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Tripas are both a type of offal and a Mexican dish that is made from them. Specifically, tripas are the small intestines of a cow, a pig or a goat, although beef small intestines are most commonly used. The recipe that is made from the intestines involves cutting them into strips, boiling them and then grilling the pieces until the desired texture is achieved. The resulting meat can be served in tacos, in soup or as a simple crispy snack with fresh lime on top. The term is sometimes used to refer to the lining of a cow’s stomach, also called tripe, and in Portugal it can reference the internal pieces of a cow’s udder.
The first step in making tripas is to properly clean the small intestines to ensure that any harmful bacteria have been killed. This can be achieved by boiling the intestines in water for a minimum of 15 minutes. The smell that can be created by the boiling process is not always considered pleasant, meaning the food often is cooked completely outdoors.
In the traditional preparation of tripas, the intestines are boiled for a long time, sometimes more than three hours. This is necessary to achieve a softer texture, because the meat initially is very tough and chewy. The water can occasionally be flavored with garlic, peppers or bay leaves. For recipes in which the final texture of the meat is intended to be very crispy, boiling for a long time is not necessary beyond what is required to clean the meat.
Once the texture is soft, tripas are dried and moved to a heavy-bottomed skillet or to a grill. They can be cooked to three different levels of doneness. For a very soft, creamy texture, they only need to be cooked for a few minutes in the skillet. If they are cooked a bit longer, then the exterior surface will start to brown and develop a crisp texture. Finally, especially on a hot grill, the pieces of intestine can be cooked until they are crispy all the way through, like bacon.
During the final cooking in a skillet, there are two differing methods that can be used. One belief is that tripas should be cooked in a dry pan so their own fat will render out and cook the meat. Another method is to add lard or beef fat to the pan to provide additional flavor and increase the crispness of the final product.
The finished tripas can be served with fresh cilantro, onions and tomatoes wrapped inside a warm tortilla. If crispy, the pieces can be placed in a salad or used anywhere that bacon would be, although the taste will be different. If the intestines are from a pig, then they can be added to a type of spicy soup along with pig’s feet and onions.