With the possible exception of brains, no other offal meat seems to cause as much emotional distress as tripe. Voted last year as one of the top 10 most hated foods in Britain (and this from the country that gave us haggis!) it is as revered in parts of Italy as it is reviled in the UK. Mind you, Britain was also voted as having some of the worlds pickiest eaters whereas Italians seem to have a long-standing tradition of nose-to-tail eating that possibly carries over from the hard times the country has endured.
Most people have told me that it’s just the thought of what it is that puts them off. Why cow stomach (or at least one of them) should be better than sirloin (cow back), rump steak (cow buttock), osso bucco (cow shin), milk (cow juice) or jelly (cow foot!) is a bit of a mystery to me, but my own personal feeling is that it is about 50% ickyness and 50% texture. I love the taste of liver, but eating it cooked and whole revolts me (although I live in hope), but in pate or liver wurst it’s perfectly fine. Tripe can be a little rubbery, although people who hate tripe will often devour calamari or octopus with nary a shudder.
Whatever the rationale, I love tripe and I implore you to try it at least once, in one form or another. I’ve had Chinese versions in spicy chilli and sesame dressing, or slow cooked in soy and then fried crispy. I’ve had Trippa alla Fiorentina where it is stewed in tomato sauce with a buzz of chilli. Mum used to make it for me in a simple white sauce with plenty of onions and bacon with a handful of parsley and this is still the default meal I crave when seriously sick. My version is like my mothers but slightly more adult and a darn sight more garlicky!
Take some honeycomb tripe. It must be honeycomb – the others do not cook as tender (if at all – beware bible or leaf tripe!). If it is a small one about the size of a swimming cap, it’s probably from a young veal animal and will need less time to cook (and before you start posting angry comments, veal crating is banned in Australia, which is more than I can say for most of the US). Tripe is generally bleached before it is sold to make it look pretty and will already have been thoroughly washed, but wash it again, just to be sure and wring it out well – it has a lot of moisture.
Chop the tripe into strips and then into bite size pieces. Put these into a stew pan and just cover with either plain water or chicken stock, and stew until tender – it should be soft and sticky with just a little bit of resistance. Young tripe may take an hour, and older up to two or three. Top up with water as required and when it’s nicely tender, turn off the heat. Don’t rush it – this is slow food!
In another pan, heat a little olive oil and fry a good handful of diced fatty bacon or speck until it begins to brown and the fat renders. Add in plenty of minced onion and as much garlic as you like, letting it take a little colour in the bacon fat. Deglaze the pan with a good white wine (something not too sweet, not too dry) and let the wine reduce right down. Add in the cooked tripe and let it simmer. Check your seasoning and add salt, pepper and whatever fresh or dry herbs you think best – I like thyme and sometimes I put in the zest of a lemon.
When the tripe has reduced slightly, add in plenty of cream and a big handful of fresh, minced parsley. If you wish to thicken the mix, do so, and serve piping hot with a fresh baguette and some salted butter. Spoon up the sticky, unctuous stew and raise a glass of wine to the animal that gave us so much deliciousness.