There’s not a lot going for tripe with its name being used to talk about nonsense. No more than a handful of restaurants ever serve it.
Beef tripe is usually made from only the first three chambers of a cow’s stomach: the rumen (blanket/flat/smooth tripe), the reticulum (honeycomb and pocket tripe), and the omasum (book/bible/leaf tripe).
The reason is that it is a hugely misunderstood ingredient. Elsewhere in the world, tripe has retained its gastronomic dignity. The Chinese have a score of ways of cooking it, the Italians and Spanish adore it and the French have such classic dishes as tripe à la mode de Caen which is treated as a culinary masterpiece.
This is in contrast to the collapse of tripe eating in Britain. It was at its most popular from late Victorian times to the 1950s, when it was a tasty, cheap and nourishing source of animal protein.
The decline in the popularity of tripe coincided with growing economic prosperity from the mid-1950s onwards. As poverty declined an ingredient associated with poorer times was rejected.
This falling off in retail sales in the late 1950s and early 1960s, came at a time when there was no restaurant culture in Britain which might have been able to introduce it to new audiences or at least save it from near-extinction.
It sounds fanciful today, but 30 years ago there was a restaurant chain in the north of England which featured tripe almost as a signature dish. The romantically-named United Cattle Products (UCP) restaurants had cold tripe salads, tripe and onions and steak and cowheel pie permanently on the menu. Sadly, neither the company nor its restaurants survived.
Tripe has remained a popular ingredient with the older generation who enjoyed it in harder times, but for a younger audience tripe is a bit of a curiosity or simply a pet food.
One inevitable result of the decline of interest in tripe eating in the UK is the decimation of the tripe dressing industry, (dressing being the quaint term for the practice of boiling and preparing cattle stomachs for sale as tripe).
There are very few places where you can buy it these days but ask at your local butcher.
British cooking of tripe has remained loyal to a very small number of recipes, most commonly lightly cooked in a thickened, white onion sauce. This dish is always served with creamed potatoes and a dusting of fine-ground white pepper.
Less common is tripe fried with bacon; creamed tripe with a toasted potato topping in cottage pie style; or, creamed tripe with celery instead of onions.
Tripe has also been eaten cold in England, served simply with sliced tomatoes or a full salad. Brown malt vinegar is sprinkled on the tripe to give some acidity.
All is not lost for tripe. A very slow, but steady increase in its use in restaurants, most noticeably among those pushing down the rustic route, has begun.
Tripe is a versatile ingredient and will absorb other flavours yet still retain its own character.
Charlie the Butcher