Cooking with kid: Stomach

I never encountered tripe growing up. My first taste of it was from the piece shown in the photo below, left, which shows the particular chamber of the stomach with a honeycomb pattern on its inner lining. That’s the stomach from the goat kid featured in this series, and I suspected that preparing it well would present a challenge.

stomach

Above left: goat kid honeycomb tripe; right: ruminant stomach lining diversity.

My first personal memory of tripe comes from August 2004, when I was in Florence, Italy, to present some grad school research at an international geological conference. The opening reception took place outdoors, on a large field ringed by tables mounded with gloriously beautiful and delicious food. It was a lovely spread, soon descended on by hordes of hungry geologists (pardon the redundancy). I don’t remember most of the details; there must have been bread, cheese, cured meats, luscious tomatoes, basil, and free-flowing wine, but I do have a vivid memory of piles of honeycomb tripe. Most of the food disappeared, eroded rapidly by floods of jet-lagged geologists, but the tripe mountains persisted, resisting the forces of culinary erosion more effectively than a quartzite knob. I was vegetarian at the time, so I skipped the cured meats with a sense of regret, but felt grateful for my convenient excuse to avoid the tripe. In retrospect, however, I wish I had eaten some, because I would like to know what skillfully prepared tripe tastes like. If Italians find it worth preparing, then I trust it can be outright delicious. And I tried to keep this in mind as I set about researching how to cook stomach.

Yet, as I did so, I felt a sense of trepidation…or would that be tripe-dation? I had heard horror stories, such as Eric’s experience at a German restaurant in San Francisco, where a nearby diner’s order of tripe had filled the restaurant with outhouse odor and ruined his appetite. Then there was this blog post, in which the author put a great deal of effort into preparing tripe and firmly disagreed with the cookbook’s declaration that tripe is “terrific.” (A commenter pointed out that one dictionary definition of “terrific” is “causing terror.”) I found references to noxious smells, unpleasant tastes, and extremely rubbery textures. Yikes; would we be able to stomach stomach?

Step 1: Removing the stomach from the animal

Removing the stomach from the animal is my favorite part of the whole tripe cooking process. I genuinely find it interesting. After removing all the other edible organs from the innards pile, I cut into the stomach, making cuts along the clear divisions between the various stomach chambers. There’s an aroma of fermenting vegetation associated with this, but it’s really not bad. Plus, the visual and tactile senses provide plenty of fascinating distraction from any olfactory ruminations.

I always experience a sense of awe regarding the sheer biomass of vegetation that a ruminant’s stomach chambers can hold at a time. For context, think about how a big pile of leafy basil can turn into a tiny amount of pureed pesto, or how much cabbage can compress in volume when cut up and pounded for a sauerkraut fermentation crock. No wonder goats are always hungry.

Those vegetative contents obviously change as they pass through the various chambers of the stomach (and are subjected to additional cud chewing somewhere in the process); the texture become finer and the moisture content changes through the various chambers. Removing the contents reveals the texture of the wall, and each chamber is very distinct (see photos). The honeycomb pattern is downright beautiful. Reportedly, the honeycomb style of tripe is the stomach chamber most often eaten (in the U.S. at least). I’m not sure if visual aesthetics are responsible for that in general, but I’d say it was a factor in our decision to try that piece.

stomach_after_boiling

Above left: stomach after “blanching.” Above right: tenderized stomach (after many, many hours of simmering with aromatics). These photos actually show the stomachs from two kids (Crystal and another that we butchered the same day). The honeycomb tripe volume is actually pretty small; the jar is a quarter pint jar.

Step 2: Preparing the stomach for cooking

The biggest hurdle I faced came while processing the kid; pretty much all recipes assume you have purchased a nicely cleaned piece of tripe from the store, and photos feature blazing white pieces of stomach as a starting point. I have yet to find a thorough description with a step-by-step of how to go from a warm stomach full of browsed vegetation to a nicely cleaned, ready-to-cook stomach. Various sources hinted that membrane removal is necessary, as is scrubbing, and I also found references to blanching techniques.

The outside of the stomach was coated with some membranous material, slightly yellowish in color, and I peeled off as much as I could. However, there wasn’t a clear boundary to follow; rather, there was a gradation between the slimy membrane and the more fibrous stomach muscle, and pulling on the membrane sometimes resulted in ripping away parts that I was pretty sure I wanted to keep. Figuring out exactly what and how much to remove wasn’t obvious to me.

For further cleaning, I mixed and matched some advice I had read. An online source suggested boiling the stomach with vinegar. Julia Child also detailed an approach for blanching tripe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2 that involved boiling & chilling repeatedly. Thus, on the afternoon of butchering day, I boiled the honeycomb three times in vinegar-spiked water, 5 minutes each, chilling after each round. I used cheap, generic white vinegar, a product I usually don’t use for food preparation but keep around for tasks such as cleaning the bathroom; guess this struck me as more of a cleaning job than a cooking one. The color didn’t change much…or at least didn’t become the snowy white that I had hoped for. But there was considerable shrinkage and the texture became extremely tough and rubbery. Maybe it would make a nice toe for a pair of moccasins? The pale brown color stubbornly persisted. Rubbing didn’t remove it. I just shrugged and let it be; perhaps it didn’t matter.

Next time I try this, I think I’ll modify my approach. For example, one website suggested rubbing salt on the raw surface for cleaning. Perhaps the salt would draw out liquid, and aroma with it? If anyone has more authoritative information on going from fresh-from-an-animal stomach to ready-to-cook stomach, please comment!

 Step 3: Simmer with aromatics until tender

Based on some sources I consulted, including Joy of Cooking, the next sensible step in many preparations of tripe is to simmer it for a long, long time, until tender. I got the sense that there was no such thing as too long. So, a couple days after the original blanching and a few days before I ended up serving it, I put the tripe in a small sauce pan with water, added 3 cloves of crushed-but-not-peeled garlic, a small chopped-but-not-skinned yellow onion, some fresh sprigs of winter savory & sage (the best the herb garden had to offer in late December), and ¼ tsp each of salt and sugar. I brought this to a boil, covered it, and let it simmer for much of the afternoon/evening, periodically checking the aroma and topping off with water if needed. By the end of the day, the fragrance of the aromatics was starting to win out over the smell of the stomach, but as much as I wanted to like it, I still didn’t find the olfactory experience overly appetizing. Before bed, I chilled it and put it in the refrigerator. On a subsequent day, I let it simmer about 8 more hours. At the end of that run, it seemed less rubbery, and I finally decided to taste it.

I first tasted the broth, rather hesitantly, and found it acceptable, though not quite delectable. Then I cut two small pieces of tripe, one for myself and one for Eric, and we both tasted it. The first thing I noticed was the mouth feel, which was different than I expected. I especially noticed the fibrous texture that dominates the outside of the stomach, a reminder that the stomach is just another muscle, a reassuring realization, since eating muscle is pretty normal. The flavor certainly had a hint of offal in the same way that liver does, but not so potent that either of us lunged for a glass of water (or something stronger). So far, so good.

I cut it into pieces that would be ready to add to the final preparation, then packed it away in a container for lunch the next day, feeling reassured that it would be edible. The total amount, even from two kids’ honeycomb stomachs, was pretty small.

stomach_prepared

Above left: tripe in tomato sauce. Right: the meal: tripe in tomato sauce, roasted herbed potatoes, and kohlrabi slices.

Step 4: Final preparations: make a sauce, side dishes, and serve

I considered a number of possibilities for the final preparation of this dish, and I ended up settling on a tomato-based version, perhaps with the Italian influence in the back of my mind, but also because we had some leftovers ingredients in the refrigerator that needed to be used. I took some inspiration from this Roman Style Tripe, but went in a slightly different direction.

I sautéed some garlic in a combination of butter & chicken fat, then added some flour for a roux, since I had runny tomato juice on hand rather than chunky tomatoes. After cooking that for a few minutes, I added the tomato juice, a bit under a cup. When that thickened up, I tasted the sauce, and decided some more herb flavoring would be in order, so I grabbed some more sage from the herb garden. Then, I added about a half cup of pork broth that was in the refrigerator. I tasted the sauce again & adjusted salt. Finally, I put the tripe pieces in and let it simmer until the potatoes were ready.

I had also prepared some roasted herbed potatoes. I cubed these, tossed them with chicken fat and salt, added some fresh herbs, some cloves of garlic (unpeeled), and put in the oven at 450ºF for about 45 minutes, stirring around the halfway point. A few slices of raw kohlrabi added some crunch and sweetness to the plate.

Step 5: Eat

Having tasted the tripe dish before serving, I was reasonably pleased with what made it to the table. The sauce tasted good, the tripe was tender, and the tripe flavor was not overwhelming to my taste buds. However, Eric detected a flavor in the tripe that he found off-putting; he described it as a vinegary or astringent flavor. Was boiling with white vinegar a mistake? Did I not clean it well enough? I’m not sure. I thought some pieces had a stronger flavor than others, which certainly made me wonder if I could have cleaned it better. My nostrils and taste buds didn’t detect a quality that matched what Eric described. And since neither of us had tasted tripe before, we didn’t know how it should taste. Overall, on a scale from edible to delicious, I’d rank it towards the edible end. We both ate our portions, though neither of us experienced a sense of sadness when it was gone.

Of all the animals we’ve butchered, this is the first time we’ve prepared and eaten tripe. Will we do it again? I’m not sure. I definitely recognize tripe’s culinary potential, but I wonder how many times I’d have to be exposed to it as an adult to truly love it. And compared to liver, the process of preparing tripe is relatively involved. At what point is the ratio of effort to enjoyment not worth it? At the very least, I do think it is worth it to at least collect the stomach, rinse it reasonably well, and boil it up for the chickens to eat. They’re much less picky when it comes to flavor and texture; plus, tripe makes a good winter food supplement for them when they aren’t able to forage for as many insects, and watching them tear into it provides considerable entertainment. Turning stomach into eggs sounds pretty good to me, and this is indeed what we did with the stomach chambers we did not eat.

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