Pig's stomach and beef tripe are fairly common finds in ethnic markets, but it's not everyday that I come across lamb tripe. Sitting next to an assortment of livers, the packages of lamb tripe were neatly stacked and as usual, dirt-cheap. Without knowing exactly what I'd make of it, I claimed a pack of the tripe and rushed home in anticipation. Unfurled on my cutting board, the organ was a sight to behold.
Though we often refer to ruminants as possessing four stomachs, each stomach is actually a section of the larger whole. Beef tripe is sold as such: honeycomb and omasum, for instance, are packaged separately. Since lamb is much smaller in size, all the discrete sections of its stomach—the tender, succulent honeycomb tripe, the spongy, furry rumen, and the flatter omasum—appear in one continuous swath.
To celebrate an innard I'd never eaten before, I embarked on a recipe I've never tried. For months now, I've been obsessed with the idea of sealing my pots with dough, an age-old method for low and slow cooking. Molded just to fit the shape of the cooking vessel, a rope of dough provides a formidable seal to preserve the moisture of a stew.
For Paula Wolfert, the phrase, "begin four days in advance" is not uncommon. Happily, her Tripe and Pig's Feet Stew requires only two days' worth of preparation. Lacking trotters, I tossed in a couple of snouts that I happened to have on hand with the assumption that the same gelatinous texture could be achieved.
Working with offal is a wonderful way to indulge on some of the finer things in life. Since the lamb's tripe was bought for next to nothing, I splurged on the finest saffron and used an entire bottle of Riesling with which to stew the tripe and pork. As the process for making the soup spanned two days, I was left with plenty of downtime to record each step along the way.
Friday, 11 p.m.
The snouts are frozen solid in one gargantuan, piggy block in the freezer. Nothing a big butcher knife can't handle. Like a mountaineer, I take to the snouts with a few precisely placed hacks. The frozen snouts tumble from the larger block; dull thuds resound as they hit the sink. Defrosted and dried, the snouts are now ready to be salted overnight.
Saturday, 2 p.m.
Due to reasons for which I am 20% culpable, I have just begun to work with the tripe. It needs to be soaked in water and vinegar for one hour, then parboiled before being sealed in the pot.
Saturday, 4 p.m.
The tripe has been soaked, parboiled, and cut into one-inch sections. The mirepoix is cut and ready to go. I pour the entire contents of the wine bottle into the pot; the bottle takes heaving glugs as it is emptied, producing a most satisfying noise. Without precise instructions as to how wet my rope of dough ought to be, I play around with the proportions until I form a rope capable of sticking firmly to the pot. I worry that the nubby dough will fall from the rim of the lid, but it stays securely put. Carefully, I slide the pot into the oven and close the door.
Saturday, 11 p.m.
All afternoon and evening, the pot sits in the oven without so much as a peep. Then, in the quiet of the night, I open the door to the oven and listen to the sound of the liquid, just barely bubbling inside like a subdued waterfall display. I put the back of my hand to the wall of the dutch oven: warm, but only just so. Besides the browning color of the doughy seal, the slight sound of the simmering liquid is the only indication that something transformative must be happening inside the vessel. Slowly, the faint smell of lamb and saffron escapes from the oven. The tripe is not due to finish for another five hours, so I set my alarm for four in the morning.
Sunday, 1 a.m.
I wake in a cold sweat with the premonition that something has gone awry. Bolting from bed, I rush to the kitchen. The oven has been turned off! Opening the door, I put my hand to the pot. It is stone-cold, as if cooking had ceased hours ago. Irrational, murderous thoughts enter my brain. Who has been tampering with my tripe? Setting my alarm for five in the morning, I calculate that no more than an hour or so could have been lost from the cooking time.
Sunday, 5 a.m.
I turn off the oven in the kitchen and stumble back to bed. Tripe for breakfast, anyone?
Cheered on by an offal-loving audience, I liberate the pot from its doughy confines. We polish off the tripe with loaves of crusty baguettes and bottles of Riesling. The texture of the lamb tripe is meltingly tender with just a hint of chewiness; each tendril, each pocket in the honeycomb seems to have absorbed the saffron and wine. The snouts, gelatinous and meaty, add body to an intensely lamb-laden broth. Tripe bliss is mine.
Adapted from The Cooking of Southwest France by Paula Wolfert.
- Yield:serves 6
- 3 pig's feet or 4 pig's snouts
- Coarse kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
- 2 pounds beef honeycomb or lamb tripe
- 3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 2 medium carrots, sliced
- 1 medium onion, sliced
- 1 leek, cleaned and sliced
- 1 rib of celery, sliced
- 1 bouquet garni: parsley, thyme, and bay leaf
- 1 bottle dry white wine
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
- For the rope of dough:
- 3/4 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Two days in advance, scrub the pig's feet or snouts and dry. Rub with 1 tablespoon of salt and the mixed herbs. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
The following day, soak the tripe in 3 cups of cold water, along with the vinegar, for 1 hour. Rinse and drain. Place the tripe in a deep kettle, cover with cold water, and bring slowly to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes; drain. As soon as the tripe is cool enough to handle, cut it into 1 1/2 inch pieces.
Preheat the oven to 210 F. Place the vegetables in a 7-9 quart casserole, preferably earthenware or enameled cast-iron. Add the tripe, herb bouquet, wine, tomato paste, and saffron. Rinse the pig's feet or snouts and add to the pot.
Add enough water and oil to the 3/4 cup of flour make a thick paste that's moist and not sticky, and capable of being formed into a long rope. Seal the pot with a ribbon of this paste, taking care to press the dough against the lid of the vessel. Place the pot on the center oven shelf to cook for 12 hours.
Twelve hours later or the following morning, strain the contents: If you used trotters, debone the feet and set aside the meat. Using a strainer, press down on the vegetables with the back of a spoon to extract all the juices before discarding. Leave the snouts as they are. Cut the pork into smaller pieces. Place the tripe and the meat into a deep bowl and set aside.
Allow the fat to rise to the surface of the cooking liquid. Skim off and discard all the fat. Place the degreased liquid in a deep saucepan and boil, skimming, until reduced it has been reduced to 3 cups of thick, meaty broth. Pour the broth over the tripe and pig's feet. Serve while piping-hot, with plenty of good crusty bread on the side to sop up the meat juices.
If not serving immediately, cover the bowl and refrigerate for up to 3 days.