So, you want to make tripes à la mode de Caen, eh? Then you are going to need to get yourself some tripes, my boy! Here is what you will need to know.
A cow is a ruminant, meaning that its stomach is divided into four chambers. Nature has designed ruminants this way to allow the animal to digest tough vegetation. As a cow forages, it stores and partially digests what it is eating in the first compartment of the stomach. Later the animal will regurgitate the food (its cud) into its mouth and chew it again to further break it down. The food-mass is then swallowed again; it passes through the other stomach compartments, and makes its way through the rest of the digestive system. Goats, giraffes, and llamas are also ruminants.
The four compartments are called the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum. The tripe we eat is the lining from each of these, and each of the four linings has a different texture.
The first compartment, the rumen (also known as the paunch or plain tripe), is the biggest of the four, comprising 80% of the capacity of the whole stomach. A rumen weighs approximately 7 lbs. It is the least expensive of the tripes. The rumen has a furry texture which can lose its integrity if it is overcooked.
The second stomach is the reticulum. In the kitchen it is called honeycomb tripe. It is denser and meatier than the rumen and will stand up to long cooking times. A full honeycomb weighs approximately 2 to 3 pounds. It is the priciest of the tripes and is considered a higher grade than rumen. When shopping for tripes à la mode I usually ask the butcher for the biggest one he has because I like a high proportion of honeycomb. Honeycomb tripe is truly a thing of beauty.
The omasum (also called bible tripe, bounded tripe, or manyplies) is the third compartment of a cow’s stomach. Unlike the smooth rumen or the honeycombed reticulum, the omasum consists of thin sheets of tissue attached to a denser “binding” piece of tissue. Some care should be taken not to overcook it, as the thin tissue is more delicate and can disintegrate under high heat or long cooking times.
Finally is the abomasum or reed tripe. It is similar to the omasum in texture, although the plies are not as pronounced.
The proportions of the different tripes used in a tripes à la mode are purely subjective. For me, when buying tripe, the biggest variable (in terms of amount) is in the rumen. This is because I buy the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum whole. The rumen, weighing 7 lbs whole, is sold by piece. I’ll usually get 1.5 lbs- 2 lbs of rumen (equal amount to the other parts).
Availability of tripe differs from region to region. Here in Queens, New York, I find frozen rumen at most supermarkets. While it is good (I have made several decent tripes à la mode with it), it is not ideal. It lacks the meatiness of fresh, unfrozen tripe, and the dish benefits from the variety of two or even three different tripes.
For the truly quality stuff I go to the Chinese supermarkets.
There is no need to pre-order it there because it is always in stock and it is always fresh. I have also seen very nice-looking honeycomb tripe at supermarkets in Latino neighborhoods (think Menudo). When buying, look for evenly-colored tripes with no odor. And always ask the butcher to cut off any fat.
Good luck tracking down some good tripes!
Software: Tripes 101
By Guy Docetoni