Tripe. It’s a scary word filled with images of intestine, brains, claws, kidneys, and feet, all the sorts of things we hear about and think “Ewwwww,” squealing like little children when we first learned that the French eat frogs legs and snails.
Frogs legs and snails are actually pretty rare in the French repertoire by the way. I’ve only seen snails once on a menu.
The French are, however, no strangers to tripe: pigs feet, blood sausage, veal glands, kidneys, brains and the darker parts of animals are all well known. Some, like pied de cochon, tête de veau (head), ris de veau (sweetbreads), joue de porc (cheek) and boudin noir are fairly common on restaurant menus. Others are just known as old school. Brain, while classic, are not as common as our French teachers in high school would have liked us to believe, kidneys are occasional, and intestines appear more frequently in the butcher’s window than they do on the plate. At least in my experience.
In late December, I got brave and tried serious tripe for the first time: my pied de cochon was a delightful, flavorful and tender plate of winter comfort and it made me brave. If all tripe was this good, despite it’s bad reputation, what was I doing avoiding the tripe butcher’s stand in the market every Saturday, averting my eyes from the entire calf’s head that sat in an elevated place of honor in the frosted case surrounded by every sort of tripe one could imagine?
Perhaps I was a little too brave.
I marched up to the butcher, fingering the Euros in my pocket, shifting my over-stuffed bag of produce hanging from my elbow and ordered one Andouillette. People around me looked at the foreigner with the strong accent with interest. Did she know what she was ordering? Did she actually eat that stuff?
To be honest, I didn’t really have a clue as to what I was ordering. I knew that andouillette was a kind of “tripe sausage” due to it’s sausage shape, but I had no idea what was inside. I took my little wrapped parcel home and looked it up.
What exactly is Andouillette made out of? Chitterlings, my friends, or the intestines and stomach lining of a pig. The lower intestines to be exact. I don’t know much about the different functions of a mammal’s organs, but I was forewarned by various internet articles: “the smell can be dreadful.”
I braced myself.
This is a true sausage with a thick lining that is holding in lots of oddly textured and loose components that push against the casing during cooking and spill out everywhere when you cut into it. Kind of like you’d expect to see in a bad horror movie. I peered at the interior, recognizing nothing about the color or the shape, and put it in a frying pan to cook.
The smell was as promised. Dreadful. The way you would expect the lower digestive tract of an animal to smell. I continued cooking, waving my hand in front of my nose and optimistically hoped the scent of excrement would calm down when the sausage had cooked through.
Not so. But I was promised through the wonders of the internet, a delightful, full bodied, tasty treat. I soldiered on, took up my knife and fork and took a bite.
To be honest, if there was someway to disconnect my mouth from my nose, I’d say that the taste wasn’t bad. During the times where I could chew thoughtfully and forget about the smell for a few seconds, I found myself eating something tender and yes, even tasty. A deep, dark meaty taste that really wasn’t half bad.
But the smell. The smell! Quel horreur! I just couldn’t get past it and after a few more bites, I had to admit defeat.
Sadly the rest of the sausage went into the trash and I promised myself that next time, I would do some research before being brave. I’m not ruined by this experience, but I’m definitely more cautious…