Cost: $3.40 per pound
Cooking: Rinse well and handle gently; cook with a lot of flavorful ingredients.
Storage: Store chilled in its cooking liquid for up to one week.
Once the obscure items left for adventurous eaters and devoted cooks, the glorious offerings of offal are now fully in the spotlight, as chefs make their name on nose-to-tail cuisine and entire books are dedicated to organ cookery.
But while customers are practically begging for fried pig ears, butter-enriched duck liver pâté, and other offal, no clever menu marketing can disguise the foreboding texture and appearance of tripe, or the fact that it’s stomach lining. “Some guests like it, and some have no idea what to do with it,” says 2011 New York Rising Star Chef Hillary Sterling, who often keeps an interpretation of a traditional Italian tripe dish on her menu at A Voce Madison.
It may not be for everyone, but there are plenty of ways to serve it. The highly nutritious, low-fat, and low-cost protein is found in traditional ethnic dishes throughout the globe, from Italy’s Trippa alla Romana and British offal master Fergus Henderson’s version with butter beans to 2012 Austin-San Antonio Rising Star Chef Quealy Watson’s update on the Mexican staple menudo. The protein—generally taken from one of the first three chambers of a cow’s stomach, the rumen (blanket/flat/smooth tripe), reticulum (honeycomb/pocket tripe), or omasum (book/bible/leaf tripe)—even has its fair share of lure-by-lore. One British market suggests that, “quality tripe can increase your libido fourfold.”
Trippa Fritti: Crisp Honeycomb Tripe, Cavalo Nero, Bacon, and Anise from Chef Hillary Sterling of A Voce Madison - New York, NY
Menudo-style Fried Beef Tripe, Duck Fat Beans, and Poached Egg from Chef Queley Watson of The Monterey - San Antonio, TX
Tripe with Butter Beans and Old Spot Smoked Bacon from Chef Fergus Henderson of St. John - London, England
Virility claims aside, braising tripe (as with most items in the offal family) is necessary to tenderize the protein and impart flavor. After rinsing it well, Sterling soaks her tripe in salted water and then slowly cooks it in a chicken stock braising liquid (starting with cold liquid and cooking at 250°F). “I use a combination of grilled lemons, fennel seed, anise, and thyme,” she says. “Not anything so overly aggressive to overpower, but flavors that will complement each other.”
As the saying goes, “anything tastes good fried.” Sterling says tripe is no different. Although her Trippa Fritti started out as a “really refined version of tripe,” served under a consommé, A Voce’s Chef Missy Robbins suggested frying. “I don’t even like eating tripe,” says Sterling. “[Missy] said ‘Try deep frying,’ and I tried deep frying and said, ‘OK, now I’ll eat tripe.’” After the braised tripe cools, Sterling cuts it into uniform strips, dredging it in a simple mixture of anise seed and cornstarch to retain its honeycomb texture.
Sterling originally based the A Voce dish on a traditional fennel-lemon item from Italy’s Le Marche region, but she’s updating the idea of fried tripe at this year’s 7th Annual StarChefs.com International Chefs Congress for her Eat@ICC food cart. (20 chefs will offer signature dishes from food carts at ICC). “I think it’s totally great that I get to do fried tripe for chefs,” says Sterling, who is still brainstorming condiment ideas, like whipped bacon and lemon aïoli, to serve with her French fry-like tripe.
Although Sterling says, “if you are going to be brave enough to work with tripe, you probably already know what it will be,” there are still a few things to keep in mind when working with the protein. She stresses the importance of rinsing the tripe well, cooking it gently, and pairing it with a flavorful dish, as “it’s kind of just a vehicle for something else.” She also gives fair warning: the cooking process is very pungent. “It smells really bad when you are cooking it,” says Sterling. “It stinks up the entire restaurant. It smells so bad you don’t want to eat it.” Her cure for that is just a little a dip into the deep fryer.