I Conquered Menudo!

Early on in this pandemic, I wrote about how much cooking I had been doing since I committed to staying at home, other than for essential tasks (work, groceries, family errands). It’s safe to say that, other than a couple of hamburger pick-ups at Jack in the Box, my kitchen skills continue to get honed during these days.

This weekend, I decided to conquer that Chicano (and Mexican) delicacy–Menudo! Some non-brown folks will automatically respond with, “Isn’t that for hangovers?” Kind of annoying, actually.

While its medicinal value after a night of drinking has been documented by various drunk uncles (me, included), the fact is that it is something that many of us actually enjoy eating every now and then. And while the thought of eating the stomach lining of a cow may gross some people out, it is actually pretty good when made right. For the most part, unless it was made by our mothers, actually ordering at restaurants was something that required research (mostly word of mouth) about how good a particular restaurant’s menudo was. Not all menudos are equal; in fact, some really suck. One local place that has some pretty good menudo is Andy’s Home Cafe in the Houston Heights. And the Ruchi’s on Richmond/Sage has been known to have some good stuff. And Balderas’ Tamales in Cypress, too. But, as is always said, homemade is best.

For years, I would see Flo (my Mom) make this stuff on special occasions. Or, sometimes, just a regular late Saturday night so that it would be ready for Sunday morning. As a kid, I was grossed out when seeing her washing and cutting the main ingredient–honeycomb beef tripe. The smell wasn’t all that great, either. Usually, one would have to go deep into the local meat markets to find the stuff. Nowadays, you can find it next to the ham hocks at HEB, though, my find was different: Beef scalded tripe–a 5 lb package, though not honeycomb. It’s all they had, so I bought it, since most menudos aren’t 100% honeycomb tripe.

What did scalded mean? It means HEBs butchers will scald (parboil) it in hot water before packing it. So, while the usual directions for honeycomb tripe will have you cutting larger chunks to make up for any shrinkage in the cooking of it, the scalded one seems to have little shrinkage, little fat, and little gaminess. After washing, cutting into bite size rectangles with kitchen shears, and then washing again, I marinated the chunks in lemon juice. This helped to tenderize and also get rid of any gaminess that lingered. After 30 minutes to an hour, it was ready for one more washing before heading for the stock pot.

I placed the chunks of the tripe into the pot and added enough water to cover it. Also, one cannot forget the pig’s feet. After a long while to get the pot to a boil, I covered it. And then began 4 or so hours of boiling the tripe. In between, I added some crushed pepper (for a kick), a couple of bay leaves, a medium onion, and 4 cloves of garlic. I may have thrown in some oregano, though some only use it as a garnish. The smell of goodness started filling the air.

While you wait is a good time to make the red chile paste, as I prefer red menudo to green. After de-seeding, de-stemming, and cutting and washing a couple of packets of dry chiles anchos, I brought them to a boil and let them sit for 30 minutes. After adding some salt and another garlic clove for good measure, I pureed them in the blender throughly.

Once the tripe is cooked and soft, you add the puree to the boil, along with a couple cups of water. I, then, added a couple of 16 oz cans of white hominy. Of course, I forgot that my family loves hominy in their menudo, so an extra 32 oz can was added later. Cook for another 30 or so minutes and it was ready.

I remembered Flo usually skimming whatever grease happened to move to the top of the boil, but, to my surprise, no skimming was needed in mine. Sure, it was there, but nothing to really skim. After tasting a few pancitas (the tripe), the soup, and ensuring the softness of the posoles, I deemed it ready for consumption.

Garnishes like diced jalapeños, diced onion, and oregano go quite well with menudo. Some have corn or flour tortillas with it, while others have bolillos (or my brother-in-law-made sourdough bread) to dip in the soup. When I order it, there’s usually an auxiliary taco or two, but I gave all my time to the menudo-making. It’s all good, as long as the menudo is piping hot.

I think I made my Mama proud with this first attempt at menudo. At least, I think it would be “someone else’s” menudo that she would actually enjoy. It also brought some good memories of seeing my Mom and Pop in the kitchen working together creating whatever we were eating during the holidays.

Coming soon: Tamales! But, first, a bowl of re-heated menudo!

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