As some of you know, I have written a whole book on Mediterranean street food and while researching it, I tasted almost all there is to taste on the streets of Spain, Italy, Morocco, Turkey and Egypt to name a few of the countries I covered. Most of what I tasted was great. Sometimes delicious and fun and sometimes more fun than delicious. But there were a few specialities I did not take to. In particular pani ca meusa, a greasy sicilian spleen sandwich. Nancy Harmon Jenkins who is one of the great writers on Mediterranean food and a friend couldn’t undrestand my repulsion but as much as I love spleen (my mother makes a divine braised version that I will blog one day that I am with her in Lebanon), I couldn’t see the point of this sandwich. Well, not until another great friend, Mary on whose farm we were staying, sent us to Porta Carbona where not only did I finally discover that a greasy spleen sandwich could be absolutely scrumptious but I was also able to convert Amy to it.
So, you saw what the tripe looked like when I got it back from the butchers. It wasn’t pretty and it smelled bad! As a result, it took forever to clean. I rinsed it in what seemed like a hundred changes of cold water and every time I changed the water, I had to hold my breath. As the dirty water poured into the sink, the smell became more intense. But the stink eventually subsided and the tripe started to whiten and look clean — I also stripped the strips of fat and muck off and scraped the dirty fuzz. And in a final push to get rid of the smell, I added a little Ecover dishwahsing soap to the water and washed the tripe as if it were a piece of cloth. The interesting thing was that one stomach cleaned really well while the other didn’t. It didn’t really matter. One was enough.
Yesterday, I cooked two things I had never cooked before: a whole baby lamb and stuffed tripe (post coming up). If I’d wanted whole lambs in the past, I relied on Mohamed at Al Waha to provide them. And if I’d wanted stuffed tripe, there was my wonderful mother who never minded spending the time cleaning and stuffing both stomach and intestines whenever I visited. But my mother is far away and I wanted to roast my own lamb and stuff tripe, so, I took the plunge and prepared my own.
The last time I bought sheep’s tripe in London was fifteen years ago when I was testing recipes for The Fifth Quarter. It looked black and rather off-putting but I desperately needed some, so, I bought it. My mother, who was in London helping me, took one look at it and announced she couldn’t use it. It was just too dirty and would need too much scrubbing to clean up. So, we threw it away. And here I am today, giving tripe another try. I got the two stomachs in the picture from a wonderful Greek butcher up in Green Lanes. They are cleaner than those I bought so long ago but they are still pretty smelly and I have just spent half an hour cleaning them and stripping lining and fat off them — something we don’t need to do when we buy them from our butcher in Beirut. Tomorrow, I will finish cleaning them and will stuff them. I will post the recipe and pictures once I am done. So, stay tuned!