06 October, 2009

Pickled Lamb's Tongues


Some time ago, I used to buy jars of pickled lamb's tongues. Made by Rogers, a company that put up all sorts of pickled "tavern food" like pigs feet, ham hocks, pickled eggs, and sausages, they were tender, ready-to-eat, fully-cooked lamb's tongues, packed in a mild vinegar brine and sold in one of the local supermarkets from the chilly area right above the self-service meat case. They were delicious, but when the supermarket closed, I was no longer able to find pickled lamb tongues. I never stopped looking for them, but eventually I found that Rogers Company went out of business a few years back, a victim of changing tastes and the general decline in demand for "tavern food." Dave Fazer of Long Lake Foods believes that Rogers was the last commercial maker of pickled tongue, and my own searching leads me to agree. Apparently, the number of people who ask at their local stores and who email Mr. Fazer looking for lamb tongues just aren't enough to make commercial production viable.

It's possible, however, to make your own.

I have years of experience in canning, meat processing, and charcuterie. I make my own bacon, sausages, corned beef, patés, and more. But I had never put up any pickled meats, so I started by searching for some kind of recipe or written technique that I could study and use - or at least use as a starting point for my own recipe. I pored through my collection of vintage cookbooks and books on charcuterie and meat preservation, to no avail. And when I turned to the internet, the search was almost as frustrating - most Google hits for "pickled tongue" lead to message board postings by people trying to find the commercially prepared product.

Finally, a search on the Chowhound message board found this thread, in which Chowhound user Porker shares his recipe for pickled pork tongue. Lamb's tongue is smaller, more tender, and cooks more quickly than pork tongue, so I made a few tweaks to the recipe - including scaling it to handle the ten-pound wholesaale box of lamb's tongues my neighborhood butcher obtained for me. But without Porker's help and the groundwork he did in developing his recipe, this recipe wouldn't have been such a success.

So, follow along with this step-by-step photo tutorial.

Step One: Curing

Because the tongues are going to be canned for storage, they need to be cured to help prevent botulism (the combination of curing, the acidic vinegar pickle, and refrigeration keeps the pickled tongue safe to eat.) Normally, curing with Instacure #1 (formerly known as Prague Powder #1 or "pink salt") requires about 1 ounce for every 30 pounds of meat, but because we'll be using a simple overnight liquid brine, we need a stronger concentration.

Make as much brine as needed to completely cover the tongues using this baseline:

12 cups of water
1 cup of pickling or kosher salt
6 tablespoons Instacure #1

For the ten-pound batch of tongues I prepared, I needed 3 batches of this brine (2½ gallons.)

Mix the ingredients for the brine in a stainless steel (non-reactive) pot. Wash the tongues under cool running water. Place them in the pot, bring just to a boil on high heat, then remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature, and store overnight in the liquid.

Because I was processing ten pounds of meat I had to do this step in a 21-quart stockpot which would not fit in my fridge. So, when the tongues had cooled down enough to handle, I divided them between three one-gallon glass jars and filled the jars to the top with the still-warm curing brine. Then, off they went into the fridge for their overnight soak.

Step Two: Cooking

The next day, drain off the curing brine and discard it, and rinse the tongues.

Make up a batch of cooking brine using this baseline:

3 cups of water
1 cup of vinegar
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of pickling spice

As before, make up as many batches as you will need to cover the tongues in the pot. Bring up to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer the tongues gently for two hours, until they are fork-tender. Drain the cooked tongues and shock them under cold running water. You'll notice that the tongues are covered in a loose yet tough membrane "shell" - this is the skin of the tongue and it has to be removed. Peel off the skins, and use a sharp knife to remove any roots, veins, and fatty tissues under the tongue.

The skinning process is very easy and although a little tedious will go quickly. When the skin cooks, it becomes hard and plastic-like, and most of the time will peel easily from the tongue. Once it's off, you can use the knife blade to scrape away any fatty bits under the tongue and especially under the thickest part, where you'll find fatty clumps and veins that you'll want to take out if only for appearances' sake.

With the tongues cooked tender, skinned, and ready for the final processing, you're ready to can them.

Step Three: Canning

NOTE: The USDA recommends that meats be canned using a pressure-canning process. I believe that the hot water bath process used here is safe because of the nitrite in the Instacure #1 and the acidity of both the cooking and the canning brines. However, I DO NOT KEEP THESE CANNED TONGUES ON THE SHELF AT ROOM TEMPERATURE, I KEEP THEM IN THE REFRIGERATOR AND I RECOMMEND THAT YOU DO THE SAME. I assume no responsibility for your actions in your kitchen; this is simply a chronicle of my own actions in my kitchen.

Wash your canning jars and prepare the canning brine: You won't need as much of the canning brine as you do cooking brine - only about eight cups or so. For this canning brine, you'll need:

4 cups of water
4 cups of vinegar
2 tbsp salt
2 tbsp of pickling spices if desired (I skipped this because I just wanted a nice clear brine.)

Pack the tongues in your canning jars, leaving at least 1½ inches headspace (two inches is even better - the tongues swell during processing and if you don't leave lots of headspace the brine won't completely cover the meat.) Add brine to cover the tongues completely and within ½-inch of the top of the jar. Cap the jars and process them in a boiling water bath for 15 to 20 minutes. Cool to room temperature and refrigerate 3 to 4 days before eating.

The ten pounds of tongues I process yielded eight 1½-pint widemouth jars of pickled snacks.

Special thanks for the info and encouragement from Porker at Chowhound, and to Anthony Caronna, my neighborhood butcher at Caronna's Market in Thompsonville CT, who was happy to get the lamb's tongues for me on special order. Caronna's, located on Pearl Street right next door to the yellow-brick art deco Thompsonville Fire Department, has been in operation since 1918.

PLEASE NOTE:  I know that many of you reading this blog post have been brought here by Google and Bing as you search for the commercially-produced lamb's tongues you or your family members once purchased at grocery stores.  Unfortunately, when the Rogers Company went out of business, pickled lamb's tongues became unavailable - they were the only company in the United States making them, and no one else has stepped forward to continue the tradition.

Because I enjoy pickled tongues and wanted to enjoy them again, I developed  and published this recipe to help those who are interested in the product make their own, in their own home kitchen, the way I did.  I am not a commercial supplier, just a hobbyist who likes to fiddle around in the kitchen.

If you decide to try making your own pickled tongues and have questions or want more information, please feel free to send me an email and I will do what I can for you to help make your job easier.  Canning anything is a little intimidating - canning and preserving meat products can seem overwhelming to someone who's never done it before.

Please do not write asking to buy pickled lamb's tongues from me. I don't sell them and I won't send you any. I wrote this post to help you make your own, and the only way you're going to get any pickled lamb's tongue is if you get off your ass and get to work.  



Andrew said...

My God, man....
You are a warrior.

Shiva said...

I'd try them, but I don't think I could handle making them. You are a brave man.

Unknown said...

I've been searching for these for years. I used to give my father pickled lamb's tongues to my father every Christmas. Now this vegetarian made her own! Thank you!

Unknown said...

I used to eat pickled lambs tongue and pickled eggs at my grandparents house when I'd stay over for the weekend.
Got the hankering for a pickled lambs tongue last night and figured I could sate it with a pickled egg....

I couldn't even find pickled eggs where I currently live... at least in the market I was at.

Guess I'll have to stock up next time I go home for a visit....

what do you think the odds are that there's a stray case of Roger's pickled lamb's tongue out there somewhere????

Dave said...

Robert: Sadly, I don't think there are any Rogers products out there any more. Believe me, I looked far and wide for them.

robin said...

what did the ten lb. box of tongues cost ? i really didn't want to have to make them myself but i'm starting to climb the walls, sitting here with a cold beer and no pickled lamb tongues.
i know i'm not the only one out there . . . hudson valley area, n.y.

Dave said...

robin - The box cost me about $38.00 if I remember right. You can do this method with pork tongues as well; they're a little cheaper and they come out almost as good.

Helen said...

Hi Everyone,

I'm another big fan of pickled lambs tongue and when I get a hankering....it is generally overwhelming! ;-)
I contacted this company and asked them if they got enough interest, would they consider producing and packaging these delicious victuals.
Let's join together!

Anonymous said...

I loved Roger's Pickled Lamb's Tongue. Do yours have the same flavor?
I used to pickle pork, venison, and cow tongue and heart using a recipe from my former mother in law. We didn't go through the curing process, but did use the pickling spice. The flavor was good, but completely different from Roger's.

Dave said...

Anonymous - Mine tasted similar to Rogers, but not exact. Next time I make them I may cut back on the vinegar a little - mine were "sharper" than the commercial variety.

E.St.Clair said...

Thanks in advance for the recipe and detailed instructions. I do have a pressure canner and am planning to process them following standard directions for canning meat - 11psi/90 minutes for quart jars. Does that sound right to anyone since they are already pickled? I don't want to turn them to mush! Also - what type of vinegar has everyone used - white or cider? Any tips would be great - I'll report back next week after the big pickling attempt.

Dave said...

E.St.Clair - Since you're going to pressure can them I would suggest a small change.

When you first put the tongues into the brine, bring them up to a boil then shut down the heat and allow them to cook as in my recipe. But when it comes time to cook them, I would cook them only until the skin can be removed - perhaps 15 minutes to half an hour - NOT long enough to make them tender.

Remove the skins and pack them into the jars as directed. Then process in the pressure canning. Let the 90 minutes at pressure do the cooking.

My original method makes them soft and tender enough. I'm afraid that if I pressure cooked them after a 2-hour simmer, they'd be way too soft.

Also, use white vinegar for a beautiful transparent brine. I considered using cider vinegar but was afraid that the color would be unattractive.

Good luck and please keep in touch - I'm looking forward to hearing how it went for you!

E.St.Clair said...

Mission accomplished! The tongues turned out great, according to Jeff, our connoisseur friend. I thought they were pretty, um, interesting. Faintly reminiscent of Underwood Deviled Ham (which I haven't had for 40 years) but definitely with its own distinctive flavor.
We're going to make our pickling adventure an annual event! Slight tweaks for next year - they seemed a little more tart than expected, and the pickling spice turned the vinegar yellowish - not very appealing looking. I chronicled the process, with some photos, here:

Thanks for the guidance and inspiration!

Paul said...

Oh my God! This is so cool! I was raised on pickled lambs tongues and have been going nuts of late without them. Looks like a ton of work but sounds worth it. I know a whole ton of folks who would buy them if they could be made for the retail market again. I guess this will have to do. I can't wait to start. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Dave said...

E.St.Clair - I'm glad you had success with the method.

Paul - Yes, they're a lot of work, but a wholesale box of tongues makes several jars, so it's worth the time spent. If you have any questions when you start diving into the project, feel free to email me through my "Contact Me" form and I'll offer whatever help I can.

Anonymous said...

Has anyone written to Hormel. They still make pickled ham hocks. Maybe they might be interested in making pickled lamb tongues.

rahmom said...

I miss pickeled Lamb Toung. When I married my husband my parents, who are from the Boston area, sent me a whole case! Of coure that was 10 years ago and I have been dying to have more. I am very affraid that I will mess it up though and it wouldn't turn out. MAYBE i will try OR maybe someone else can try, taste and then sell me a ouple of jars! lol

mary theriault said...

I just found your post about lamb's tongue. I'm coming late to computer use, so that's why. I have always loved lamb's tongue (I'm 63) but didn't know it wasn't made anymore. I appreciate your figuring out a recipe, and may try it. Thanks again for the information. P.S. I used to buy all the jars available and shock everyone except my brother-in-law when they looked in my closet.

Paul said...

I really miss the lamb tongues, I thoroughly enjoyed the article and recipe. I will try it one day

Charlene said...

Thank you, Dave:
My family & I have enjoyed Rogers lambs tongues for as long as I can remember(I'm 53), & we have so many wonderful & funny memories associated with this delicious product. Roger Bros. was located in Lunenburg, MA (01462), & there must be someone out there who still has the original recipe. If everyone who misses Rogers lambs tongues offered just $1.00 to that person for the recipe, I bet she/he could be a millionnaire. I know soooo many people who would be interested in that. Anybody have access to Lunenburg, MA newspapers to put an ad in the paper requesting the recipe or the whereabouts of someone who knows how to create it?
Again, Dave, thank you for the recipe. We'll have to try it.

David Gelabert said...

I miss the lambs tongue and thought another company made them also, They drove red trucks and had a german name like Brock.

Rochester, NY
Formerly from Long Island.

Andrea said...

You are my hero! Rogers lamb tongues were by far my favorite sole food. Better than xanax to fight off the blues. How sad that Rogers is out of business but you've seriously made my day and as soon as I can figure out which butcher shop will accomodate me, I'll be whipping up a batch! You rule! Andrea, Lockport,NY

Dave said...

Andrea, if/when you decide to actually make them, if you run into any questions, use the Contact Me form to email me and I'll do what I can to help out.

Phil G. said...

Getting sick from eating them...Hell, I can get sick just THINKING about them! Different strokes for different folks!

lisa Clark said...

Dave , thanks for the recipe for pickled lambs tongues, just made them for my boyfriend, he said they are terrific!!!! He wants to start a mail order business and have me sell the pickled lambs tongue. I'm not sure, it sounds like a lot of work, but it is alot of fun making them..Thanks again.



like the rest of the people that come to Dave's Cupboard I love the Rogers Lambs tongue. I made a big batch about two years ago. Well, there gone. I am looking and looking for a place to purchase the raw lambs tongue. I just can't find a place even on the internet. Can some smart person help me out and give info as to where I can purchase raw lambs tongue at a reasonable price.

Dave said...

Charlie Dog - I don't know of any place to buy them on line, but I can get them by placing a special order with my local butcher. Do you have a small market in your town with a butcher shop where you can ask?

Where did you get them the first time you made them?

Anonymous said...

I heard about the Rogers Co. going out of business about a yr.ago and thought that was it . I wasn't sure about making them but your post looks reasonable. But only one thing comes to mind , is the taste similar to Rogers?

Anonymous said...

My boyfriend and his family LOVED lambs tongue growing up. He asked me to look up how to find it. His 50th birthday is coming up. I thought it would be great to get him some. It looks like I better start cooking! I've never pickled anything so this will be interesting. I don't live far from Thomsonville. Is that Butcher still there that you used? If these come out right, maybe I will have an annual pickling party!

Cherylann said...

Hi Dave - can you please tell me the canned pickled lamb tongues shelf life in the refrigerator? I never have canned before and cannot find an answer as to how long they can stay in the fridge. Thanks

Dave said...

I can say for certain that they will keep in the refrigerator for about six months if the jar isn't opened. (After opening, you have a little over a week to eat them.)

I reckon that they could last for about eight months or so, but I've never kept them longer than that because they all get eaten by then.


Hi Dave! We used to get Weber's brand in southeast PA. They too have gone out of business. Sad to see these and other tavern foods go away. Just a suggestion for you. You may want to add a little brown sugar to your final pickle. It cuts the bite from the vinegar and adds a nice sweetness. I use brown sugar and bay leaf with hot pepper flakes for pickling tripe. Another PA Dutch delicacy. Thanks for posting the information!

pickle5482 said...

I believe a company called Reese sold pickled lambs tongues but now long gone.

Unknown said...

Hi Dave, I grew up eating pickled lambs tongue as well as many of my friends and relatives here in NY. I am a betting man and an investor. What type of investment would it take to put them back on the market?

Unknown said...

Hi Dave, I grew up eating pickled lambs tongue as well as many of my friends and relatives here in NY. I am a betting man and an investor. What type of investment would it take to put them back on the market?

Anonymous said...

I tried these a few months ago and they are all gone, so I am doing them again they tasted exactly like Rogers to me, one exception in my recipe, add one bay leaf to each jar.

Anonymous said...

I tried these a few months ago and they are all gone, so I am doing them again they tasted exactly like Rogers to me, one exception in my recipe, add one bay leaf to each jar.

Unknown said...

Please tell me, how close to the Rogers tongues does this recipe taste

Lambfarmer said...

We raise sheep and were cleaning out the freezer in anticipation of the latest batch this spring. Of course, leftovers included lamb tongues. Why didn't I pickle these sooner? There are some steps to this recipe, but overall, the process is easy and not that messy. We used to play pool and eat sliced pickled tongue on saltines at a dive in upstate ny in the 1980's. The place is long gone. Now i can at least use the tongues and enjoy a snack and a memory. Look for a local farmer who might have tongues, or a meat processing plant. Must be sources online...Local Harvest's website could help. Thanks for the recipe!

Unknown said...

This will be the second time I have used your recipe. Yes, it's a lot of work but worth it. The tongues remind me of the Rogers product , essentially the same taste. Thanks for sharing.

Tupi said...

Dave, I recently made my first batch of lamb tongues using your recipe. Absolutely delicious! I'm now making my second batch and can't wait to snack on them. It brings back fond memories of eating Roger's lamb tongues as a child in Coventry, RI. Thank you kindly for sharing the recipe!

Unknown said...

Hello Dave. It's great that you figured out the recipe for pickled lambs tongue. My father used to get it once in awhile when I was a kid. Oh what a treat! I introduced the delicious treat to my kids. My oldest son loved it and we both wish it was available. One or several of us Roger's pickled lambs tongue lovers should really get them back out on the market!

Unknown said...

I am going to give it a try. There is a lamb farm close by, I am going to see if they will sell me their lamb tongues (hopefully 5 lbs). Glad someone asked & you answered regarding which vinegar to use. Also, will try a bit of brown sugar & a bay leaf. If memory serve me correctly, I think Rogers used to have a bay leaf in teir jars. I am 70 years old and have fond memories of my brothers and my father & I having pickled lambs tongue with cocktail sauce on a Sunday evening. Thanks.

Unknown said...

I fondly remember Roger's Lamb tongues. We used to get them in Montreal, PQ, Canada. When they went out of business, we switched to pork tongues. Still had to buy them in Montreal. Saint John,NB was a wasteland for pickled tongue of any kind. My daughter in law was in Costco, in Saint John, and they had a stack of pickled pork tongue. She bought 2 jars for me. I had my first last night and it was great.In searching for the shelf life, I found that you can order them online from Walmart.ca and have them shipped to your home or to the local store. Hopefully Costco will keep stocking them.

Rob K. said...

Dave...if your recipe is followed, how long will they keep in the fridge?

Dave said...

They should keep for about three months.

Unknown said...

I am in the middle of brining as we speak!! I've done the recipe before, and it is SPOT ON!!! When I can them, I put in a Pc of carrot and a bay leaf.... ( I think Rogers did the same thing...) Thanks for the recipe. Both my wife and I love them!!!!