Once upon a time, when I was running away from home, I worked as a kitchen wench for some rich hippies who ran a hotel restaurant, and also an organic farm. The restaurant served their meat. They were incredibly sanctimonious about “whole animal” cooking. I spent a lot of time making pates and charcuterie. All my sausage recipes are spattered with — mmmm. Let’s just call it sausage. There’s nothing I don’t know about rinsing chitlins and sliding them on to the sausage funnel. I once spent three days re-inventing the hot dog. It was delicious, and, including my labor, worth about $59.00 a pound. The secret is cardamom and pork liver.
What their “whole animal” philosophy did not include was tripe. Which is a shame. Because, as you know, what a Scotsman wears under his kilt, what makes the Latino salsa so smoothly, without any movement from the waist up, what makes the French peasant the wiriest little fucker on the planet who will whup the ass of any and all Eurocrats, past, present, and future, is tripe.
Tripes a la mode de Caen.
One of the great things about Macondo is the supermercado, where I recently bought nearly three pounds of honeycomb tripe for $6.75. One of the things about cutting up meat in a restaurant kitchen is that every meat cutter hits a wall, whereby the living animal whose meat you’re mincing reproaches you and makes you consider veganism for real. Sometimes the animal actually is living, like crabs and lobsters, and sometimes his entire body is all too apprehensible, like chickens and rabbits. There are things each meat cutter simply cannot bring himself to do. I made a swap with my buddy. I’d cut up the rabbits if he’d skin the eels. Each out of sight of the other. Then there was James the baker, to whom we all had to suck up because there was only one powerful Hobart kitchen mixer, complete with meat grinding attachment, and James had full control of it for pastry from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. There could be no “whole animal” meat cutting until after 3 p.m., by which time you were half dead from the lunch service. Long story short, you got a lot of sausage meat squirted in your eye, since the meat grinder was high above the mixing bowl, at eye level.
As much fun as that was, they bought their “sausage casings” already salted and coiled in plastic tubs, and were complete dilettantes about the “whole animal” concept. There would be no andouilletes, the French sausage which is basically chitlin’-stuffed chitlin’s, and very fine it is. Nor haggis, which is oatmeal-stuffed tripe braised and sliced. Nor menudo, which is finely chopped tripe braised with calf’s foot, chile ancho and hominy. Nor a la mode de Caen, which is oven braised for eight hours in a special small-mouthed marmite, with carrots, thyme and a touch of apple brandy. Larousse has fourteen recipes for tripe, which shows you just how wiry the French are. As for the seven recipes for lamb animelles, well, stone soup doesn’t even begin to tell the story. My mother used to make special trips to the Florida Avenue Grill, the venerable Howard University diner, for what they were calling “creamed eggs”. And ‘licious they were.
So, mindful of the coming depression, I am dusting off my offal recipes. There are three great ones for tripe. I am cooking, as we speak, a large pot of Paul Bertolli’s Italian granny tomato garlic tripe. The rest I cut up into tiny cubes for Philadelphia pepper pot soup, and if there’s enough left over, for Jane Grigson’s awesome long-simmered tripe, carrots, shallots and prunes, tripe de Gourin aux pruneaux. This is from Good Things, which I decided the other day, in thinking of the best cookbook of all time to give a starting cook, is the best cookbook of all time. For no showing-off food, for homecooking which juxtaposes in ways new to me humble ingredients like walnuts and onions (Burgundian bread) and carrots and prunes (the aforementioned tripe), for solid technique, scholarship, fabulous palate and real working woman conviviality, nobody is better than Jane. And, you don’t have to eat the tripe. She has heavenly recipes for celery, too.
I also want to look at Jocasta Innes’ Pauper’s Cookbook and see what kind of offal she’s got cooking (tongue, brains, heart, head, oxtail, liver, kidney). Fergus Henderson, so very chic, is a “whole animal” sanctimone, who has got some great recipes for brains, sweetbreads, spleen, blood, a serious effin’ haggis, but pales, as so many of these meat-eatin’, bone-crackin’, marrow-suckin’ macho men do, at the merest whisper of ears, tails and….shhhhhh.