Ox oh!

It’s all right you laughing at the disgust, loathing and fear on the faces of those chosen to do the bush tucker trials in that I’m-someone-selfimportant-camping-in-the-so-woods-please-allow-me-to-make-gratuitous-amounts-of-money-again TV programme. Yes, the foods they are asked to eat may be different. But they are actually foods; at least to some creatures. And there are many people in this world who treat the idea of eating such “novel” food as an everyday occurrence.

And you, after all, eat some really weird stuff. What’s a prawn if not an insect-like creature that just happens to live in water? And I understand that many Chinese find the idea of eating fermented cow’s milk, or in other words cheese (and some which is even allowed to go mouldy first), worse than you might of eating kangaroo’s testicles.

But in reality, our lack of education, experience and imagination means that we concentrate on a handful of dishes and foods when choosing what to eat. Hands up how many of us have a steak nearly every time we go out to eat. See? Yeah, ok, so you like a steak. But surely it’s not beyond the bounds of probability that if you like eating that bit of a cow, there’s a chance that you might like to eat most of the rest of the animal; or a pig, or a snake, or maybe a squirrel? Yep, we’ve often served squirrel. It’s not dissimilar to rabbit but funnily enough, doesn’t taste of nuts. Those in my garden would taste of chicken feed because they steal so much of the stuff.

Anyway, nobody’s suggesting that you should be forced to eat something other than your lovely steak – and I do believe that sometimes, only a steak will do. But if someone else is getting a life-enhancing experience out of, perhaps, a little fried liver, aren’t they getting a little more out of life than you?

So when, the other day, during a cookery demonstration I was banging on about eating ox heart I’m sure I actually saw one or two faces in the audience turning green. I hadn’t even got one to demonstrate with – unfortunately. I just mentioned it in passing and received horrified looks from some of those I was meant to be impressing.

But let’s think about it. Meat is muscle. And therefore a lovely steak is either a muscle from somewhere along the animal’s back or perhaps a little further towards the rear. Whatever – before you got it, that piece of meat was doing it’s job, moving a cow around a field. Without it, the cow would have been stationary, or fallen over.

And what is heart if not probably the most important muscle in the body? So it’s not actually that much different from a steak in that respect.

Now, as most of us know, a fillet steak is the most tender, especially when compared with, say, a rump. That’s because the fillet muscle’s done little work in its lifetime whereas the latter’s done a good job of moving around the heavy end of the creature. But many, if not most, steak eaters agree that there’s considerably more taste in a rump compared with a fillet. So, how good is that muscle that works the hardest of all going to taste? And why should we begin to consider that the heart is something to make us feel squeamish?

As you’d expect, the harder a muscle’s worked the more cooking it can take. But conversely, you can buy an ox heart as big as your head, cut some of it into strips and, because it’s so lean, flash or stir-fry them in seconds. And a piece of meat that big, at least enough to feed a family of four, costs less than a couple of quid. In these money-conscious times, aren’t most of us missing something?

So, if that’s gone any distance to convince you that you should give something a little bit different a try, how about giving the recipe below a go.

Or is that a muscle too far?

Beetroot and ox tongue with horseradish

This recipe uses whole, uncooked beetroot; in my opinion, one of the most under-rated vegetables available to us.  Beetroot should always be cooked whole. Don’t be tempted to top and tail it because, once you’ve broken the skin, the red leeches out into the cooking water which not only stains everything it touches, it impairs the flavour as well.

Serves four

  • One ox tongue
  • Two raw beetroot – washed
  • Sea salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • A couple of teaspoons of horseradish sauce
  • One white onion – peeled and thinly sliced
  • White wine vinegar
  • Rapeseed (or similar) oil
  • 80g watercress – washed and drained

Place the tongue in a large pan of cold water and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and allow to simmer for one and a half to two hours or until tender. Drain off the water and allow the tongue to cool before peeling off the outer skin and discarding.

Meanwhile, while the tongue’s simmering, place the unpeeled beetroot into a pan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 45 minutes before cooling in cold water. Drain, peel the beetroot and cut into equal-sized cubes. Place in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and a splash of white wine vinegar.

Once cool and peeled, cut the tongue into slices and season with salt and pepper. Mix the horseradish sauce with a little rapeseed to loosen it.

Place the tongue, beetroot, onion and horseradish mix in a large bowl and toss together before piling onto serving plates or into a single serving dish.

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