There is a Sonoran soup for every wish and occasion. Wild vegetable soups studded with chickpeas, corn and cheese, fortified with milk, thick carrot cream, earthy bean stews, red pozoles with mounds of lettuce and radishes, and “poor” pozoles made with grain and just enough chunks of beef and bone for a distinctive twist .
One particular Mexican soup is particularly revered, touted as a magical cure for hangovers, and served up for many holidays and family gatherings. It’s a soup I’ve always had a hard time swallowing, or more specifically, smelling. Yes, I’m talking about the dreaded, stinking Menudo.
That’s where I said it. It stinks.
Menudo is often ordered with “puros granitos” or “sin pancitas por favor”. Only grains, referring to the nixtamal, or without tripe, like cooking the cow stomach, but omitting it from the bowl somehow removes the stomach stench.
It will not.
Sonoran gastronomy is almost magical in its ability to extract complexity from every ingredient through simple cooking methods that create something greater than the sum of its parts, but the magic draws a hard line with tripe.
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What is menudo?
Menudo, like many rural dishes found around the world, was created as a way to utilize those parts of the cow that might not have been considered the most delicious and give it a purpose. Organ meats like tripe are nutrient dense, high in minerals and protein, and deserve better than to go to waste.
A good menudo is a clear broth with just a hint of gelatinous thickness that clings pleasantly to the palate. Depending on how much tripe is added to the soup, a slightly mineral quality comes to the broth, but largely the earthy sweetness of the corn is said to dominate.
A better menudo starts with properly prepared tripe
The problem is not in the ingredient itself – honeycomb tripe – but in the technique used to make it and the cut used to make Menudo.
Let’s start with the first edition. Menudo combines a fairly absorbent ingredient — dry corn reconstituted in an alkaline solution or nixtamal — with a potentially foul-smelling, always chewy organ meat that’s cut into large squares. These two elements need to simmer together until the tripe is tender. The result is a soup that not only doesn’t soften the toughness of the tripe, but also imparts the natural and expected stench of a cow’s digestive system to the broth and nixtamal.
Appealing, isn’t it? Still, when cooked properly, tripe is not only perfectly edible, it can also be deeply satisfying and nutritious.
Here let me offer my sincerest apologies for the sacrilege I commit, both culturally and gastronomically, but I ask that you discard the traditional method of cooking the tripe in the soup for something better.
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To prove that the problem isn’t with the tripe itself, but with the method by which it’s cooked, just look at the thin strips of tripe that are tossed in a bowl of beef phở along with the noodles. They can be eaten without endless chewing or putrid smell. Also consider the Roman classic Trippa alla Romana, which showcases thin slices of deliciously tender tripe bathed in a rich tomato sauce and served under a mound of Parmigiano Reggiano with a slice of toasted bread to soak up the sauce. No complaints.
Two things these dishes have in common and are key to the tripe’s success: first, slice thinly to minimize chewing, and second, cook the tripe separately from the finished product.
These two steps alone lead to a Menudo with a more appealing scent. My own additional tip for the cleanest tasting and smelling meal you’ll ever make is to give the tripe a body scrub with salt and distilled vinegar before cooking it in salt and vinegar-seasoned water, which removes any lingering, unpleasant odors neutralized.
Is menudo worth the effort?
Absolutely. There is nothing more satisfying than a carefully prepared dish that pays respect to the sacrifice of the animal and to culture and gastronomy that are willing to waste nothing.
How to clean and cook tripe
Tripe is easily found in Mexican and Asian grocery stores, honeycomb and book or leaf tripe being the most common. These are the second and third stomachs, respectively, and both can be used for menudo, but stick to just one type as they differ in texture and cooking time.
It is best to buy the tripe in large pieces and not already portioned to make cleaning easier. When cleaning, the use of food-safe gloves is recommended.
- Lay the tripe in a flat layer and use a small knife to scrape off the clinging fat.
- Use a small handful of kosher salt to scrub the tripe thoroughly, making sure to include honeycomb bags.
- Soak the scrubbed tripe in a mixture of 1 cup distilled vinegar and 3 cups cold water for five minutes. Rinse well under cold running water and remove all the salt. Repeat this process one more time.
- After the second rinse, check the tripe for other traces of clinging fat and remove if necessary.
- Place the clean tripe in a gravy or stockpot and cover with at least two inches of cold water. Add ¼ cup distilled vinegar and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Bring to a steady simmer and cook until tripe is tender but still has some chewing, about 1 to 2 and a half hours depending on the type of tripe.
- To test doneness, slice a thin piece of meat, about half an inch, and let cool for a few minutes before tasting. The tripe should have a consistency similar to chewing rice or tapioca.
- When tender, remove the tripe from the cooking liquid and allow to come to room temperature before cutting into ½ inch by 2 inch pieces.
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Recipe: How to make Menudo Blanco Sonora Style
Nixtamal, already partially cooked for menudo or pozole, is readily available in Mexican grocery stores and requires only a good rinsing and picking to remove damaged grains before cooking.
Makes: 6 servings
- 2 pounds of nixtamal
- 1 large white onion, halved
- 1 garlic clove, halved
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tablespoon dry Mexican oregano
- 2 pounds of honeycomb or book tripe, cleaned and cooked with salt and white vinegar
- Kosher salt, as needed
- chopped white onion
- chopped coriander
- Chili Tatemado, roasted Anaheim chili, sliced or chopped
- thinly sliced radish
- crushed iceberg lettuce
- Chiltepín pepper
- lime wedges
- Rinse Nixtamal well and remove damaged or discolored grains. Place in a large soup pot along with the white onion and garlic. Note: There is no need to remove the onion and garlic skins unless they don’t look good. Add 3 liters of water and bring to a simmer, removing any foam or impurities that rise to the top. Once simmering, add bay leaves and Mexican oregano.
- Cook nixtamal, loosely covered, until tender enough to just burst, about 2 hours. When the pot starts to run dry, add hot water. A small reduction in the cooking liquid is desirable to concentrate the flavors.
- After 2 hours, when the nixtamal starts to soften, add the chopped tripe and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Taste the soup and adjust flavor by adding salt as needed, 1 teaspoon at a time, and allow the spice to dissolve before testing again.
- The cooked onions and garlic can be discarded or left in the soup depending on personal taste, although most of the time they will dissolve in the broth.
- To serve, top the menudo with any or all of the following: chopped white onion, chopped cilantro, shredded tatemado (roasted Anaheim chile) or chopped, thinly sliced radish, and shredded iceberg lettuce. Additionally, the ubiquitous fiery chiltepín and tart lime wedges add some much-needed brightness.
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Questions or comments? Email the culinary team at email@example.com. Follow Chef Minerva Orduño Rincón on Instagram @cucumbersandlimes.