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Menudo Estilo Norteño

Menudo is a Mexican tripe soup-stew, often served for hearty breakfasts and especially recommended as a hangover cure. The idea to make it came to me from my pandemic-time reading of a mystery novel series set in New Mexico. Whenever the heroine-detective is baffled and discouraged, her family always comforts her with a big pot of homemade menudo. It seemed like a good nostrum for our current troubled times.

My Mexican cookbooks have recipes for two basic kinds of menudo: one from the northern regions, which uses hominy (pozole), and one from the south, which doesn’t. I chose a northern style (estilo norteño) from Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico. Conveniently, I had a pound of partially cooked tripe in the freezer, enough for half a recipe’s worth, and also a quartered pig’s foot, two of whose chunks made a reasonable substitute for the recipe’s requested calf’s foot.

My only challenge then was finding pozole. After some searching, I succeeded at Kalustyan, which, though principally an Indian grocery store, carries an enormous range of international foodstuffs. (It came only in a very large can, so in the near future you may see me writing here about other recipes for hominy!) 

The first step was to assemble the tripe, cut in small squares, the pig’s foot quarters, onion, garlic, salt, black peppercorns, and red chile powder in a large earthenware pot.
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I poured on two quarts of water, and while the pot was coming to a boil, I took two roasted Hatch green chilis from the freezer, peeled and seeded them, cut them into strips, and added them to the pot.

Here I’ll confess to two further substitutions. The green chile was supposed to have been a fresh poblano pepper, and the red chile powder was supposed to have been made fresh from toasted and ground dried anchos. I used a combination of hot arbol and medium-hot anaheim chile powders from my pantry.

After about two hours of cooking uncovered, with additional boiling water as needed, the pig’s foot pieces were softened enough to be taken out and deconstructed. Minus skin and bones, there wasn’t as much meat as there would have been with a calf’s foot, but I chopped up what there was and returned it to the pot.

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I also stirred in three-quarters of a cup of rinsed and drained hominy and let the pot go on cooking for another two hours – mostly covered, this time.
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For serving, Kennedy recommends condiments of oregano, chopped chile serrano, chopped onion, and lime wedges, plus a green tomatillo sauce to put on tortillas. I chose to do some streamlining there, using only tortillas and limes.
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The menudo had a very unusual flavor profile for Tom’s and my palates. It took a little getting used to, but it grew on us very quickly: each bite tasted better than the last. Big squeezes of lime juice brightened it all up beautifully. It needed salt, too. I could see that it would have liked the additional condiments also, and I’ll definitely use them in future versions, of which I’m sure there will be some.

Finally, my menudo was really not as picante as it should have been. Tasted after the first two hours of cooking, it had been extremely spicy, but as the hominy cooked, it must have absorbed a lot of that heat. Apparently I was too stingy with my red chile powders. Well, I’ll know better next time. I’ll also use a fresh poblano and the right kind of toasted and dried hot peppers. (Don’t think I’ll spring for a whole calf’s foot, though.) Meanwhile, a dose of Cholula sauce in each bowl helped pep things up.
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