A Lesson in Tripe
“Tripe strikes fear in people”
If there is one dish with the reputation to send someone rushing to the bathroom before trying it, then it has to be tripe. In its raw state, I’ve always thought it looks like coral, but that is as far as my musings go. It is edible offal from the stomachs of various animals, and no amount of imagination or similes can ultimately disguise that grisly fact. Tripe has quite a following away from these shores and is part of an everyday dining tradition in France, Spain and Italy. In the Mercato Centrale in Florence, there is even a “tripperie” – a fast food outlet serving those busy people of Tuscany who simply can’t get enough of the stuff.
“One tripe burger, please and hold the mayo!” – It just seems so wrong.
In Britain we tend to use beef tripe the most, the variants thereof sporting names like leaf, bible, carpet, blanket, plain, reed, honeycomb – gentle, innocuous names masking the unfamiliar terrain beneath. Plain comes from the first stomach of the cow, honeycomb the second and bible, or leaf, the third. The fourth stomach, I read, apart from the extraction of rennet, seems to be used less frequently “due to its glandular tissue….” Oh dear.
Having attempted to walk this life with an open mind, I soon realized that I had tripe prejudice simmering on a low heat in my heart. In order to advance my knowledge of this murky, intestinal world, I needed to procure the help of a master – nay, the King of Tripe! – who else but the inestimable, hugely affable, ridiculously talented Mr Fergus Henderson of St John Restaurant.
“Tripe stirs fear in people,” says Mr Henderson rather knowingly. There is a long pause, in which I feel the said fear. “Most people shut down and close their hearts to tripe. But people who come to the restaurant for tripe, really love tripe. They are tripe fiends.
There is no particular season for tripe. It is a forever dish: any time, any place, an anywhere dish. It’s tummy, so it doesn’t really change. Of course, jellied tripe is a more summery dish – it is an initiate’s dish one might say, and it tends to win over a lot of people. I like to serve it with cornichons. Accompanied by a jolly rosé – that to me would be perfect.
Could I tell the difference between honeycomb tripe and carpet tripe and leaf tripe?” – Another pause – “Well, if I wiggled my tongue and got the texture, then yes, probably.
Tripe and onions actually shows tripe at its best. Use unbleached tripe – it needs a good rinse in salted water as it is a little brown by nature – and then you soften the onions in milk, add the tripe and simmer for up to an hour. I would call this an enthusiast’s dish.
The great thing about tripe is that it achieves a great culinary combination, both steadying and uplifting at the same time. It rescues one from life. It is a white food and needs mashed potato – something to “anchor” it to the “*!*!*!” (Please note: At this point Mr Henderson makes a long slurping sound that completely enhances one’s understanding of the dish). Accompanied, of course,” he continues, “by a red burgundy.
Deep fried tripe is like a grown-up Quaver. Use unbleached tripe again. After cooking for eight hours season and flour and then throw in the deep fat fryer. It fans out – expansive gesture – and it’s wonderfully crispy. Eat with salt and vinegar. Accompanied, of course…”
“With a red sparkling wine,” interjects Mr Trevor Gulliver joyously. “A Portuguese or a Shiraz.”
“Or a red burgundy,” says Mr Henderson, with emphasis.
There is a moment to reflect. The simmering has stopped, and my heart is opening. I feel like an acolyte in an airless vault. In the presence of a Master. I refill my water glass, my head buzzing, my understanding clearer. We continue.
“Tripe needs enough chew,” continues Mr Henderson. “It shouldn’t yield straight away – maybe not until the third chew, and then it starts to give way, then it becomes submissive.”
My hand is suddenly in the air, waving.
“Yes?” says Mr Henderson.
“I read somewhere that tripe can increase libido. Four fold.”
There is a very long pause in which Mr Gulliver raises his eyebrows.
“Well,” says Mr Henderson, “It’s heady stuff, tripe. Uplifting.”
“Can you eat it as a dessert?” asks the photographer.
“You’d be very foolish,” says Mr Henderson.
“What you need to understand,” says Mr Henderson, “is that food is mood-led. You wake up and think…Ahhh, tripe and onions. One needs to test the perception of beauty. Tripe is a beautiful thing. It brings you back from the edge when you think there’s no hope… But then you remember there’s tripe and onions – it’s pretty impressive.” Mr Henderson sits back against the wall and exhales deeply. “First initiation into tripe,’ he says ‘I think we’ve had a good stab at it.”
Here Endeth the Lesson.
“Jellied tripe – an initiate’s dish. “
“If I wiggled my tongue and got the texture…”
“It shouldn’t yield straight away…”
“It fans out…”
“Can tripe increase libido?”
“It rescues one from life.”
Edmund Martin Ld, Tripe Dresser in Lindsey St, Smithfield, demolished last year.
Portraits of Fergus Henderson copyright © Patricia Niven
Tripe photograph in “Nose to Tail Eating” by Jason Lowe
Photograph of Edmund Martin Ltd by the Gentle Author
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