The Cure For What's Ailing You

Let me try putting this as nicely as I can: Yes, there are bits of cow stomach (tripe) in this bowl of menudo, and, yes, I threw some pieces of calf's pata (foot) into the pot. So, may I suggest that you please put on your Big Girl Chonis and just get over it and taste some? You just might have found the cure for what's ailing you.
Calf's foot, hominy and tripe are anything but remarkable. And yet, when some resourceful ranchera woman of long ago took some lowly cow offal and created a stew, it became something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts. Love or hate it, menudo is a classic, and you can't say that you really know Mexican food if you have never tasted it. Out of all of Mexico's famous caldos, this is the one that is most cherished for its restorative powers. Feeling timid and weak? Its rich spicy broth will put pelos (hair) on your chest (even if you are a girl). Sad with a broken heart? The tender bites of menudo will console you better than ten mothers who think that telling you, "Why you crying, mija?? T'row him in a traash!" is consolation enough. Nursing a magnificent hangover? Eat some red-hot menudo and you'll be singing to the radio on your way to work instead of calling in sick (again)—or so I am told.

My memories of menudo have never been of the inebriated, hugging the toilet at dawn I need some menudo right now! sort. Perhaps I am a hopeless (but unrepentant) square, but I've never thought that waking up with a head pounding cruda, bleary of eyes and foul of breath, can be called pretty or even fun, so I cannot confirm that menudo is the perfect remedy for a hangover. But my viejo's uncle, the gorgeous mariachi singer who was plagued with that all too stereotypical mariachi affliction, said that it worked just fine and who am to say it ain't so?

They are more like the day I got married, and how I was so wound up that I forgot to eat breakfast. Or how when my mother found out, reminded me that if I didn't eat anything I was going to pass out right in the middle of the ceremony como una gallina asustada—like some frightened hen. Before I knew it, my two sisters wrapped me, wedding dress and all, in a bed sheet while my mother proceeded to force her eye-poppingly hot red menudo down my throat. I'm sure I got married with menudo breath that day but no matter—I was the picture of blissful serenity as I walked down the aisle to meet my fate, thanks to the menudo.

After the wedding reception, the real party got started over at my new suegra's (mom-in-law's) house where toda la familia celebrated with her Sonora-style white menudo and a glass of champagne. An unusual pairing to say the least, but why not? Who says you can't have Mexican food with some fancy French wine? Besides, it was fabuloso. Menudo is customarily eaten early the next day after an all night pachanga (a big Mexican shindig) but I suppose my cuños y cuñas (bros-and-sisters-in-law) couldn't wait for morning. That is how much they and most Mexicans love menudo.

My husband and I agree on most things, but when it comes to menudo we will never see eye to eye. He says white is best. I say red. He says that white menudo does not need to shout to be noticed. It demands the freshest of ingredients and care in preparation. There is no disguising sloppiness as is sometimes the case with red menudo. I say where's the drama? What's the use of eating menudo without a spicy red chile broth? It's like eating chocolate cake without the frosting—absolutely pointless. (I secretly love white menudo, and I know he feels the same way about red, but why admit it?)

The one thing we can agree on is this: Menudo is wholly satisfying and is perfect just the way it is. Thankfully, I doubt that it will ever be tweaked or "improved" upon. In other words, it might never appear at your local Taco Bell or on the menu at one of those new gourmet (read wildly expensive) Mexican food eateries. They might make the foodies happy but we probably will never eat there. We'll take a homemade bowl of cow stomach menudo over a designer taco any day, muchas gracias.

Some will pass up the opportunity to enjoy this fortifying stew, but that's okay. "Entre menos burros hay más elotes—With fewer burros, there is more corn for the rest us," to quote one of my mothers favorite dichos.

Or to put it very loosely, don't be a burro and give menudo a try.

Red or Sonora Style White Menudo
Menudo rojo o blanco al estilo Sonora
To purchase the best tripe, go to your local Mexican butcher, usually early on a Friday. You might not find any come Saturday morning. The tripe should be white or a light cream with no strong odor. Try buying tripe that has washed and scraped of all fat to save time. Otherwise, scrape off all traces of fat with a sharp knife. If you soak the calf's foot pieces in a lemon-juice-water mixture for the allotted time, I promise you the strong cooking odor some people complain about will be kept to a minimum. Later, your visitors will be surprised you spent the whole day cooking menudo because they won't smell a thing. An added bonus: very little excess fat!
Honeycomb tripe (pictured above), the most popular, looks just like its name. Most cooks use only honeycomb tripe or a combination of honeycomb and different styles of tripe such as Toalla which looks like a thick fluffy towel, hence its name. (Not pictured. The butcher ran out of it before I arrived. See what I mean?) Lebrillo tripe is a lacey delicate looking tripe (see picture right). It is best used with a heartier tripe such as Toalla or Honeycomb.

Menudo is best served the same day or the next, but no longer. So don't cook a large batch unless you know it is going to be all eaten.
For this recipe I got a little lazy and used Mexican-style hominy out a can (Shh! Don't tell my friend Eva!), but the next time I cook menudo, I will show you how to cook hominy from menudo from scratch and I will post some pictures.
Dress up your menudo with chopped fresh cilantro, sliced green onions, dried Mexican oregano, lemon wedges. Chile piquín, tiny but intensely hot, is the dried chile of choice for white menudo, but crushed dried red chile flakes or hot sauce will do fine. Don't forget to bring the corn tortillas—and an open mind.

3 lbs. honeycomb tripe; or a combination with other kinds of tripe, depending on your taste
½ calf's foot, cut into pieces
Plenty of water (approximately 12 or 13 cups for the menudo)
The juice of one large, or two small, lemons;
About 2 cups cold water
5 garlic cloves, peeled
1 large yellow onion, cut in half
Salt to taste
½ teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
1 bay leaf
½ teaspoon ground cumin, or to taste
At least 2 cups canned Mexican style hominy to your taste
A small spoonful of white vinegar, optional

Directions:Using a sharp knife, carefully scrape off all fat from the tripe. Next cut the tripe in bite-size pieces and trim off any pockets of fat from between its layers. I know it sounds fastidious, but you will thank me later when you don't see buckets of fat floating on top of the stew.

Rinse the tripe and the pieces of calf's foot with water and place them in a large pot. Pour the juice from the large lemon over them with about 2 cups of cold water to cover and refrigerate for a few hours. (I let mine soak overnight.)

Rinse the tripe and the calf foot pieces with cold water. Place them in a large pot and fill with water to cover plus 1 ½ inches (approximately 12 to 13 cups). Add salt to taste, plus the garlic cloves, the onion, ground black pepper and the bay leaf. Bring to a boil; then reduce the heat to medium-low. Loosely cover the pot and let it simmer for about 45 minutes or more. Remove any scum that rises to the top with a large spoon. Continue cooking for 5 hours more, or until the tripe is nice and tender. (Total cooking time is about 6 hours.) Pour boiling water into the pot if the broth starts to evaporate. Skim of any excess surface fat with a large spoon.

Prepare the Red Chile Sauce. In the last hour of cooking, pour at least 2 cups of the Red Chile Sauce into the pot according to your preference, along with the hominy and the cumin. No need to add Red Chile Sauce or cumin to the White Menudo. Adjust the seasonings—does the menudo need more salt, Red Chile Sauce, ground pepper or cumin? Perhaps a small spoonful of white vinegar is just the thing to bring together all of the flavors.

Use large bowls to serve about 6 persons. You can double or even triple this recipe if you want. Once you get the hang of it, you won't need a recipe at all.

Tip: Start cooking your menudo at around midnight, and let it simmer over a low flame all night long. Make sure that there is more than the usual amount of water in the pot. Wake up early the next morning, check the water level, and dump the Red Chile Sauce and the hominy into the pot and go back to bed for a little while. You'll wake up to freshly cooked menudo!
Red Chile Sauce Recipe

8 dried Ancho chiles
10 dried New Mexico chiles
8 dried California chiles

Directions (click here to see a visual tutorial to making Red Chile Sauce):
Cut the stems from all the chiles. Then slice them open and remove all the seeds. Place the chiles in a saucepan and cover them with water. Place a lid on the saucepan and boil for about 5 or 6 minutes, or until the chiles are nice and soft. Remove the chiles, but do not discard the water. In small batches, take the chiles along with some of the water and whirl in a blender at high speed.
Now use a strainer to remove the tiny bits of peel. Do this twice to make a super-smooth sauce. It should pour like spaghetti sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add a little more water until it does. Makes about 3 cups. Save any unused portion for other dishes.


Gloria said...

I make the red menudo myself with the red California chiles. I love menudo and now I want to make some. I'm going to make some this weekend. We don't need it for la crudas or anything like that, but to make it on Saturday and then wake up to a bowl first thing Sunday morn, well you can't beat that. Great post. Thanks for sharing.

Tera said...

I LOVE menudo. Hopefully my Abuelita will have some for me when I visit this weekend. I must learn to make it myself.

Lupe said...

When I was little and my mom used to make me eat menudo, I thought I was being punished! All I wanted to do was eat the hominy. Just when this "punishment" turned into a pleasure, I'm not sure. What I do know is that I sure wish I could eat my mom's menudo now. I need to make this so I can continue this culinary legacy in my family. Thanks for the post.

Clementina said...

Dear Lupita,
I know what you mean. I used to feel the same as you. And like you, I wish I had a bowl of my mother's menudo right now. I hope you'll like the recipe!
Take care. :)

kobico said...

I have to admit that I just can't get over the texture of the tripe. But I do sip the broth around it!

Esther said...

My kids still freak out a little bit that tripe doesn't really break up in your mouth when you chew it...
They will only eat the hominy and the bits of tripe that are small enough to chew a little bit, then swallow. Still, they'll agree to eat menudo as long as there are plenty of corn torillas to eat it with. Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. The description is so terrific that I would swear that I could smell menudo! I have to say, though, I go through stages in which I only eat the hominy, and others in which I eat everything. In any case, being from Chihuahua, I am aghast that you eat menudo with tortillas. We northerners eat it with bread!

Clementina said...

Hola, Anonymous!
Menudo with BREAD?? I suppose it is now my turn to be aghast! :-)

For some reason, i would have thought that Nortenos would at least enjoy their menudo with flour tortillas, but, chihuahua, whatever floats your barco is fine with me. Perhaps I will give menudo with bread a try.

lisarenata said...

Ay no, I am laughing so hard that tears are running down my cheeks: "put on your big girl Chonis" Jajajajaja- you are too funny!

And yes I love, love, love menudo (and I'm not talking about the group. Jajajajja).

Clementina said...

Hola, Lisarenata!
You know, when it comes to food, Big Girl Choni food is the way to go.
Take care!

Cooking in Mexico said...

Congratulations on tackling this very classic Mexican dish. Menudo, sometimes called "the breakfast of champions" in Mexico, is well known for being a hang-over cure. Every little restaurant in our little town serves menudo on Sunday morning.


Clementina said...

Hola, Kathleen
What a lovely Choco-Flan Cake! Its shape is So Post Modern!

shapewear said...

I've never heard of white menudo before. But the red menudo is a local delicacy here in our country. What we do is we slice the tripe into smaller bits to make it easier to chew on. Thanks for the share.

Rosio said...

Un Tip q descubri q funciona para quitarle el olor distintivo al menudo.. En una charola con el menudo ya limpio , cortado y enjuagado.. agreguen jugo de Limon o vinagre y lo dejan remojar una hora o mas.. Veran q cuando lo ponen a cocer, no va a oler raro.. como aveces q parece q no lo hubieran lavado bien.. Bendiciones para todas!

Clementina said...

Hola, Rosio!
Gracias por la buena sujerencia. Lo probare la proximas vez!

Kathy said...

In Central Mexico, our Menudo comes without the Hominy and is of the red variety. Hominy is for posole not menudo, lol. According to my mom, the hominy menudo is from up North.

Clementina said...

Hola, Kathy!
I just KNEW that someone was going mention that! My good friend Gloria, who comes from Jalisco, and I are always at odds when it comes to menudo with hominy. "That's posole, not menudo!" she says. I disagree. I suppose it is a regional thing, but I just gotta hominy in my menudo. No hominy in menudo is "como un beso sin abrazo" [like a kiss without the squeeze]. :-)

chica said...

Some of my earliest of childhood memories are over a bowl of menudo, both sides of the family with grandparents around! I never had to "get used" to the texture, to me it is normal and I thank God I am in love with a well made bowl of menudo. Clem, you have inspired me to give this simple sounding recipe a shot! I will use my Big Girl Chonies for another day, another recipe because this one is definitely one of my fav's!

Margaret said...

My father was born in Tubutama, Sonora, and white menudo was all I knew.

He met my mother in Tucson, AZ, where I was born. We moved to CA when I was 3 and I haven't had this culinary pleasure since he died 30 years ago.

I tried the red once in OC and did not like it all. It was greasy and not pristine like the caldo my father used to make. He washed the tripe over and over again - the caldo was clear and deliciously flavorful.

All Sonoran style recipes are different than what they call "Mexican" food here in CA. I didn't realize this growing up as Sonoran style was all I knew as that is the style in Tucson as well.

We would always buy mexican sweet bread pastries to eat with the menudo.

One of these days I'm going to give it a try - I really miss it. I've posted several recipes today which are now easily found on the internet.

Now I need to find a recipe for the bean tamales my mother used to make. They were sweet and had raisins in them.