Don't call it a comeback story. Tripe's been around for centuries. Many modern restaurants may just now be introducing this beef offal to their menus, but tripe has been a staple of diets around the globe for thousands of years.
Let's be clear about what tripe is: It's the lining of a ruminant's stomach. Most often that means a cow's stomach, but ruminants include other herbivores with multiple stomach compartments, like sheep and goats. Each stomach has a different structure to break down the plants the animal eats, and these have surprisingly charming names:
- Blanket or flat tripe: the first stomach, which has a smooth, blankety texture
- Honeycomb tripe: the second stomach, which has little compartments all along its surface
- Bible or book tripe: the third stomach, which has a layered surface that looks like the pages of a book
- Reed tripe: the fourth stomach, which digests the food completely, getting nutrients into the bloodstream and creating waste. It's not commonly eaten by people.
Prepping and Cooking Tripe
You probably won't find tripe in a cookbook filled with 30-minute meals for weeknight dinners. If you want to eat tripe, you need to plan way ahead. Like, days ahead.
Why? It takes a lot of prep work. The prep work depends on whether you buy bleached or fresh tripe. If it's fresh tripe, first you need to trim excess fat from the tripe, as you would with many cuts of meat. Then you need to scrub it clean, keeping in mind that there are a lot of folds and compartments, no matter which stomach you're dealing with.
Also, tripe can have, well, a not-so-pleasant smell. And fresh tripe has a sort of greenish-brown color. Rinsing, scrubbing, even repeated vinegar soaks are all ways to just prepare it for cooking.
Bleached tripe, on the other hand, also needs some scrubbing, but some chefs and food experts say it needs only rinsing or a quick soak in vinegar to prep for cooking.
And cooking tripe. Well that's no simple task either. First, it's usually cut into strips or squares. And it can sometimes require simmering for up to 10 hours before it's ready to be prepared for a final dish. Bleached tripe may have been cooked some in advance, so it may not need the same time to cook as fresh, so monitoring your tripe for tenderness while it cooks is important.
Tripe It! You'll Like It!
Tripe has a chewy texture and mild flavor that lends itself to more ways of being served than you might think. Pretty much any culture that raises ruminants for food also has a way of preparing tripe. It prevents food waste using every bit of an animal; it's inexpensive to buy if you don't raise the animals yourself; and it happens to be a good source of vitamin B-12, selenium and zinc.
In the U.K., tripe is often boiled in milk along with onions, which sounds incredibly British. The Scots use it in their national dish, haggis, which is similar to the blood sausage made in Iceland known as slátur (yup, it means "slaughter").
It's also used in French andouille sausage, but not in Louisiana andouille, which is just pork sausage. In Florence, Italy, a panino al lampredotto is a tripe sandwich made using the fourth stomach. It's often sold on the street the same way you can buy hot dogs in many American cities. Doesn't sound so unusual when you put it that way.
The tripe sausage tradition was carried to South America from the Catalonia region of Spain and southwest France in the form of butifarra (sometimes spelled botiffara), another type of blood sausage. In the Caribbean, tripe is known as mondogo, and it stars in a stew of the same name.
The most familiar tripe in North America might be Mexican pancita de res or menudo, which is honeycomb tripe used in a spicy stew that's supposed to cure even your deadliest hangover. But note that tripas in Mexico means small intestines, not stomach lining, so if you're buying a package of uncooked tripe at a mercado, check the label.
The Vietnamese are also fond of bible tripe. It's very common in pho, and you'll see it on the menu as the word sach. It's usually included in pho with other similarly gelatinous meats, like tendon.