I’ve always run a few off-cuts and offals and weird meats on the menu at Prune, since opening in 1999, because I grew up with them and they are a part of who I am as a cook and eater. These days, it could come off as some kind of perverse or precocious kind of gustatory bragging to say that as a child I adored the blob of marrow from the soup bones and had a particular love of the brains in brown butter with capers that my mother cooked. But it was nothing to impress with at the time. Frankly, to have to explain that funky rillettes sandwich in your oily paper lunch bag to your schoolmates with their American cheese on Wonder Bread felt in the vicinity of shameful. In our house, these meats were just a pragmatic and cultural fact of what my French mother cooked to feed a family of seven.
Many people are squeamish about the off-cuts, and I can see why the livery taste of liver and the urine taste of kidneys and the custard texture of brains and the stench of chitlins during the initial boiling, the crunch of tendon, the sponge of lung and tripe can be a turn off. But with beef tongue, I’ve never understood the revulsion — other than the idea of the thing — because it holds none of these challenges: It’s clean, meaty, beefy, muscley and fleshy. Tongue is one fine piece of meat. Once boiled and peeled, it can be served warm and sticky in its own braising liquid like a good pot roast, with root vegetables and potatoes. You can shave it paper thin and dress it with hot chili oil and scallions and snow peas and toasted sesame seeds. Cold, it can be sliced like a deli meat and makes an excellent sandwich with horseradish mayo on rye bread. Here, dressed with a classic sauce gribiche lively with tarragon and parsley, cornichons and capers, it makes an elegant, unexpected first-course salad fit for, believe it or not, a summer wedding feast.
Before I opened Prune, I had a long 10 years as a cook in high-end catering, and one thing that dented my soul that entire time was the uniformity and conformity of the weddings; the way the party planner would sell the same wedding over and over, to the same couple, more or less, again and again….