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October 2007




Beef Tahng, a Chinese Dish

By Rochelle delaCruz

My father, the best cook in the world, was a late starter. Man Chong Wong retired from Hilo Post Office right before his 60th birthday and decided he was going to learn to cook. Before that, he never even boiled water (according to Apo, his mother and our grandmother.) But once he made the decision, he threw himself into his new assignment with great zeal and enthusiasm, cutting recipes out of the newspapers, browsing the stacks at the Hawaii County Library and at bookstores, carefully choosing cookbooks to bring home. He appreciated a wide range of cuisines from Italian to Indian, but his preference was, of course, naturally, Chinese.

One of his all-time favorites was something he called Pot Roast because he thought it would appeal to his grandchildren more than the real name: tongue. But I told him, “Just call it what it is…the kids have to learn!” So against his better judgment, he reluctantly went along with calling it tongue. And the children ate it with relish; in fact, it was one of their favorite dishes. “See? They can handle it,” I concluded with pride.

Back in Seattle one day, I decided to cook tongue myself, so I went to a market in Chinatown and bought a fine piece of beef tongue.

Preparing tongue requires time and the first step is to boil it in water which helps peel off the tough, outer skin. So I laid the tongue out on the cutting board as I looked for my big pot.

Soon enough, my oldest son, then a teenager in endless pursuit of snacks, came sauntering through the kitchen. But he stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the tongue.

“What’s that?” he asked, pointing with both index fingers to the slab of beef on the board.

“Tongue,” I replied. “You know, the kind Papa cooks. You all love it.”

He looked at it long and hard; then turning his head sideways, he stuck his own tongue out so that it was pointing in the same direction as the tongue on the chopping board. As his head snapped back up, he shouted, “That’s tongue??” He seemed surprised.

“Yes…what did you think we were eating when we ate tongue at Papa’s house?”

“Tahng…I thought we were eating, you know, tahng, a Chinese dish!”

I looked at him with the realization of what must be dawning on his mental horizon. And when he left the kitchen without grabbing anything to munch on, I knew something was up.

I peered around the family room door to see him talking to his younger brother and sister. I could hear him say something about “tahng” and saw him pointing to his and then to their tongue. Then I heard: Eeeeeuuuuwwww!

And that was the end of the tongue. That night, all three conspirators refused to eat the carefully prepared tongue, even when I called it pot roast.

So here is my father’s `ono recipe for Beef Tongue. But whether or not you let your children see it before presentation on the platter, is your call.


Beef Tongue

3 lb. beef tongue
2 sections bat kok (star anise)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 Tbs sherry
2 tsp. minced ginger
¼ cup shoyu
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
½ tsp heong liu fun (Chinese 5 spice)

Bring the tongue to a boil in a pot of water and simmer for an hour. Drain and peel. Combine and pour the above ingredients over peeled tongue and let stand 20 minutes, turning once. Heat 1 Tbs oil in a dutch oven and brown the tongue on all sides. Add marinade and 2 ¾ cups water. Cover and simmer 2 hours or until tender.

Peel and cut up 3 potatoes and add to pot. Cook another 30 minutes or until potatoes are done. Remove meat and potatoes from pot. Combine 2 Tbs. cornstarch with ¼ cup water; stir into saucepan and cook until sauce thickens. Slice tongue and serve with potatoes and gravy.

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