In its simplest form, tripe is the lining from the stomach (or stomachs) of a domesticated animal. Most often the first three stomachs of a cow or an ox are used. When the first of the bovine’s stomach is used, it is called blanket tripe (due to its appearance); when the second—and usually most coveted—is prepared, it is known as honeycomb tripe; and when it is the third stomach, it is called bible or book tripe. The last stomach of a cow or ox is rarely used because of its glandular texture. Tripe dishes are also sometimes made with a pig, sheep, goat, or even deer stomach.
For tripe to be edible, it must be “dressed.” This involves a thorough and conscientious cleaning of the piece. The butcher will briefly boil the animal stomach so that the lining can be peeled off, as the stomach lining is the actual part that is used for cooking. They will also remove extra bits of fat and bleach the tripe so it will be more appetizing.
Fresh, undressed tripe is a brownish/greenish khaki color. Though it looks much less attractive, it is said that unbleached and uncooked tripe will have more flavor. If you purchase undressed tripe, it is important to rinse it over and over until the water runs clear and there is no residual grittiness.
Many supermarkets in the United States do not carry fresh tripe, as it is not currently a meat product with a massive appeal in this country. You will find it—often sold very economically—in Hispanic or Asian supermarkets that sell meat, or you can order tripe from your regular butcher if you have one. (Canned or frozen tripe are often available for pet food.)
Tripe needs to be cooked for a long time to become tender. Simmering it for 2 to 3 hours is usually sufficient, but tripe will usually hold up very well to being cooked up to 8 or 10 hours without acquiring an overcooked texture or flavor.
Uses in Mexican Cuisine
Beef tripe is used in Mexico for many dishes, but the most popular one is menudo, a soup made with hominy and honeycomb tripe. Sheep tripe is often prepared in a soup or brothy stew and called pancita. Menudo and pancita can be very spicy, and both are touted as being a cure for hangovers.
Pancita de barbacoa is made from sheep tripe and is cooked in an earthen barbecue pit together with the rest of the lamb meat or mutton. The stomach is stuffed with other internal organs from the animal and seasoned with onions, garlic, and herbs. Tacos made from pancita de barbacoa are considered a delicacy and are often enjoyed as a special treat before the tacos created with the more plentiful “regular” meat are served.
The common Mexican term for beef tripe is pancita de res. The word tripas refers to an animal’s small intestines (such as the pork intestines used to make chitterlings in the United States), which are prepared in different ways from those of tripe.
Other Culinary Uses
Tripe has been used in almost every country around the world in all kinds of dishes from main dishes to cold salads. Great Britain used to be an area of enthusiastic tripe consumption, though that has waned in recent generations. The classic British preparation involves boiling tripe and onions in milk.
In Italy, you can enjoy trippa alla fiorentina, a tomato sauce preparation, and in Belgium, they will serve you tripes a djotte, a tripe sausage encased in large intestines. The well- known Andouille sausage from France is made of tripe, as is Colombian butifarra.
Several Latin American countries make a tripe soup/stew known as mondongo. Peru’s cau cau is a stew made with beef tripe, potatoes, vegetables, and mint. Tripe stew is served in Ecuador with a peanut sauce and is known as guatitas. African and Asian countries also have their versions of stewed and fried tripe. In the Southern United States, tripe is deep fried in a buttermilk batter.
Despite the psychological barrier that some people experience in regards to eating an animal's stomach lining, well-dressed tripe has a mild flavor and combines nicely with many other ingredients, especially aromatic elements such as onion, garlic, and some herbs. In a way somewhat similar to tofu, tripe tends to absorb the flavors of the other foods it is cooked with.
As a high protein, low-fat meat, tripe is a highly nutritious and low in calories. However, like many other internal organs, it does contain a high amount of cholesterol, so it should be consumed in moderation. Tripe also contains a significant amount of vitamin B-12, calcium, and important nutritional minerals such as selenium and zinc.
As the “modern” tendency (actually a return to how things used to be done) of using animals “nose to tail” continues to pick up steam, cooking with tripe makes more sense now than ever.