Hide or Highlight?
I recently ate a tripe dish that I didn't care for, but I'm guessing my bad experience was different from that of most others who complain about eating cow stomach. The usual gripes are about the texture (chewy), smell (a combination of cat pee and dirty socks when raw) or taste ( cooked improperly, that pee-sock smell becomes a flavor). Despite these descriptions, the stuff is brilliant when its done right. One of the chef instructors at The FCI created a tripe epiphany when he made a tomato-based Spanish tripe stew with chorizo and chickpeas. Braised for hours, the offal was toothsome instead of rubbery, and any cloying organ flavor was perfectly cut by the acidity of tomatoes and zest of Spanish seasoning. I've been in cow stomach love ever since.
I was excited to try the tripe at a nationally renowned restaurant in the DC area, as the chef is known for his deft hand with organ meats. The waitress described the dish as being "lightly fried," a promising new preparation. Yet what arrived at the table could have been veal schnitzel, had I not cracked the seasoned layer of brown crumbs and seen the honeycomb tripe inside. Instead of being prepared in a manner that curbed the tripe's strong organ taste, any rich, primal flavors were masked entirely by the crust. Granted, it was perfectly fried and seasoned meat, which is never a total disappointment. But in an array of phenomenal courses, I was surprised to have the tripe fall comparatively flat.
I would rather the tripe dish have been dreamily sublime instead of thought provoking, but it did bring up the question of the proper way to handle organ meats. Foie gras aside, they are the cheapest, generally least desirable part of an animal. And unlike muscle meat, long, involved processes or heavy handed preparations are typically involved to turn offal wonderful. So the question is, how much does a cook hide, and how much does he highlight, especially when the lower cuts are entering the mainstream as recession specials?