That's what happened at the Taste of Czech Culinary Roadshow in Los Angeles, when a three-course dinner started with tongue. I'll eat tongue when I don't want to be rude, but I don't relish it and I would never order it on my own.
But here was tongue that left me dumbstruck--so tender it fell apart as I lifted my fork. It was heavenly. There's no better word. The chef responsible was Jacub Cerny (at top) from the Michelin-starred restaurant Alcron at the Raddison Blu Alcron Hotel in Prague.
Cerny had no magic cooking tricks. He simply boiled the tongue slowly in vegetable stock for four hours, then peeled it and served it with delicate horseradish foam (above). The "foam" was equally simple, nothing more than grated horseradish boiled with cream and seasoned with lemon, sugar and salt.
The beluga lentils on the side were as remarkable as the tongue. Although legumes are popular with Czechs, Cerny called this a "new style" dish. He cuts carrots, celery root and onion into tiny cubes, sears these in oil and adds them to the lentils, which he boils first in vegetable stock. To finish the dish, he adds stock for juiciness, balsamic vinegar, mint and chopped green onion.
Dinner then moved on to seared duck breast with red cabbage and potato dumplings (above). Czechs are crazy about dumplings--their national dish is pork with sauerkraut and bread dumplings, substantial food that must be very welcome during cold winters.
The cabbage is wintry fare too and perfect for the holidays, because it's made with cranberry sauce (see the recipe below).
The Czech Republic has an abundance of wine, produced by some 18,000 wineries. Poured with the dinner were the 2011 Riesling from Vinselekt Michlovsky Winery, the same winery's Zweigeltrebe 2011 (above) and the 2011 Rivaner from Vinne Sklepy Valtice Winery. There was plenty of beer too, including Pilsner Urquell from Pilsen.
Although their dishes may be distinctive, Czechs have something in common with the rest of us. Their most popular proverb is, in English, "Love passes through the stomach." Pretty much the same as our "The way to a man's heart is through his stomach."
CZECH STYLE RED CABBAGE
From Chef Jakub Cerny
3 pounds red cabbage (1 small or half of a large cabbage)
2 tablespoons oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2/3 cup canned cranberry sauce
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Cut the cabbage in quarters if whole or in half if you are using half a cabbage. Remove the outer leaves and core, then cut in fine slices.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven (you need a large pot because there will be a large amount of cabbage). Add the onion and cook until tender.
Add the cranberry sauce and sugar and cook over medium high heat 5 minutes, or until thickened. Add the vinegar and boil until slightly reduced, about 1 1/2 minutes.
Add the cabbage, water and salt. Lower the heat, cover and cook for 2 hours. After 15 minutes, stir to blend the cabbage with the seasonings. Stir occasionally until the cabbage is done.
Makes 6 1/2 cups.