The postcard butcher of 1960s proudly displays the tongue and the brain of an ox head.
Animal’s brain was considered a delicacy by most ancient Greeks and Romans. Aristotle wrote about it and Galen refers to its dietary qualities. Brain was an important ingredient of rodonia lopas, (rose casserole) that had been prepared by a fictional Roman cook of Atheneaus. On the other hand, the Greek mathematician Pythagoras could not accept the idea of consuming animal brain. It was the same as eating the heads of one’s parents, he said. Until recently lamb’s and pig’s brain was eaten as part of split or baked head. Ox brain was eaten fried, cooked or boiled… the boiled one was considered good food for sick people. Though after 70ies brain lost its popularity, still remained one of the meals that people occasionally served… The oubreak of mad cow disease in Europe restricted its consumption.
”Wash the brains, soak them in cold water for 30 minutes and remove the membrane. Wash again and put them in a pan. Cover with water, add salt and vinegar (2 tbs per brain) and boil for 20 minutes. Lift out the brains and when cold, cut in pieces. Dip into flour seasoned with salt and pepper. Brush the pieces with egg and coat with breadcrumbs. Fry them in hot butter for 2-3 minutes and drain on paper. Serve them with mashed potatoes.” (Kat. Providaki’s cooking notes)
In ancient Greece the tongues of the sacrificed animals were reserved for the Gods. Tongues were the special offering to Hermes, the interpreter and messenger of Olympian gods and god of eloquence and commerce. Considering that he was also god of boundaries and travelers, it is not suprising that those leaving banquets used to pour libations to Hermes over the tongues (Athenaeus). The tongue is one of the cheaper part of animal which can be cooked in various ways or be preserved. During the last decades is not a hot home cooking trend but you can pay a lot for it at a gourmet restaurant.
OX TONGUE COOKED IN WINE & VINEGAR (Hania /Crete)
ox tongue, 1 kg
3 medium onions, diced
2 tbs olive oil
1 teacup vinegar
1 teacup red wine
1 bay leaf
a little cumin
Wash the tongue thoroughly. Soak for 2 hours and put in a deep stew pan.
Cover with cold water, heat to boiling point, then drain.
Return it to the pan and cover with fresh cold water.
Heat to boil, cover with a lid, reduce the heat and simmer gently for 30 minutes.
Lift out the tongue and plunge it into cold water.
Drain and remove the small bones at the root and the skin, carefully.
Cut the tongue in large pieces.
Place it in the pan without water, with the rest of ingredients. Put the lid over the pan air tight, or paste it round with dough. Simmer it for about 1 hour. The fire must be moderate, or the tongue may burn. Cut each piece into slices and serve.