Monday, March 3, 2014

Have I the Guts?

The weather is turning balmy - there is a teeming new wasps' nest next to my window. New life, new leaves. Romance. It brings the cat constant visual entertainment. Spring bulbs are rising to the surface with a fresh promise of perfume and colors and... what am I talking about? It's still February! I haven't had my fill of hearty, warming soups and stews, scarves and mittens! At this point, the only place where I wore a hat was in Yosemite during new years. I have thrown in the towel on the weather - the only thing I have control over is hearty stews.

Let us have the guts to keep winter around just one more week... Guts. Tripe. Or Flaki, in Polish. A spicy, thick stew dish of... well - tripe. Our version of menudo. My grandma did not make them. My mother certainly did not make them. They were the stuff of restaurants and roadside inns, road trips and someone else's grandma's house. No, not all Polish people like it. Many recoil in apprehension and horror. But I dreamily think of the earthy, spicy broth, thickened with a good roux and full of marjoram, paprika, carrots... Oh, how I long for a bowl.

Here in San Jose, there are many Mexican markets to chose from. Any good Mexican market or carniceria is going to have a fresh picking of white, washed and ready to cook tripe behind the meat counter. I glance over the white lace stacks of it and decide that one pound is enough. I am about to break the family tradition.

Tripe is almost beautiful in it's lacy meatiness. It has an earthy, particular, almost maze smell to it. To prepare it, you have to wash it thoroughly before cooking.

As this is part of the chicken broth challenge, I take out one of the larger jars of broth, and put it in a large pot with pork and beef bones I have collected. The Starving Artist always buys meat on the bone, even when doing stews. It is less expensive, and allows me to cut the meat the way I want it. The bones can be reserved for stocks. Adding extra bones when cooking Flaki will make the broth even more flavorful, especially since I never scrape the bones when cutting meat off of them - there will be plenty of extra pork and beef floating around in this stew. I'm thinking thick, rich, with the added meaty texture of the tripe. I'm thinking I can't wait until this evening...

We begin by cutting the tripe into thin strips, about half an inch wide - or even thinner. Bring the broth and bones to a simmer and put in the cut up tripe.

I immediately toss in a heaping tablespoon of marjoram a teaspoon of paprika and two teaspoons of pepper for good measure. I add more as I taste. I like to slow cook as much as I can, and since I do have time today I will just keep it on low for about 2 to 3 hours. Three is better.

When the tripe turns soft, I add sliced carrots and prepare to make the roux. In Polish, we call this "zasma┼╝ka" - or "something fried"... No... more like "fried thing" in the feminine form. Did I mention Polish is super complicated? Let's call it a roux. We use equal amounts of butter and flour. When I was little, about eight years old, my grandfather taught me how to make this basic culinary miracle. I thought that immediately classified me as a grown up. The roux goes in towards the end. Once you put it in you can start tasting the soup for any adjustments - pepper, salt, paprika... Pepper... 

Flaki always come with a ridiculous amount of marjoram and pepper. The spicier the better, and my husband remarked that I haven't put enough in when he came into the house. Before he looked into the pot. Before he even entered the kitchen.

Garnish with parsley (I garnish it with cilantro, Polish-Mex style!) and serve.

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