Chef Mark Mendez runs the kitchen at his West Loop restaurant Vera. It is no secret that Vera is one of my favorite restaurants in town. Food is simple without being simple. Complex flavors and textures are everywhere, but nothing seems fussed over and no extra ingredients are strewn across the plate. His philosophy of keeping things simple and making sure everything included is high quality and necessary inspired most of my decisions in my kitchen design project and one of the first things cooked in the kitchen, these beef tongue and caper sausages, were inspired by a signature Mendez dish – the Beef Tongue Pincho.
Mendez’s pincho, a skewer of simmered then griddled cubes of beef tongue, was my favorite dish from last year and I thought it might make an interesting sausage. Tongue is rich and incredibly beefy, so I wanted to be sure to balance the richness of the sausage with similar flavors to the condiment Mendez uses with the skewered tongue – salsa verde. I combined herbs, garlic and lemon zest, then added nearly a handful of capers. While beef fat is fantastic in frying french fries, it is not my favorite fat to eat, in sausage or otherwise, so I opted to supplement the beef chuck and tongue with pork fat.
I started off by simmering a beef tongue whole then allowing it to cool. Next, I peeled the tongue and chopped into cubes. This process is a little work, but nothing more than chopping aromatics, dropping the aromatics and tongue into water, heating the water, then removing the tongue from the heat to cool. To peel the cooled tongue, I simply made a longitudinal cut over the top of the tongue and peel the skin, then a layer of cooled fat from the tongue. What you have left, should look like boiled beef.
After the sausages took a quick turn in a hot pan, we shared them for my younger daughter’s third birthday. I get a kick out of a nearly three year old choosing her menu, but I got a particular charge out of the little one requesting a birthday meal of a meatball, sausage and a Teddy cake (a cake shaped like a teddy bear, apparently).
The richness from the beef tongue is no joke, but the lemon and capers are inspired and underutilized sausage ingredients. The brine and acid flavors really balance the sausage. The herbs do just what you thought they would do, but the tongue in tandem with the capers and lemon make this sausage worth making at home. While the process of boiling, peeling and chopping the tongue was labor intensive, it was not difficult and made a simple sausage complex.
Beef Tongue and Caper Sausage
500 grams beef chuck, ground
250 grams beef tongue, simmered, peeled and cubed
150 grams pork fat, ground
18 grams salt
3 tablespoons salt packed capers
2 tablespoons mint
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon tarragon
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 lemon, zested
Step one: To prepare tongue, boil with onions, carrots, garlic, salt, pepper and bay leaves. Cool, peel, and chop.
Step two: Soak capers for an hour.
Step three: Combine all ingredients and bind by hand or in a stand mixer. Stuff into sausages. Heat in a hot pan, but do not over cook. These would be great smoked.