Tripe is a testament to gustatory ingenuity. That our culinary forefathers would think to pull out the stomach of an ox or cow, remove the lining, slap it in a pan and eat the sucker is pretty freakin' gross. But tripe has a long, if not celebrated, history in world cuisine, from France to England and Scotland, to Southeast Asia and Latin America.
So, naturally, I invited some friends to dinner with the intent of getting them to dig into a mighty casserole of sweet, sweet guts, called Tripes Les Halles.
The recipe is a riff on one given in Anthony Bourdain's Les Halles Cookbook. The provincial French-style dish calls for two types of tripe: honeycomb, which comes from the second stomach, and feathered, also called frise, book or leaf tripe, from the third stomach. (The two other varieties, blanket tripe and reed tripe, rarely are used, because of undesirable excess fat and glandular tissue, respectively.)
The recipe also calls for a calf's foot, pigs' ears, pork belly, pork fat and other odds and ends that weren't likely to be found shrink-wrapped next to the Lunchables at the local bermarket. But the search for ingredients is half the fun.
I started gathering the components on a Saturday, not the best idea since a lot of the local abattoirs, closed on weekends, could have provided some of the more scrap ingredients. My first stop was Par Avion, known for its invariably awesome artisanal meat selection. They provided the boudin noir, chorizo and Serrano ham end.
Andy's Market carries the honeycomb tripe, and they were nice enough to cut a beautiful piece of pork belly and a chunk of pork fat. They also stock pigs' feet, which I substituted for the calf's foot Bourdain's recipe requires.
I then was off to arguably the best ethnic specialty store in the city, Carniceria Leonela, where even the guy behind the counter initially balked at my purchase of two pounds of frise tripe. "Hey, why not?" he said.
Clutching many pounds of animal, I headed back to the ranch and started the actual cooking. This is an incredibly time-consuming recipe, like most that deal with organ meats. It's best to take three days, but I found that with less sleep, two will suffice.
The meats and tripe went into the pots. I boiled, then drained and chopped them -- suppressing my gag reflex -- then combined and boiled some more. Eventually, I stuffed the still-odious shebang into the refrigerator.
While our narrative dish is chilling in the fridge, I'll mention that we're looking for alchemy here. So much of peasant food --in particular, French peasant food -- depends on the mysterious things chemicals in food do when simply left alone together. They jell, collaborate, scheme and plot at deliciousness. It's time that they need, and you've got to give it to them. Have a drink while you wait. I did.
After a wine-wrought nap, it finally was time to merge most of the ingredients. After rendering some pork fat and adding beans and more pig, I let the whole mixture simmer on the stove for a few hours, then tossed it back into the fridge to coalesce overnight.
The next day, I simply scooped the mixture into baking dishes, covered it with bacon -- an ad-lib deviation from the original recipe -- and put it in the oven to cook for a few hours.
We laid out some highbrow snacks: pt and cornichons, stinky cheese, crudits and dip, then waited for the guests to arrive. They did so in throngs, thankfully with wine and liquor. It was then that rumors began to circulate.
I deliberately had withheld any information about the contents of the night's fare, and some theorized I was roasting a whole pig. Others thought I'd shaved and cooked my cat, or that I would be blindfolding my guests and serving them "knuckle sandwiches." I was asked a few times if the crew from "Fear Factor" would be showing up.
I laughed. "Have another glass of wine."
When everyone seemed adequately libated, we unveiled the dish. And here's the neat thing: Nobody shrieked or fled. Our guests dutifully lined up for bowls of the mixture, grabbed forks and dug in.
People who don't usually eat red meat were shoveling tripe and blood sausage into their mouths, and, while not necessarily oohing and ahhing, they ate it, a few even with gusto. Some -- and not just the other Indy food critics -- went back for seconds. The general consensus was that the Tripes actually was pretty delicious.
The party was fun. Wine flowed, conversations were had, guts were consumed. Such an experience is clearly not for everyone -- ahem, vegans -- but for adventurous eaters or organ-meat aficionados, tripe parties might be the new fondue. Only, you know, grosser.
-- Aaron Retka
Please visit csindy.com and click on "Gut instinct" to get the recipe for Tripes Les Halles.