What makes a dish fit for the holidays? For instance, turkey is associated with Thanksgiving. But why is it the choice? It can’t be for its flavor, as pointed out in a very interesting blog post in Bon Appetit entitled 8 Thanksgiving Entrees Better Than Turkey:
Thanksgiving is the one day of the year that the typically sane cooks of America do irrational things. They buy upwards of 20 pounds of the driest, least flavorful, most awkwardly shaped animal protein known to man. They do backflips brining, frying, spicing, saucing–anything–to try to make turkey more flavorful than it was born to be…
Yes, there’s the argument that we should eat what the pilgrims ate, but they also ate squirrels who, like the famed Iberico pork of Spain, feasted on acorns, and they ate eels…
The same question can be raised about what we serve for Christmas in the Philippines. Why a whole leg of ham? Why queso de bola (edam cheese)? Why the strangest of dessert salads consisting of shredded coconut, canned fruit cocktail, sweetened condensed milk and cream?
Tradition — that’s the operative word. Personally, I’m not big on tradition. I don’t like queso de bola, a whole leg of ham is too much for a family of four and the girls prefer fresh fruit salad over canned. But we do love eating well, holiday season or not.
Over dinner, we were discussing the holiday menu with Sam, Speedy jokingly said we’ll just have puto, Sam was aghast so I offered to make pancit bihon to go with the puto. Sam grimaced, I laughed and asked her what she’d like with the reminder that it better not require too much work and nothing in huge amounts either as it can be such a pain to finish leftovers. Grilled ox tongue, kebab style, she said, which is doable.
We love ox tongue. And we consider ox tongue dishes to be special mainly for two reasons: First, it takes such a long time to cook the meat that it’s not something I’d like to do everyday. Second, ox tongue is quite pricey so it’s not an item for the everyday menu.
If you like ox tongue like we do, here is a versatile way of preparing it — as a pie. Pretty and festive enough for the holidays but preparation can be simplified by cooking the tongue and making the crust a day or two ahead, and assembling and baking the dish a few hours before serving.
You can make one large pie…
… or several small ones.
And you can add more vegetables if you want to transform a meal for six into meal for ten.
Pastel de lengua (ox tongue pie)
- 1 ox tongue about 1 and 1/2 kilograms
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
- 1 onion halved
- half a clove of garlic
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/4 cup butter
- vegetables recommended are potatoes, carrots, mushrooms, onions, sweet peas and celery
- 1 cup cream
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
- 1/2 recipe basic pie crust
- 1 egg beaten, for brushing
- You can cook the ox tongue in a slow cooker. I did. I put the tongue in the slow cooker with a cup of water, salt, the peppercorns, onion, garlic and bay leaves. Two hours on high, seven hours on low, then I left the tongue in the cooker to cool for several hours where, presumably, it continued to cook.
- You can also use a pressure cooker which should make the tongue tender in about two hours and a half.
- Or, you can do it the old school way. In a thick bottomed pot over low heat for four to six hours.
- Cool the tongue then peel off the coarse skin. If the tongue has been sufficiently cooked, the skin will come off easily. If you’re just prepping, wrap the tongue in cling film and refrigerate until the day you intend to serve it. It’ll be okay in the fridge for a day or two.
- To assemble and bake the pie, cut the ox tongue into one-inch cubes. Cut all the vegetables that you’re using to roughly the size of the meat. As to the amount of vegetables, I suggest that the maximum should be equal to the amount of meat. Of course, you can use less.
- Heat the butter in a frying pan. Cook the vegetables — add the ones that cook longest and add the ones that need the shortest cooking time last. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- When the vegetables are done (don’t overcook them!), add the cubed tongue and cook, tossing often, until the meat is heated through.
- Turn off the heat. Transfer the meat and vegetables into a pie dish or ramekins. Cool. You need to cool the pie filling before laying on the crust. Otherwise, the steam build-up will push the crust upward creating an air pocket between the filling and the crust. So, cool the filling. Half an hour to 45 minutes should do it.
- When the filling has cooled, preheat the oven — anywhere from 375F to 400F.
- Pour the cream over the filling (divide the cream equally among the ramekins if that’s what you’re using).
- Roll out the crust and cover the pie dish or ramekins with it. Pierce the crust to create vents then brush with the beaten egg (see illustration). Bake until the filling is bubbly and the crust is nicely browned — about 25 minutes if using ramekins; about 40 minutes if using a full-sized pie dish.