A staple of French grande cuisine, tripes à la mode de Caen (or tripe stew) has come to us mostly unchanged since the middle ages. Tripe, ox feet, carrots, onion, celery, and aromatics are stewed in cider and apple brandy for up to 14 hours, rendering the meat tender, sweet, and succulent. Served in rich gravy with sliced carrots, the subtle aroma of apple mingles with a savory foundation of herbs and vegetables; the results are exquisite.
The main ingredients of tripes à la mode come from the dish’s native surroundings of Normandy, a French region rich in livestock and cider production. The city of Caen, the recipe’s namesake, is in a province within Normandy that is famous for its cider-distilled brandy calvados which gives this entrée its unique complexity.
In the old days the recipe would be assembled at home in a tripière, a large dedicated earthenware vessel, and then baked overnight in the communal boulangerie oven. For the modern kitchen, a large saucepan or crockpot will do.
The tripe (the lining of the cow’s stomach) is cut into 3-inch squares and placed atop a bed of cut ox feet inside the pot. Tripe, naturally lacking gelatin, is usually cooked with ox or pig’s feet to add that missing unctuousness to the meat and the sauce. The squares of tripe and vegetables are layered around an aromatic bouquet until the tripière is filled. The contents are then topped off with cider and calvados, and the vessel’s lid is hermetically sealed with a flour and water paste. After simmering in the oven for several hours, the tripe is separated from the vegetables and the cooking liquid is reduced to make the sauce.
Tripes à la mode is served piping-hot in an earthenware dish accompanied by boiled potatoes and a dry cider, though a mâcon or chablis makes a fine pairing.
Today this rustic dish remains a mainstay on many haute cuisine menus and can be served as an entrée or as part of a multi-course meal. In the city of Caen, a society dedicated to the recipe’s preservation meets every year for a competition to crown the best tripes à la mode de Caen in the region. They also organize weekly tastings throughout the town — maybe it’s time to plan that trip to Normandy!
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