I know I've been going off topic lately, covering everything from baseball to my travels, but I assure you this post isn't about that 80's boy band that incubated no-talent hacks stars like Ricky Martin.
Some of you may consider this comforting Mexican offal stew equally cringe-worthy, but I think it gets a bum wrap because of the odd ingredients, which admittedly require some amount of care to prepare correctly. I have to tell you though that this piquant and hearty stew is the perfect recovery food after a long night spent throwing back cervezas.
To be totally honest, I'm not a huge fan of offal. The strong minerally taste of liver and kidney keep those organs off my plate and out of my kitchen. Tripe is a different animal though (figuratively if not literally) and when prepared properly it's downright mild in comparison to other organ meats.
Like in many cultures, Menudo's origins are rooted in the fact that offal was considered a garbage cut and was thus very cheap. This made it a good source of protein for the masses. Today, there are many regional variations, but most include tripe , which are the stomachs (yes they have more than one) of ruminant animals.
I've used a combination of honeycomb tripe (the second stomach of a cow) along with pig trotters, for a rich collagen laden broth. By soaking, par boiling then braising the tripe for hours in an aromatic broth, all but the faintest traces of the stomach's former contents are eliminated. The slow braise converts the connective tissues into gelatin and the naturally spongy structure of the tripe help it absorb all the good flavours in the cooking liquid.
While they may not look it, the trotters are quite tame in comparison to tripe and have started showing up on menu's all over the country. In New York City, there's even a Japanese restaurant that specializes in pig trotters. When cooked for a long time, they create a wonderful stock, and the connective tissue and cartilage soften to a jelly like consistency that's creamy, rich and fulfilling. After the bones are removed and the meat is cut up, you really wouldn't know what it was unless you were looking for it.
The finished dish has a bright red color coming from the sweet dried guajillo chilies. With small bits of starchy hominy, this makes for a wonderfully satisfying all-in-one meal. To give the slow cooked stew a little freshness, and to further obscure the offal, serve this with a healthy squeeze of lime juice, onions and cilantro. The leftovers are fantastic served with scrambled eggs and tortillas.
For braising liquid
- If your tripe has been bleached (white color), soak it in a couple changes of cold water for a few hours to get rid of the chlorine smell. If you are using unbleached tripe (grey or greenish brown), thoroughly clean it under cold water and remove any extra fat on the smooth side.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil then add the tripe and trotters. Boil for about 5 minutes then drain, discarding the water, and wash the tripe and foot clean of any brown gunk that's collected on the surface.
- Wash the pot out and return the cleaned tripe and trotter to the pot then add all the ingredients for the braising liquid. Cover and bring to a boil, then turn down the heat to low and simmer for 3 hours. Turn off the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.
- Remove the tripe and brush off any spices or brown stuff. Slice it into 1/2" x 2" strips. Remove the trotters, clean and strip off the meat and tendon then roughly chop. Strain the stock through a double mesh strainer into a bowl and press on the solids. Wash out the pot and add the chopped tripe and trotter back into the pot.
- Place the oven rack in the lower middle position and preheat to 350 degrees F. Tear the guajillo chilies open, discarding the stems and seeds. Flatten the chilies on a foil lined baking sheet then spritz with cooking spray. Put the chilies in the oven for about 5 minutes or until you start smelling sweet and peppery, be careful not to burn them. Remove them from the oven and cover with very hot tap water and allow them to rehydrate (about 15-20 minutes).
- Drain the chilies and put them in a blender with about half the stock. Puree until smooth, adding more stock if needed. Strain the chili mixture through a double mesh strainer into the pot with the tripe and trotters. Once you have strained the chili mixture, pour the rest of the stock through the strainer into the pot, pressing on any remaining solids.
- If you are using frozen hominy, measure out 3 cups into the pot. If you are using canned hominy, wash and soak in cold water to get rid of the "canned" taste. Add the rest of the menudo ingredients, lightly salt to taste and simmer uncovered for about an hour, until the tripe has taken on the color of the chilies and the soup is nice and thick. Check once last time for salt and augment if needed.
- It's best if you let it sit overnight for the flavours to mingle, but you can also eat it right away. Serve with tortillas, chopped sweet onions, cilantro and lots of lime.