Now you want to place the piece of tripe with the smooth side down on the board. Think of the thin, translucent sections of the stomach like pages of a book. Count four pages in and make an incision running down the length of the crease, which is like the spine of the book. Then, placing your section of tripe so that the edges of the pages point south and the spine of the book points north, cut 1/4-inch slices so that each slice gets exactly 4 tendrils hanging on.
These were the exact instructions from my mother, translated into English, for the correct procedure for cutting tripe. What can I say? Type As run in the family.
"Yeah, yeah, roger that," I replied, already itching to get my hands on the tripe. Just as I was about to hang up, I heard on the other end, this time with greater urgency:
"Wait! Also, you should line up the pages of the tripe very neatly, and you want to make long, smooth cuts so that you don't crease the tendrils when you cut down. Otherwise the sections of tripe won't look pretty. You don't want to end up with an ugly tripe salad, do you?"
No, Mother, I do not want to end up with ugly tripe salad.
I've been eating this dish for my almost my whole life. My mother tells me that when I had just turned four, she took me to the wedding of a family friend in Shanghai, where I spent the entire time gnawing on chicken's feet and taking in large mouthfuls of tripe rather than playing with the other children. There were probably many plates of this tripe dish on the banquet table, not to mention platters of thinly sliced pig's ears or beef tendon.
Go to most restaurants in Shanghai and there will be something to this effect: a cut of offal, thinly sliced and dressed in a mixture of soy sauce and oil made aromatic with green onions, cilantro, and chiles. It doesn't sound like much, but it's the small details that make this dish great. Thin slivers of green onion and green chiles are lightly browned in the oil that dresses the tripe. The green onion becomes soft and fragrant in the oil, which is itself transformed by the perfume of the aromatics. Finely diced cilantro counters the oiliness of the dressing, and only the best quality soy sauce should be considered. Sometimes I'll add a bit of vinegar to the mixture, but other times, I prefer to let the fragrance of the browned green onions dominate the dish.
Though the same type of dressing can be used for pig's ears or tendon, using omasum tripe (that is, from the particular section of the cow's stomach named as such) confers a huge advantage. The entire dish of tripe salad can be put together in half an hour or under, and that includes prep and clean-up. Pig's ears and tendon both need to be cooked for hours to break down, but omasum tripe needs only a brief parboiling, barely even a minute long, to cook. (A word to the wise: don't even try to cook the omasum for longer. In the span of a minute it will turn into a rubbery mess of a dish more suitable for your dog than your dinner table.)
If it were a noodle, omasum would be described as having an al dente texture—crispy yet yielding to the bite. While the water in the pot is boiling, you can slice the greens onions and brown them slowly in the pan. Once parboiled and refreshed under cold water, the tripe sits in the perfumed oil and soy sauce, taking in the flavors of the chilies, green onions, and cilantro. The slivers of tripe will have soaked in the majority of the liquid after a mere ten minutes in the oil, but kept in the refrigerator, the flavor of the tripe will intensify and become even better.
Finally, if you're looking for a something vegetal to add to the tripe salad, bean sprouts briefly boiled in water do a fantastic job of sopping up the juices and oil in the salad.
Omasum Salad with Green Onions, Chiles, and Cilantro
- 1 3-pound section of omasum
- 3 large green onions, thinly sliced
- Approximately 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons medium-dark soy sauce
Divide the omasum into sections, each with 4 to 5 translucent sections in the interior. Slice each section into 1/4 inch slices so that each section gets a corresponding tendril.
Bring a medium-large pot of water to boil. Add the tripe all at once and parboil for 40 seconds, at which point the water will be just about ready to boil again. Drain the tripe and refresh under cold water until the slices have completely cooled down. These sections are now ready to be dressed.
Add the parboiled and rinsed tripe to the oil. The tripe should be fairly dry so that no additional water makes it into the dressing. Toss and let sit for 10 minutes, or keep in the refrigerator for several days. Serve cold.