro and meat to the broth and eat alongside tacos. Or freeze broth and use as a base for a soup.