James Whelan Butchers: Ox Tongue


I’m often amused and sometimes confused by the way meat and other foods become fashionable and then fall off the radar.  I suppose we expect trends in other areas so why should food be any different?  Growing up in a butcher’s household all parts of all animals were explored as possible meals and so all types of meat were always ‘in’.  Offal was certainly not off limits and kidneys, liver, hearts, sweetbreads, tripe and tongue were as common in the kitchen as steak and roast beef throughout my childhood.  Liver and onions were often served for tea and we were always reminded of just how nutritious and iron rich it was.  In fact offal, while very tasty, is generally quite nutritious.  The caveat is of course that if the animal isn’t healthy or well fed then the meat it produces will be inferior, but for the purposes of this column we are only talking about well reared beasts.

As a very small child cooked tongue intrigued me because by the time it got to the plate it bore no resemblance at all to the massive organ that sat inside the mouths of the cows on the farm or even the large, long ox tongues sold to customers in the shop.  I can understand how some people would be put off by the visual aesthetic of the ox tongue as it is not the prettiest cut of meat. Then one day I discovered a large pudding bowl in the cold scullery with a plate on the top and a massive rock on top of the plate; a most curious find indeed.  On inquiring I discovered it was a tongue, being pressed, ready for the table.  Aha!  It was a Eureka moment.  While Jim Figgerty was the 1970s advertising mascot of the fig roll and was forever enquiring from the TV screen “How do they get the figs into the fig rolls?” I was wondering how my mother got a massive Ox Tongue to look like a smooth, red Christmas pudding.  All had been revealed; it was the pudding bowl mould.

My main point is that if you choose to cook a tongue and it is the first time you are introducing it to the family, trust me when I say that once finished it won’t look anything like the meat you buy in its raw state.  Cooked and laid out as a buffet or picnic meat it will look very appetising and the silky taste when sliced thinly is divine.  It is a fantastic food that can be served hot or cold and works so well in many situations.  For some reason I seem to remember it mainly as a summer dish. It was served hot the first day and the leftovers were carved and plated as part of a cold meat salad tea, supper or picnic food the next day.

The main thing to note with tongue or any offal for that matter is that cooking and preparing it is usually time consuming and the process can be quite slow.  However, when we look at the taste value, the price points and the inherent nutrition I think it is all worth it.  Tongue is suddenly on the radar again.  We have had several new enquiries and I notice talk of how to cook tongue buzzing around the food community.  I’m thrilled by this as I have always felt it is much underrated and genuinely feel that the reason more people, particularly the younger generation, haven’t tried it is because they don’t quite know what to do with it.

Well I’m going to tell you what to do with an ox tongue. When you get the tongue home you will need to wash it quite well.  I suggest that you scrub it vigorously with a stiff brush.  It then needs to be soaked in cold water for several hours or even overnight if time allows.  The next morning remove the tongue and discard the water and then place it into a large, deep pot and cover it with water.  Bring it to the boil and then skim away any surface scum before adding the prepared vegetables, herbs and spices.  It will need to simmer very gently at approximately 45 minutes per lb.  For an average ox tongue you could be looking at 3 to 4 hours.

I don’t suggest stabbing the meat to see if it is tender but instead I defer to the great goddess of cooking, Delia Smith who says in her excellent book, Delia’s Complete Cookery Course, “The tongue will be ready when the skin along the surface is blistered and the T-shaped bone at the root of the tongue comes away easily when pulled”.   Once you know the tongue is cooked, remove it from the pot and let it cool before handling it and then strip away all the skin.  Curl the tongue and fit it into a snug container.  As I mentioned my mother always used a pudding bowl, but a tin or a dish with high sides will work as well.  Take the cooking liquid and boil it rapidly to reduce it down.   Take about 10fl oz of the stock and add in the gelatine and the port.  Pour the whole lot over the tongue, cover the top and place a heavy weight on top to hold it all down.  Put it in a cool place and allow it to set, if possible, overnight. When you turn it out it will hold its shape and allow you to carve it easily.  You can serve it cold sliced or heat it in a Madeira sauce if you want to eat it warm.  Pigs, Calves and Lambs’ tongues are also available and can be treated in the same way as ox tongue.  Obviously the smaller tongues won’t take as long to cook but also won’t yield as much meat.

If you do decide to cook a tongue I’d be delighted to get your feedback.  Thanks to modern technology I’m now available via Twitter, Facebook or email and feel free to contact me anytime.

What you need to prepare ox tongue.


  • 1 ox tongue
  • 1 large onion
  • 2 washed and trimmed leeks
  • 3 carrots chopped into chunks
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • A handful of parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6 whole black peppercorns
  • Powdered gelatine
  • 3 tablespoons of port

We hope you enjoyed reading this post by Pat Whelan of James Whelan Butchers. Pat is a 5th generation butcher, cook book author and the director of  James Whelan Butchers with shops in Clonmel, the Avoca Handweavers Rathcoole and Kilmacanogue, Dunnes Stores Cornelscourt, Rathmines and Swords in Dublin. Sign up to our newsletter for more updates from James Whelan Butchers

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