Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sublime Duck tongues

Word has reached me that the envelope pushing Sumile, a former hotspot for Franco-Japanese cuisine in Manhattan's West Village closed over a year ago. I visited Sumile in 2004, after reading in New York Magazine that duck tongues garnished one of the selections on its menu. An old notebook describes one of my choices from that night's small plate menu as having been "Miso cured brook trout, with seared crisp skin, almost raw with ginger pickled shallots and crispy duck tongue salad, the tongues fried to a crisp over slaw shredded cabbage mildy marinated with lemon juice or asian vinegar." As I recall, Sumile's duck tongues offered little substance.

The following year, here in the Baltimore area, I encountered a package of duck tongues at what is now H Mart at Rolling Road and Route 40. Unfortunately, at that time, neither an Internet search nor my vast library of cookbooks proved sufficient for finding a recipe for them. Thereafter, I never again observed duck tongues at H Mart, but recently scored some at Asia Supermarket, 5510 Baltimore National Pike, about 1/2 mile inside the Baltimore Beltway.

Also on Route 40, on the other side of the Beltway at 9180 Baltimore National Pike, the restaurant Asian Court offers on its menu a selection featuring duck tongues with chive flowers. I tried them with the intention of posting about the experience here at Unique Culinary Adventures, only to discover that Baltimore's own Minx had beat me to it. The Asian Court dish is pictured at left. It was all right, though the duck tongues were slimy and messy to eat.

However, using a simple and straight-forward preparation shared by Chichi Wang under "Nasty Bits" at the Serious Eats web site, I found duck tongues to be sublime ---addictive even. Anyone who likes chicken feet---I wont comment here on duck feet--- is bound to absolutely love duck tongues. Like chicken feet, the experience is about extracting luscious fat encased betweem thin cartilege and bone. Unlike chicken feet though, duck tongues needn't be messy. Each tongue is consumed with a single stroke where front teeth remove the cartilege and fat from a single bone that can then be put aside leaving nothing to spit out. Best of all, when prepared as Ms. Wang instructs, with a very thin coating of beaten egg white and cornstarch, a crisp exterior encases and traps their luscious substance.

Perfect as this recipe turned out, it's possible that a bit of seasoning or sauce might enhance them even further. Ms. Wang mentions "hints of curry like cumin or turmeric," as well as oyster sauce, Worcestershire sauce, "or anything else savory that's sitting in the cupboard." Coming up with the perfect combination of embellishments could prove to be an intriguing task and conceivably even a means for moving duck tongues closer to the culinary mainstream.

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