The Chef: Jason Vincent (Nightwood)
The Ingredient: Duck tongues
“Ducks have tongues?” Jason Vincent said when told about his assigned ingredient. After working with the tongues, he had a different reaction: “They’re gross.”
“We get a lot of whole animals, and I’ve seen the entire thing, the not-so-pretty parts, and none of it grosses me out,” Vincent said. “These grossed me out.”
He quickly amended that, though, explaining, “Once you go through the necessary steps to treat ’em right, they’re actually really good.” He coated the tongues in salt, sugar, and green peppercorns, smoked them, and then braised them. “The idea is that you peel what meat is there off this bone. Because ducks naturally have a bone in their tongue, which is pretty gross in and of itself. And the first one that I peeled off the bone kind of shot this yellow goo. Like, far. Really far. Like a foot.”
The most common method of preparing duck tongues, used mostly in Asian cuisines, is frying them—so Vincent wanted to do something else. He asked a roomful of chefs at a Cochon 555 event he did recently what to do with them. “Everyone was like, fry ’em. Just fry ’em. Don’t try to do anything else,” he said. “We tried frying them just from raw, and that was not good. We tried taking the bones out and just using the bones, to see if we could do some kind of puffed bone thing. That wasn’t good.”
What did work was cold smoking, braising, and then frying the tongues. He put them on a hoagie roll with goat cheese, house-made fish sauce, black beans, corn, melon, plum, tomato, fermented foie gras, cucumber, a duck-fat-poached egg, honey and pollen reduction, fried lemon slices, a chile vinaigrette, arugula, and cilantro. “I figure one of those things is going to cover up the flavor of the duck tongues,” Vincent joked. “No, I think it’ll actually be really good.”
The fermented foie gras Vincent put on the sandwich was also made in-house—though he couldn’t say why, exactly. “I’ve never heard of it before. I just thought it would be cool.” The lobe he used on the sandwich, which tastes like regular foie gras but more sour, had been fermenting for a month; he’s got two more that he plans to let go for a year before trying them.
By the time Vincent finished piling all of the elements on his sandwich, they towered far above the bread. One his cooks asked how many elements were on it. “I think it’d be faster to count the stuff that’s not on there,” Vincent responded.
Aside from the structural instability of the sandwich, Vincent thought it worked. “Oh, yeah,” he said, tasting it. “Yup, that’s good.” His take on what works with duck tongue: “Aside from frying it, putting a bunch of other shit on it.”
B.K. Park of Arami, working with chufa, a plant used in Spain to make horchata. “All I know is that he’s a Japanese guy, and basically, the best way to make this thing palatable is to cook it with cream or dairy or something like that,” Vincent said. “So I figured that’d be rough for him.”
Video by Michael Gebert/Sky Full of Bacon
1/2 pound tongue
1 t brown sugar
1 t sea salt
1 t green peppercorn
Toss everything together and cold smoke for several hours. Braise in salted water or poultry stock until tender. Let them cool in the braising liquid. Pick the bones out (or get someone else to do it for you). Fry at 350 degrees until crispy.
1 t coriander root, minced
1 t garlic, minced
2 t onion, minced
1 arbol chile, fried and shocked in warm water
1 guajillo chile, fried and shocked in warm water
1 pasilla negra chile, fried and shocked in warm water
8 ounces fermented fish, finely chopped (Vincent uses bass or snapper)
the juice of one lime and one lemon
honey to taste
Gently cook the garlic, onion, and coriander root in one tablespoon oil for one minute. Puree the chiles and add to the garlic mix, cook for another minute. In a shallow pan, heat a half cup grapeseed oil until smoking. Carefully add the chile mix and fish and fry for 30 seconds. Remove to a mixing bowl and season with citrus and honey.
Coarse sea salt
Brush one side of a 12″ x 12″ piece of plastic wrap with melted duck fat. Line the cup loosely with the wrap, fat-coated side up. Crack the egg in the cup, sprinkle with salt and drizzle duck fat on top. Gather the plastic tightly around the egg, forcing all of the air out. Tie with twine and poach in simmering water for four and a half minutes.