Monday, April 8, 2013

I love the smell of tripe in the morning... well, sorta.

Beef tripe is adored all around the northern, western, and central areas of China… in other words, wherever beef tends to normally be on the menu. Muslim restaurants in particular tend to offer a wide variety of the nasty bits that come out of cattle and sheep, and when cooked with imagination and knowledge, these often are the best things on the menu.

Take beef heart, for example. If you've never had the pleasure of having a nice beef heart on a plate in front of you, even the thought of ordering it might cause you some concern. But let me assure you: beef heart tastes like the best, leanest beef ever! Northern Muslim restaurants will usually have an array of other parts from inside the cow, including the liver, of course, as well as tongue and honeycomb tripe, among other things, and they really are delicious.

Book tripe has to be one of my favorites, though, because it has a very, very mild flavor when cooked correctly, and the texture is both tender on the teeth and slightly rough but sensuous on the tongue. What really makes it special is the structure of this third stomach: parallel ribs stick up from the stomach lining, and if you look really close at them, you’ll see how beautiful they are. Thin and translucent with tiny bumps all over, they trap and absorb the sauces and set off the crunch of the cilantro and cucumbers in this dish.

I like to serve this wonderful appetizer not only to start a meal featuring other Sichuan classics, but also before all sorts of meals that hail anywhere from Hunan, out west through the desert regions, and even before a Beijing-style dinner. That is  because each one of these places loves Hot and Numbing Beef Tripe almost as much as I do.
A favorite in the north, west, and center

Hot and numbing beef tripe 
Málà níudŭ 麻辣牛肚
Sichuan, Muslim
Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer 

About 1½ pounds book tripe
Filtered water as needed
2 tablespoons vinegar (any kind)
2 teaspoons sea salt

Flavored oil:
½ cup fresh peanut or vegetable oil
1 cup thinly sliced shallots
2 tablespoons thinly shredded fresh ginger
1 tablespoon coarsely ground pequin chili (or other chili pepper)

Sauce and garnish:
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon Shaoxing rice wine
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon ground toasted Sichuan peppercorns
1 small bunch cilantro or ½ cup finely shredded green onions
3 Japanese or Persian cucumbers, julienned and chilled

1. Rinse the tripe in cool water. Place it in a pressure cooker or pan, cover it with water, and add both the vinegar and salt. Cover the pressure cooker and cook it with high pressure for about an hour. (If you do not have a pressure cooker, bring the water to a boil, lower the heat to a simmer, and cook the tripe until tender, about 3 hours.) Drain the liquid and discard. Rinse the tripe and let it come to room temperature and proceed directly, or cover and chill for up to 3 days.

2. Pour the oil into a wok or frying pan, add the shallots, ginger, and chili, and then fry the aromatics over medium heat until the shallots are a deep brown, but not burned. Strain out and discard the solids. (The oil may also be made ahead up to this point and refrigerated.)

Side view of a slice
3. Lay a piece of tripe in front of you so that the “leaves” of the tripe are horizontal. Cut across these leaves into pieces slices that are ½-inch wide; the length does not matter, as long as none are longer than 2 inches. Repeat with the rest of the tripe until all of it is cut into strips.

4. Place the oil back in the wok. Heat the oil on medium and then add the tripe. Toss the tripe with the oil until every piece is coated well. Mix the cornstarch with the soy sauce, and then add this to the tripe along with the rice wine, vinegar, sugar, and ground Sichuan peppercorns. When the tripe and seasonings are evenly mixed, taste and adjust the seasoning; refrigerate until at least slightly chilled. (The dish can also be made ahead of time up to this point and refrigerated.)

5. Just before serving, toss in the cilantro. Arrange the cucumbers on a serving plate and pile the tripe decoratively on top. Serve this dish slightly cool.


I find tripe mesmerizing!
Book tripe can be special ordered at most good butcher shops, as well as in Chinese, Korean, Latino, and other ethnic grocery stores, often in the frozen section. As always, try to find good quality suppliers.

There’s no two ways about it: tripe really stinks up the house as it cooks. For that reason I like to cook this early in the morning with the windows open and all the fans on, and I use a pressure cooker partly because this lessens the cooking time considerably.

Don't be alarmed by the mountain of raw tripe that 1½  pounds gives you; this will shrink down considerably when it is cooked, giving you around 2 cups of finished appetizer. And once you taste it, you will wish that you had made double the amount.

The vinegar in the cooking water helps to get rid of lots of the smell, but there's not enough in there to make the tripe in the least sour.

Once you get the hang of this dish, try other sauces. I recommend anything that is assertive, that is tangy rather than sweet, and that has crunchy vegetable contrasts.

Chinese students might wonder why the character for “stomach” – – is pronounced with the third tone here (). Good question. The third tone is used when referring to the stomach of an animal, while the fourth tone refers to our own bellies, abdomens, and bowels.


  1. Hey, thanks for that little bit at the end about the tones. I was wondering that exact thing!