A Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear AKA Anthony and Me

The claim, reminiscent of those ads in the back of comic books, seemed to be speaking just to me.
It read, “Bask in the moral certainty that you are the baddest-ass king hell, fearless fucking gourmet in your area!”
Okay, maybe I was having a bad week and feeling vulnerable. But I fell – hook, line and sinker. What better way to get a feeling of control back in my life than to prepare a complicated three-day recipe from the Les Halles Cookbook. And what better way to acquaint myself with the cooking style of its author, Anthony Bourdain.
Written as an homage to the “best goddamn brasserie/bistro in the country,” he calls the book not so much a cookbook but a “field manual to strategy and tactics.”
The recipe, Tripes “Les Halles” filed under the “Blood and Guts” section presented a three-fold challenge.
First, finding the ingredients: four pig’s ears, a calf’s foot, two pounds feathered tripe, two pounds honeycomb tripe, boudin noir, chorizo, prosciutto and white beans. Second: Successfully cooking the dish, and third, resorting to trickery to get friends to come to dinner.
I count my friends among the bad-ass fearless variety, but two perspective guests on hearing the words “pig’s ears” and “tripe,” immediately feigned flu-like symptoms two weeks in advance. So I invited 12 guests under the auspices of a “special meal” from a “special cookbook.” Are you in ? Bring lots of hearty red wine.
Round One: Ingredients
Surprisingly, pig’s ears are easy to procure. My local Chinatown butcher always has them at the ready, along with pork belly, hoofs, snouts – the whole damn pig, if you want.
Tripe, on the other hand, proved to be a puzzle.. Honeycomb is readily available but feathered tripe has many aliases: leaf tripe, frisee, book tripe, omasum, centopelli (Italian) and ngau pa yip (Cantonese). Chinatown came to the rescue at the last minute. I was able to purchase the ngau pa yip, cleaned and chopped in tidy one-pound bags from my pig’s ear dealer.
A Portuguese-style chorizo perfumed with smoked paprika, replaced the Spanish variety the recipe called for. And with no French boudin noir on the local horizon, I has to suffice with an English allspice and blood sausage. The white beans, onions, garlic, cumin, prosciutto and tomato paste were a no-brainer.
Finally – and most important – the calf’s foot. Call to Vancouver – none available. Victoria? No go. Time for the trump card – the food elite.
Through a series of phone calls  – somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody else – I scored a fresh calf’s foot through a butcher up-island. It was delivered via my trusted sister-in-law the next morning.
This fearless bad-ass gourmet was ready to cook!
Round Two Day One Cooking – Lend Me An Ear
“Combine the pork belly and pigs’ ears and cook until the meat is tender.” How do you tell when a pig’s ear is tender?Who do you call and ask? I gave my partner’s earlobe a nibble for comparison. Hmm, not quite done.
“Place both types of tripe and the calf’s foot in a very large pot and cover with water…. simmer until tender. I know, I know it doesn’t smell too good yet…”
Bourdain likens the smell of tripe cooking to wet sheepdog. Nothing could be more accurate. Even with the doors and windows open, I would sustain a direct hit every time I approached to give the ears and belly a stir. I was starting to have serious doubts about what I was getting into.
I dutifully scraped the fat off the calf’s foot as the book directed and chopped up the ears, pork belly and big slabs of wet tripe.
I dragged my sorry-ass off to bed.
Day Two: Courage Regained
The fear and trepidation I felt quickly dissolved when I cooked the white beans with prosciutto, onions, garlic, tomato paste and cumin. The house smelled divine.
The gelatin gleaned from the calf’s foot turned the meat from day one into a hard-jellied mass.
“This stuff is gold, baby, natural gelatin like wouldn’t believe!”
It was all added to the bean mixture to simmer for two hours. That wet sheepdog was turning into a prize winning purebred. This was going to be good.
Day Three: Going for Seconds
Almost showtime. “Add the chorizo and boudin noir….. cook for 1.5 hours.
The day began leisurely with the laying out of serviettes, candles and fluffing pillows before guests arrived. Brown butcher’s paper was laid out on the table to match the Les Halles book cover and a sign was made for the door, ” Welcome to Chez Tripes.” This subtle hint would only sink in after they had knocked on the door. No one headed for the hills – and everyone brought plenty of wine.
I let them get acquainted with one another, topping up glasses of wine. Bowls of mixed nuts, crackers and cheese provided fodder for the nervous few.
The last hour of cooking, les tripes filled the room with a seducing aroma. That wet dog was long gone.
Silence pervaded the room as I paraded the “big beautiful tub of steaming hot guts” for all my tipsy and primed guests to see.
But first, a photo as proof.
There were a few polite eaters, but on the whole, my friends proved themselves to be true champs, going back for more and begging for any leftovers to take home. A few even licked their bowls. The dish was hearty and an excellent example of bistro fare – earthy, rich, meaty with great contrasts in texture.
It’s served at Les Halles in NYC once a year, at a midnight party thrown for regulars and friends, accompanied by cheap Beaujolais. I recommend serving it at least once in your lifetime.

Leave a Reply