The Ides of March is a day on the Roman calendar that corresponds to March 15. It was marked by several religious observances and was notable for the Romans as a deadline for settling debts. In 44 BC, it became notorious as the date of the assassination of Julius Caesar which made the Ides of March a turning point in Roman history.
Julius Caesar was a politician, military general, and historian, who was proclaimed “dictator for life”. He played a critical role in the events that led to the demise of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire.
Caesar was assassinated by a group of rebellious senators led by Gaius Cassius Longinus, Marcus Junius Brutus, and Decimus Junius Brutus, who stabbed him to death. The term “Beware the Ides of March” is made in reference to this event.
Ancient Roman cuisine differed greatly between the aristocracy and everybody else. The plebeians existed on thin porridge and whatever vegetables and fruits were available.
The aristocracy ate hedonistically. They ravished on meats (beef, boar, lamb, pork, and goat), fowl (chicken, duck, pigeon, pheasant, peacock, and flamingo), and aquatics of all sorts. No part of the animals ever went to waste.
One particularly odd but luxurious and indulgent item was Flamingo Tongues. Now, I cannot tell you what a Flamingo Tongue tastes like, and I suppose I never shall. Flamingos are illegal to kill in the United States and elsewhere in the world. And for good reason, they mature at the age of seven, and after that only lay one egg a year.
However, I have enjoyed Duck Tongues, and they are readily available and any good market specializing in Asian tastes.
Admittedly this recipe is not for everyone. But if you make it, you will be rewarded. Fried duck tongues rank in the top ten snacks of all time. Crispy, fatty, meaty, they’re one bite and the perfect shape to dredge through whatever sauce suits your fancy.
Once you have your tongues — don’t do this with fewer than, say, 25 or so — you will want to cook them gently until tender. I do this sous vide, which is to say sealed in a vacuum bag and cooked in hot water for many hours. You can do it in a crock pot or Dutch oven, too.
Depending on my mood, I’ll either spoon in some duck fat with the tongues or a little glace de viande, jellied, concentrated stock.
Seal and cook for 8 to 10 hours at about 175°F. Below a simmer is key, so use that as a gauge rather than a specific temperature.
When you remove the tongues, you must pull out the little bone while they are still hot. If you don’t do this, everyone will be eating crunchy bony tongues, which is no fun… although that’s how the Romans would eat them.
Once you have boneless, braised duck tongues — a phrase you don’t hear every day — you need to dry them a bit, either in an oven set on “warm” or a dehydrator, until they are a bit tacky and firm up some. If you skip this, the collagen in the tongues will explode when you fry them. And no one wants a screaming hot, exploding duck tongue flying about the kitchen.
Ingredients 1 pound duck tongues (more or less) 1/2 cup demi-glace or glace de viande (optional) 1/4 cup duck fat, butter or lard 1 tablespoon salt 1 cup corn, potato or tapioca starch 2 cups oil for frying The sauce of your choice (I like a nice Béarnaise!)
Instructions Put the tongues, glace, salt, and duck fat in a vacuum bag and seal. If you don't have a vacuum sealer, just put everything in a small pot, and cover with water or stock.
Get a large pot of water steaming hot, but not simmering. If you have a sous vide water oven, set the temperature for between 175F and 190F. Put the vac bag with the tongues in it and cook gently below a simmer for at least 4 hours, and up to 10 hours. The longer you go, the more tender the tongues will be and the easier it will be to remove the bones.
When the tongues are ready, remove the bones by grabbing the root end of the tongue, feeling for the bone; it will bend down slightly. Holding the tongue with one hand, use the other to slide out the bone. Discard the bones... or use as earrings.
Arrange all the deboned tongues in one layer on a dehydrator tray and dehydrate on low heat for 2 to 4 hours. Or put them on a rack in an oven set on warm. If you have a convection oven, turn it on for air flow. You can to all this up to 2 days before you want to serve them.
To fry, dust the tongues in the starch and fry in 350F oil for 2 to 3 minutes, turning so they're golden brown all over. They should puff up a bit. Fry in batches so you don't crowd the pot.
Serve piping hot with the sauce of your choice, again, I like Béarnaise!