Sous vide tongue tacos (tacos de lengua)

Even the phrase “sous vide” has the hallmarks of things most home cooks avoid. You’re not quite sure how to pronounce it, and it seems vaguely French (and therefore fussy). Well, sous vide is indeed a French phrase, but actually far from fussy.

So what is sous vide? The sous vide (pronounced sue veed, meaning under vacuum) cooking technique refers to a process of cooking vacuum-sealed items in a water bath at a controlled and precise temperature. The sous vide machine regulates the temperature of the water by circulating and heating the water.

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Still seems kind of complicated and not useful for everyday cooking? Five or ten years ago this was true. Sous-vide machines used to be bulky, heavy, very expensive, and used mostly in top kitchens or by haute-cuisine enthusiasts. But small, light, sous-vide machines have been available on Amazon for the last few years and now can be found for as little as $75, making them more and more common in average home kitchens.

I think of sous vide as the modern crockpot. It allows you to cook things “low and slow,” but at a very precise temperature, meaning it’s impossible to burn food! Sous vide can get tender, supple textures out of meat, fish, and even vegetables that otherwise are difficult to achieve using other cooking methods. I find that that sous vide really shines when you make food that benefits from cooking for a long, long time. Again, most thinks that you would put in a crockpot would do great sous vide.

(If you want a more in depth introduction to sous vide cooking, I highly recommend Kenji Lopez-Alt’s writings and recipes on Serious Eats.)

One of the most incredible things we’ve made with the sous-vide, and maybe one of the best things to come out of the kitchen in recent memory, were tongue tacos.

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If you’ve never had tongue because you think it’s gross, I urge you to get over that right now. It just tastes like the best piece of beef you’ve ever had. Tongue is great because it’s cheap and easy to prepare since it does best when slow cooked (also making it a great sous vide candidate).

This recipe is a fusion of Peruvian and Mexican elements. Tacos are obviously Mexican, but all of the spices used are Peruvian and is based on a Peruvian stew recipe (seco de carne). Tongue is commonly eaten in both Mexico and Peru, and is often easily found in Mexican grocery stores or markets throughout the US.

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Peruvian tongue tacos (tacos de lengua)

servings              6
difficulty             moderate
cook time           36-48 hours, 45 minutes active cook time

This recipe can still be very successful without a sous vide. Instructions for alternative cooking methods are included below.

Peruvian spices can be difficult to find, even in New York. Sometimes we make the pilgrimage to Queens or Patterson, New Jersey, which both have large Peruvian communities. If this isn’t an option, you can also order all of these spices online at Amigo Foods or Kosmos Peru.

Of course tacos should be served with salsa. If you’re feeling up to making your own (easier than it sounds!), check out these recipes for salsa verde and salsa borracha.

Ingredients
Marinade

1 beef tongue, about 2-2½ lbs / 1 kilo
¼ cup / 60 mililiters soy sauce (reduced sodium preferred)
½ cup / 120 mililiters light beer (double if cooking in oven or crock pot)
2 tbsp aji amarillo paste
2 tbsp aji mirasol paste
¼ cup / 60 mililiters aji panca paste
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 medium white onion, cut into quarters
6-7 sprigs of cilantro

Salsa criolla (onion “salsa”)

1 medium red onion, thinly sliced lengthwise
3 tbsp / 40 milliliters lime juice (from about 2 limes)
1 tbsp finely chopped cilantro
1 tsp minced habanero, deseeded (can be omitted)

FOR SERVING

24-30 tortillas
1 cup salsa criolla (see ingredients above)
1 cup minced cilantro
1 cup queso fresco or cotilla cheese
4 limes, cut into wedges
4 radishes, cut into matchsticks
Salsas of your choice (recipes here)
Extra minced habanero for appeasing the spice lovers


  1. Rinse the tongue under cold water.
  2. Combine all the ingredients for the marinade except for the onion and cilantro in a medium mixing bowl. Pour into a large, gallon-sized plastic bag and drop in the onion and cilantro sprigs. Add the tongue. Remove excess air from the bag, close and refrigerate. Marinate at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Note: you can skip the marinating step and drop directly in the sous vide if pressed for time.
  3. Note: skip steps 4 and 5 if using the crockpot or oven method and follow the directions for one of the sous vide alternatives-
    • Crockpot method: pour the contents of the bag into the crockpot. Add an extra ½ cup beer and ½ cup water. The tongue should be barely covered with liquid. Cook on the low setting for 8 hours.
    • Oven method: pour the contents of the bag into a heavy bottomed baking dish with a lid. Add an extra ½ cup beer and ½ cup water. Cook covered at 325 degrees Fahrenheit (165 degrees Celsius) for 4 hours, or until fork tender. Add a a bit of water if you notice the meat is getting dry.
  4. Prepare the water bath for the sous vide. Set the sous-vide to 170 degrees Fahrenheit (76 degrees Celsius). When the water reaches 170 degrees, add the bag of the tongue. Ensure no air is left in the bag. I use the water displacement method for this: Open the bag a bit (about 1-2 inches of opening) and slowly lower the bag into the water. The water will push out remaining air as you lower it. Lower until very close to the zipper of the bag, the close the bag.
  5. Sous vide the tongue at 170 degrees Fahrenheit for 24-36 hours.
  6. Remove tongue from sous vide / crockpot / oven. Let cool at room temperature until you are able to handle. If using sous vide I expedite this process by placing the bag into an ice bath.
  7. While tongue is cooling, reduce the marinade. Cook in a medium heavy-bottomed pan on high heat until reduced by roughly half (about 5-10 minutes).
  8. Remove the tough exterior layer from the tongue. I use a knife to get this started, but then peel it off using my hands.
  9. Cut the tongue into small pieces, shredding with your hands where possible. Pour half of the marinade reduction over the meat and keep warm. I save the other half as an accompaniment for the table.
  10. Combine ingredients for salsa criolla in a small bowl. Prepare all other accompaniments and place into serving bowls.
  11. Warm tortillas in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Alternatively, wrap in foil and place in oven for 15 minutes at 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
  12. Serve meat, tortillas, and accompaniments, letting everyone construct their own tacos.

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