Thursday, July 30, 2015

What Tripe Is, and Is Not, and How to Cook It.

The theme of the Oxford Symposium on Food and Cookery in 2016 is to be Offal, and it is hoped and expected that the topic will be explored broadly, and certainly well beyond the commonly assumed meaning of ‘organ meat’.

The Oxford English Dictionary gives a number of different usages of the word ‘offal’ including:

·       That which falls or is thrown off from some process, as husks from milling grain, chips from dressing wood, etc.; residue or waste products.

·       In pl. or (occas.) sing. Fragments that fall off in breaking or using anything, considered collectively; crumbs, leftovers, remnants

·       The edible parts collectively which are cut off in preparing the carcass of an animal for food. In early use applied mainly to the entrails; later extended to include the head, tail, and internal organs such as the heart, liver, etc. Also occas. as a count noun (usu. in pl.): a piece of offal; a particular type of offal.

·       The parts of a slaughtered or dead animal considered unfit for human consumption; decomposing flesh, carrion. Also (in extended use): slain bodies or mutilated limbs. Occas. in pl.

·       Refuse in general; rubbish, garbage; a piece of this.

·       Dregs, scum, offscourings, trash; (as a count noun) something worthless.

·       Formerly, in the fish trade: low-priced and inferior fish (contrasted with those called prime); esp. small fish of various kinds caught in the nets along with the larger or more valuable kinds.


Thinking about this marvellous annual event (and planning not to miss it next time around) made me realise that I have not given offal the attention it is deserves n my blog posts over the years.

I have chosen to start with tripe, for the very excellent reason that one of my first finds on the subject was an amusing piece in The Chicago Herald Cooking School: A Professional Cook's Book for Household Use (1883), by Jessup Whitehead:

What Tripe Is.
(Burlington Hawkeye.)

Occasionaly [sic] you see a man order tripe at a hotel, but be always looks hard, as though he hated himself and everybody else. He tries to look as though he enjoyed it, but he does not. Tripe is indigestible, and looks like an India rubber apron for a child to sit on. When it is pickled it looks like dirty clothes put to soak, and when it is cooking it cooks as though the cook was boiling a dish cloth.  On the table it looks like glue and tastes like a piece of old silk umbrella cover. A stomach that is not lined with corrugated iron would be turned wrong side out by the smell of tripe. A man eating tripe at a hotel table looks like an Arctic explorer dining on his boots or chewing pieces of frozen dog. You cannot look at a man eating tripe but he will blush and look as though he wanted to apologize and convince you he is taking it to tone up his system. A woman never eats tripe. There is not money enough in the world to hire a woman to take a corner of a sheet of tripe in her teeth and try to pull off a piece. Those who eat tripe are men who have had their stomachs play mean tricks on them, and they eat tripe to get even with their stomachs and then they go and take a Turkish bath to sweat it out of their system. Tripe is a superstition handed down from a former generation of butchers, who sold all the meat and kept the tripe for themselves and the dogs, but the dogs of the present day will not eat tripe.
You throw a piece of tripe down in front of a dog and see if he does not put his tail between his legs and go off and hate you. Tripe may have a value, but it is not as food. It may be good to fill in a burglar-proof safe, with the cement and chilled steel, or it might answer to use as a breastplate in the time of war, or it would be good to use for bumpers between cars, or it would make a good face for the weight of a pile driver, but when you come to smuggle it into the stomach you do wrong. Tripe! Bah! A piece of Turkish towel soaked in axle grease would be pie compared with tripe.

Interestingly, although tripe is often thought of as poor-folks’ food, there is anecdotal evidence that it was often enjoyed by choice by those able to afford the finest steaks. In another snippet (the source is not identified )in The Chicago Herald Cooking School tripe and onions are associated with gentlemen’s clubs:

There are three dishes, it is said, which if put upon the bill of fare of a London club, are devoured before all the rest: so that at 7 or 8 o’clock, when most members dine, there is nothing left of them. These dishes are Irish stew, tripe and onions, and liver and bacon.

Jessup Whitehead was a prolific author of books about food and hotel catering, and in another of his works - The Steward’s Handbook and Guide to Party Catering – he again indicated that tripe and onions was an actual specialty of one particular gentlemen’s club, although he does not name it.

Many of the London clubs have their culinary specialties. Thus, the Oriental, in Hanover Square, has long been celebrated for its curried prawns; the Garrick for its porter-house steaks and marrow-bones; the Junior Garrick for its mutton broth; the Windham [presumably Wyndham] for a dish known as 'all sorts," named after the 17th Lancers; another club for its tripe and onions; while the grill at the little Beef-steak, over Toole's Theatre, is unique.

So, is tripe amusing or disgusting or delicious? Is it food of necessity for the poor, or comfort food for the rich? Perhaps a recipe will help you decide.

I give you two interpretations of the tripe and onions from The Art of Cookery (London, 1836) by John Mollard.

Fried Tripe and Onions.
Cut the tripe into slips of four inches long and three inches wide, dip them in batter and fry them in boiling lard. On serving, put under it slices of onions cut one inch thick, and fry them in the same manner. Or instead of slips of tripe, pieces of cow-heel may be used; and let melted butter be sent in a sauce-boat with a little mustard in it, and, if approved, a table spoonful of vinegar.

Boiled Tripe and Onions.

Cut a prepared double of tripe into slips, then peel and boil some Spanish, or other onions, in milk and water with a little salt, and when they are nearly done, add the tripe, and boil it gently twenty minutes. Serve with the onions and a little of the liquor in a tureen. Serve, likewise, in a sauceboat, some melted butter with a little mustard, and, if approved, a table spoonful of vinegar mixed with it.

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