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Tripe: A Capital Food

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Unusual Ingredients

Spring Volume: 2003 Issue: 10(1) page(s): 11, 12, and 13

In ancient times, breakfast in China’s capital included eating fried tripe, and if one was lucky, it was prepared by a Hakka chef. Some say the food of these once-wandering peoples of China is often bland. Do they know their steamed, stewed or fried tripe? What about the many Hakka recipes that are beautifully spiced and certainly deliciously flavored? Maybe they only know their salt=baked chicken whose succulence makes the chicken speak for itself. And do they know some of the special tripe dishes eaten today which were famous in Song Dynasty Times (960 -1279 CE) when tripe soup was a speciality?

Today, as was done in pre-Han Dynasty China which was before 202 BCE, breakfast may still include tripe. However though almost always a selection at dim sum and now the Chinese favorite variety–which is honeycomb tripe--in those early days it was most often served pickled. Though some cultures serve tripe fried or stewed, it rarely is available at their breakfasts. Not everyone likes tripe, even at lunch or dinner. Those who adore it, wonder why others have a low opinion of it when they admit they never even tasted it.

in China, tripe is served hot or cold, quick-cooked or slowly prepared, piquant or mild, sweet or sour, red cooked or simply simmered, and in dozens of other ways. Many believe the Chinese are the world’s greatest preparers of tripe, others give a nod to the Mexicans or the French or Italians. Each of these countries have several wonderful tripe dishes, but the Chinese have the widest range of ways to cook tripe.

Ask Sidney Mintz about niu du, which is what the Chinese call tripe and he will tell you he adores it; we do, too. When speaking about tripe, Dr. Mintz, a world-famous anthropologist, advises that tripe has "remarkable creaminess...carried to wonderful heights." The French call tripe gras-double, which may be why Dr. Mintz refers to it as creamy, and I am sure he knows that gras-double does not mean fat but rather the animal's two stomachs. A Chinese recipe he likes is long-cooked and creamy-smooth in texture.

What is tripe? Many people do not know. A few correctly respond that they know of three kinds, honeycomb, pocket and smooth tripe. Some speak of leaf tripe, and in a recent issue of the magazine Saveur (January/February 2003), they called this ‘book tripe,’ a term we had never heard before. Certainly, the thin layers of that variety does look somewhat akin to a book’s pages somewhat disarrayed. As to the correct number of kinds, a better question would be, ‘from what animal?’

Some advise that tripe is the stomach of ruminant animals. Others more specifically call tripe a food made from the stomach of cud-chewing animals such as cows, oxen, lambs, and sheep. Still others advise that it can be these, but that it must be only the inner lining of the stomach. One encyclopedia said that tripe can also refer to intestines of butchered animals. Another says the parts used for food are the paunch and the smaller reticulum of the stomach. In some, one reads that when you buy tripe, it is not ready for eating but must be braised, boiled, or fried.

Other sources say that all tripe is blanched before it is sold. Some tell you it is sometimes soaked in lemon or lime juice and/or brine, and that this processing impacts its color. One source advised that the color depends upon the sex of the animal. An older book said to clean tripe rubbing the insides on rough stone surfaces. Clearly, there is a lot of muddled information that is close to the truth, but somewhat hazy.

Almost all tripe sold today has been blanched a little, some needs more blanching, and some can benefit from the removal of any excess fat. That is best done by scraping it with a cleaver before readying it for the pot. That is fine, but still does not answer, what is tripe? It is the light-colored stomach tissue or lining of a ruminant animal, and it is used as food. The International Dictionary of Gastronomy reviewed in this issue, says that plain tripe is from the walls of the paunch or rumen, that is the first compartment of the stomach. Honeycomb tripe, it says, is from the walls of the reticulum or second compartment. As its name indicates, honeycomb tripe has hexagonal cells making it resemble that namesake.

Lovers of tripe know that it can be just the lining of one or more stomachs from a cow, or that it can be the stomach or part of one from a pig, an ox, or a lamb, or it might be the stomach lining of a deer or other hoofed or non-hoofed animal. They know that it comes from animals with one or with several stomachs. They know that it is delicious. They do not care about whether it is just the paunch that yields plain tripe or the reticulum that provides them with honeycomb tripe. What they care about it that it used to be inexpensive and now costs top dollar. They care not, that folks know little about it or that many of them think it a low-stature food. Mostly, they hope that those who make theirs prepare it properly. Tripe consumers know that the honeycomb, leaves, or the uneven surface of almost every kind of tripe traps sauce.

Our recommendation is to follow what Dr. Mintz once said and “do not die before you have tried it.” Some like it as he does, with a crab-flavored dipping sauce. He does not have a good recipe for that because he has yet to mimic the greatest one he used to eat in a Washington D.C. restaurant. He and John Thorne have had an interesting dialog about tripe. You can read some of it at www.outlawcook.com/diary/Page9033.htm and see how two tripe lovers discuss their passion.

Cook your own tripe properly and it will not have the texture of rubber bands, an accusation some ascribe to it. The Chinese, whose preparations are world-class, prepare it many different ways and the textures they produce vary. They tell us that this depends upon which animal it comes from and how it is cooked. Older recipes call for rinsing the tripe, removing any pieces of fat, rubbing it with a mixture of a half cup of vinegar and two tablespoons of coarse salt, and letting it rest for an hour. Many suggest a second and a third rinse then rinsing it once again. We have never done all of this. Some call for cooking then cutting the tripe into strips or squares, others cut it after it is cooked. We do both, and we always cut ours with a scissor. Cleavers work better on cooked tripe. For those who prefer not to handle their food when preparing it, get your butcher to help.

What are the best ways to prepare tripe? In the Sichuan province, they like and season theirs with sesame seed paste. They also like it flavored with ground Sichuan pepper or five-spice powder, sesame and chili oils, and sometimes with peanuts. In Quangzhou, one is more likely to find it long-cooked with beef tendons and a dash of hot oil. In the north of China and in the Yunnan province, tripe is prepared with pickled vegetables. In Beijing, lamb tripe is preferred and cooked with lots of leeks and ginger and scallions. They sometimes serve it as a soup or as a casserole, and always dust it with ground white pepper before serving.

At dim sum breakfasts, tripe is still on the menu. Favorites include stir-fried beef or pork tripe long-cooked and loaded with yellow chives. Sometimes a mite of hundred year egg, other times with some tomato is in the sauce. Still other times there is star-anise, cinnamon, and cassia buds.

Once Dr. Mintz was having trouble finding many Chinese tripe recipes, so we joined his search. We looked in two hundred cookbooks and turned up less than a dozen. Since then, perusing almost a thousand Chinese cookbooks we have found more than a hundred great trpe recipes with beef, ox, pork, or lamb tripe, and almost every one somewhat different from the others. There was only one consistency, about ten percent had leeks in them.

To show tripe variety and ways to cook it, some follow. Our favorite is the last one. It is a variations from Mai Leung’s recipe called Street-stall Beef Tripe found in her The Chinese People’s Cookbook, published by Harper and Row, NY, in 1979. Not a single Chinese recipe we ever made produced rubber bands and all are worth your effort. Be advised that raw or cooked, tripe freezes beautifully, and tastes better if made a day in advance.
Yunnan Tripe, Pork, and Pickled Vegetables
1 pound beef or lamb tripe
1 teaspoon mushroom soy sauce
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup pickled mustard green or other pickled vegetable
1/4 pound pork loin
2 Tablespoons corn oil
1 Tablespoon thin soy sauce
1/2 Tablespoon black vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1. Boil the tripe in one quart of water for two minutes. Remove the pot from the heat source but leave the tripe standing in the hot water for half an hour, then drain and discard the water. Cut the tripe into strips about the same length as the pork, but twice as wide, and then toss with the mushroom soy, cornstarch, sesame oil, and sugar.
2. Rinse pickled vegetable in three changes of water, then cut into thin strips.
3. Cut pork loin into thin strips, each about one-inch long and one-quarter-inch wide.
4. Heat corn oil and stir-fry the pork for one minute until just before it loses its pink color, and set it aside in a bowl.
5. In the oil remaining in the wok, stir fry the vegetable for two minutes, then add the tripe, thin soy, and the vinegar and stir-fry three minutes until the liquid is absorbed. Add the pork and cook another minute stirring constantly, then serve after sprinkling with white pepper.
Ox Tripe, Bamboo Shoots, and Leeks
1/2 pound ox tripe
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 small can bamboo shoots, sliced thin
1 cup yellow chives, slivered
2 Tablespoons corn oil
1/4 sweet red pepper, slivered
1 small dried chili pepper, seeded and slivered
1 Tablespoon rice wine
1 teaspoon chicken bouillon powder
1 teaspoon minced coriander
salt and pepper, to taste
1.Mix tripe and salt and set aside for twenty minutes. Then bring to the boil in a quart of water. For one minute. Allow to cool for an hour then boil again for another minute, and then drain, dry the tripe with paper towels, and cut it into thin strips.
2. Heat oil and fry the bamboo shoots and the leeks for one minute. Add the tripe, and chili pepper and the red pepper and stir-fry for half a minute. Then add the rice wine and the chicken bouillon powder and stir-fry one minute. Mix in the coriander and the salt and pepper, and serve.
Hunan Braised Tripe
1 pound ox tripe, simmered for half hour in water
2 Tablespoons Chinese rice wine
2 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 cup chopped scallions, white part only
1/2 teaspoon ground star anise
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 tablespoons thin-sliced fresh ginger
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon sugar
1. Bring two cups water to the boil, add tripe and simmer fifteen minutes. Then add rice wine, soy sauce, scallions, star anise, cumin, black pepper, and ginger and cover the pot. Simmer for one hour and thirty minutes. Remove tripe and reserve the sauce. Cut the tripe into two or three inch pieces and put it on a serving plate.
2. Reheat the remaining sauce and when it comes to the boil, add dry mustard, cornstarch, and the sugar, and boil stirring, until it thickens. Pour over the tripe and serve.
Lamb Tripe with Mushrooms
2 fresh hot chili peppers, seeded and slivered
1 pound lamb tripe, blanched three times, then cut in matchstick-size pieces
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 Tablespoon corn oil
1/2 Green pepper, cut in thin slivers
1 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoons thin soy sauce
1 Tablespoon dark soy sauce
3 cloves garlic, minced
18 black mushrooms, soaked half hour in one cup warm water, drained of excess water, it is squeezed out, and reserved
1 cup coriander. Set six sprigs aside and mince the rest
1 Tablespoon corn starch
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1. Blanch slivered hot chili pieces, dry and set aside.
2. Simmer tripe for ten minutes in the broth, remove from liquid and set aside, reserve the broth.
3. Heat corn oil and stir-fry both peppers for one minute. Add mushrooms and tripe, the reserved mushroom water, and the minced coriander. Simmer one minute then bring to the boil.
4. Mix cornstarch with the reserved chicken stock and stir into the tripe mixture. Remove from heat as soon as it thickens and pour into a serving dish. Decor with coriander sprigs and serve.
Tendon and Tripe, Shanghai Style
1 pound beef tendon
1 pound pork tripe
1 cup dark soy sauce
1 Tablespoon corn oil
6 green tops of scallions, minced
1 teaspoon black bean and chili sauce
3 slices fresh ginger, minced coarsely
1 one-inch by two-inch piece of Chinese brown sugar
1/2 cup red wine lees
1/2 cup fresh golden needle mushrooms, separated into small clumps
1 teaspoon five-spice powder
1 Tablespoon chicken bouillon powder
1/2 cup bean sprouts, tails removed
1/2 cup peeled and sliced cucumber
1. Blanch beef tendon and tripe for two minutes each in two separate pots. Cool for one hour in the soy sauce.
2. Heat corn oil and stir-fry the scallion tops for one minute, then add tendon and tripe pieces and the soy sauce. Add black bean and chili sauce, ginger pieces, Chinese brown sugar, wine lees, golden needle mushrooms five spice powder, and powdered bouillon. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for two hours. Then allow to sit in the sauce for another hour.
3. Remove the tendon and tripe and cut them into very thin slices and set them on a platter. Put bean sprouts and cucumber slices around them.
4. Reduce sauce mixture to about three tablespoons and pour over the tendons and tripe, and serve.
Street-stall Tripe
12 bay leaves
2 pounds honeycomb tripe
2 Tablespoons corn oil
8 star anise
6 slices fresh ginger, each cut into four pieces
1/4 cup dark soy sauce
2 Tablespoons chili paste with garlic
1 cup rice wine
1/2 cup beef broth
1. Bring ten cups of water to the boil, add bay leaves and tripe and return it to the boil. When at a rolling boil, cover and turn off the heat. Let it rest for two hours.
2. Remove trip from liquid and cut into two-inch pieces. Dry with paper towels.
3. Heat oil in Chinese clay casserole, if available, and add fresh ginger pieces and the soy sauce, chili paste, rice wine, and broth, and simmer for five minutes.
4. Add tripe and simmer uncovered for another ten minutes. Cover and put into the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, remove ginger pieces and the star anise.
5. Before serving, reheat and mix with cornstarch water, and bring to the boil and allow to thicken.

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