In light of a modern culinary movement in the United States to get back to the practice of using all parts of an animal, often called "nose to tail" dining, cooking with tripe makes a lot of sense. Tripe comes from the stomachs of ruminant animals, most commonly cows, although tripe dishes can also use sheep, goat, or even deer stomachs. Many cultures around the world consider it the ultimate comfort food. Tripe must be thoroughly cleaned and cooked to be palatable, and it commonly appears in soups, stews, and braised dishes.
What Is Tripe?
Tripe is the edible lining of a ruminant's stomach, which has four distinct compartments that allow for digestive fermentation of fibrous foods. Though technically one stomach, common language often refers to them by number. Blanket tripe comes from the first stomach; the most coveted variety, known as honeycomb tripe, comes from the second. Bible or book tripe comes from the third compartment, while the fourth, or last, stomach compartment generally gets passed over because of its glandular texture. Each of the common names describes the distinguishing appearance of the different varieties. Blanket tripe looks like a solid, shaggy sheet, while honeycomb tripe has diamond-shaped raised cells across its surface; the stacked folds on bible tripe look like pages of a book.
How to Cook Tripe
For tripe to be edible, it must be “dressed.” This involves a thorough and conscientious cleaning of the piece. A butcher briefly boils the animal stomach before peeling off the lining, the part used in tripe dishes. Most butchers also remove extra bits of fat and bleach the tripe to make it appear more appetizing.
Fresh tripe needs to be cooked for a long time to become tender. Since butchers typically parboil tripe when they clean it, you may need to only rinse it and blanch it to remove any lingering bleach if your recipe calls for extended cooking time. But for use in quicker-cooking recipes, you need to cook tripe first by simmering it in salted water for an hour or two.
Fresh, undressed tripe looks a bit unappealingly brownish/greenish. If you purchase it this way, you need to rinse it repeatedly until the water runs clear and it no longer feels gritty. Then braise or simmer it for at least two and up to 10 hours; it's almost impossible to overcook tripe.
What Does Tripe Taste Like?
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. Similar to tofu, tripe absorbs the flavors of the dish.
Tripe appears in traditional dishes in nearly every country in the world, in everything from entrees 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 simmered in tomato sauce, and in Belgium, they serve tripes a djotte, a tripe sausage encased in large intestines. The well-known Andouille sausage from France contains tripe, as does Colombian butifarra.
African and Asian countries all have their own versions of stewed and fried tripe. In the Southern United States, you might find tripe deep fried in a buttermilk batter. Residents of several countries in Latin American favor a tripe soup/stew known as mondongo. Peru’s cau cau stew contains beef tripe, potatoes, vegetables, and mint. In Ecuador, they serve guatitas with peanut sauce.
Mexican cuisine makes good use of beef tripe, called pancita de res; the best-known dish may be menudo, a soup of hominy and honeycomb tripe. Prepared with sheep tripe, a similar recipe results in a brothy stew called pancita. Menudo and pancita can be very spicy, and both are touted as a cure for hangovers.
For Pancita de barbacoa, cooks stuff a sheep's stomach with other organ meats and season it with onions, garlic, and herbs. It's then cooked in an earthen barbecue pit with the rest of the lamb meat or mutton. Tacos made from pancita de barbacoa are considered a delicacy.
In Mexico, the word tripas refers to an animal’s small intestines (such as the pork intestines used to make chitterlings in the United States), which require a different preparation method than tripe.
Tripe softens into a silky texture with extended cooking, so you most often find it in soups, stews, and other long-simmered dishes.
Where to Buy Tripe
Supermarkets in the United States do not always carry fresh tripe, but you can find (often at economical prices) in Latino or Asian specialty markets. Otherwise, order it from your regular butcher, who should be able to take care of cleaning it for you. (You may come across canned and frozen tripe, but those products are generally intended as pet food.)
Fresh tripe does not store well. You can keep it in the refrigerator for a day, but if you do not plan to use it right away, you're better off freezing it, tightly wrapped. Prepared tripe dishes such as soups and stews, on the other hand, generally taste even better on the second day after the flavors have more time to mingle. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator and use or freeze within three or four days.
Nutrition and Benefits of Tripe
Tripe, with about 96 calories per 4-ounce serving, contains nearly 14 grams of protein, making it a nutritious choice. However, like other organ meats, it contains a high amount of cholesterol, so it should be consumed in moderation. Tripe also delivers a significant amount of vitamin B-12, calcium, and important minerals such as selenium and zinc.