Hernandez Holiday Menudo Soup!
By Dennis Linden
In the spirit of the holiday season, Melissa’s General Manager, Jimmy Hernandez, shares his family’s recipe for menudo soup. While this recipe could probably be accomplished in one very long, very labor-intensive day, Jim’s instructions spreads the rather time-consuming prep of this special dish over a leisurely two weeks. Spacing out the preparation of each component in this recipe is a great approach; it turns a sometimes tedious process into a fun culinary building project. Besides, the delicious results will instantly melt away those stages of construction in one rich and hearty spoonful.
“This soup is a tradition in my home every Christmas Eve and Christmas morning,” explained Jimmy. “Actually, writing out the instructions for this feature was more difficult than preparing the dish itself. I don't really use a recipe--just a little bit of this and a lot of that. Menudo is a very special dish. Everyone who prepares this soup has their own style and does much of the recipe to touch, feel, taste, history and preference. With Menudo it really depends on how much of each ingredient you put in it; the spices are the key to how spicy you like your food. This dish takes time to prepare, but it is worth it and definitely tastes even better on the second day!”
Menudo is Mexico’s unofficial national soup, though there are many versions and even two colors depending upon what part of that country is serving it. Red menudo is predominantly found in the state of Jalisco, especially the city of Guadalajara, as well as in the northern state of Chihuahua. White menudo is more common further south in Culiacan, Sinaloa, served with tepín peppers. While many regions in Mexico claim to have originated menudo, no one knows for sure. Interestingly, my research did find one plausible case for menudo being a Latin American version of a cow stomach soup recipe found in a 16th Century Spanish cookbook that tweaked the original by using the local herbs and chile peppers of the newly-discovered Americas. Sounds reasonable since the Spanish were doing a lot of conquering back then, which included influencing the cuisine of Mexico that continues to this day.
Yes, menudo’s main ingredient is tripe, that is, the lining of a cow’s stomach. Jimmy’s recipe even calls for two kinds, regular and honeycomb, that each come from a different chamber of a cow’s four-chambered stomach. Now get over it – this is one of the most seriously flavorful soups in the world, no matter who cooked it first or what’s in it! This was my first tripe experience and, honestly, just like the hours of prep, all my misgivings about this ingredient were immediately dispelled with that first taste.
To make Jimmy’s flavor-packed, three-pepper red sauce, the first task sounded so simple: “stem and seed” the dried peppers. Do not try to do this in one sitting either, unless you have lots of time on your hands. It took the better part of two days to get this done – 26 ounces of dried peppers, which are as light as a feather individually, equals a whole lot of peppers by count! Wear gloves, tear or cut off stems, rinse under water to wash away the seeds. Repeat, over and over, remembering to keep those gloved fingers away from eyes and mouth. This part of the recipe would have been so much easier if I had already tasted the menudo, so hang in there--it will be worth all the effort! Jimmy suggests making this sauce two weeks ahead and freezing it, I agree. It puts some distance between all that seeding and the next part of the recipe. By the time I pulled it out to defrost, the red sauce was a beautiful finished ingredient.
Jimmy’s red sauce will be the key to adjusting the heat profile (as in spicy) of your soup. His measurements will make approximately 13-14 cups, depending on simmering time and the efficiency of the double strain. For the soup I added 10 cups of Jim’s suggested 10-12 cups to the tripe broth; for my gringo palate, which prefers medium-spicy, it was perfectly balanced. Add more to get a spicier soup / less for a milder version. You can also include a bowl of heated red sauce as one of the condiment options to be added to taste.
As I referenced earlier, this recipe calls for two textures of tripe: the more available “honeycomb” type as well as what is called smooth, regular or leaf tripe. I had to special order the regular, but that took one phone call. Jimmy admits that he starts with twelve pounds because he trims a lot of the gristle and fat off, washing it before and after cutting it into bit-size pieces. If done right there should be a lot of waste.
Once all the work is done, the next four hours of cooking time is THE BEST. First my kitchen and then the entire house gradually built into an aromatic experience that I won’t even try to describe. Suffice it to say that there is nothing - nothing - like the smell of good soup on a flame. Actually, I take that back…the aroma came in a close second place to that first taste. Followed by many more first tastes until I lost count! Again, this is not just a soup, it’s an experience and worth the time it takes to create.
Jimmy Hernandez is approaching his 30th year as general manager of Melissa’s. He is passionate about his job. When asked about his interests outside of the office Jim responded that his profession is also his hobby as he loves to visit retail stores on weekends. “I am somewhat of a home-body,” admitted Jimmy. “I play a little golf, but mostly love just spending time with my wife Lisa and sons Daniel, Matthew and Bryan. Plus we just became proud grandparents of a beautiful girl...finally!”
And little does this new arrival to the Hernandez family know just how fortunate she already is, culinary-wise, with so many seasons of holiday menudo in her future. Lucky girl!
Holiday Menudo Soup
Makes 8-10 quarts
1 pound Melissa's Dried New Mexico Chile
8 ounces Melissa's Dried Guajillo Chile
2 ounces Melissa's Dried De Arbol Chile
2 Large Yellow Onions, sliced
12 Garlic Cloves, whole peeled (divided)
12 pounds Tripe (8 pounds Honeycomb/4 pounds Regular)
2 cans (64 ounces each) Yellow Hominy
4 Tablespoons Knorr Chicken Bouillon (12 cubes, divided)
Option: Pig's foot, also known as "Pata", rinse and add one per pot for added flavor. Purchased when buying the tripe, ask the Butcher for a "Pata" cut.
Red Chile Sauce (Prepare two weeks prior to making Menudo)
Remove stems from all chile pods, remove seeds and rinse.
Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil (may use two pots--ingredients divided evenly).
Add 6 of the garlic cloves, 2 Tablespoons Bouillon (6 cubes), chile pods.
Simmer on medium flame until chile pods soft and tender – about 10 minutes.
Put cooked chili pods in a blender or food processor, adding cooking pot water to liquefy (this may have to be done in batches).
Strain liquefied chili into a large bowl, 12 cups (3 quarts) are needed for the soup.
Once all pods are strained, repeat straining process - double strain.
Cool, then place this red chile sauce in storage container(s) and freeze.
Day before making Menudo:
“I clean, trim my tripe really good...this is key. Lot's of waste...so I make sure we have enough.”
Wash tripe thoroughly under running water.
Cut all tripe into small 1' x 2' pieces, rinse pieces thoroughly again.
Place cleaned & rinsed tripe pieces into zip lock bags and refrigerate.
Day of making Menudo:
Bring 8 quarts of water to boil (may use two pots--ingredients divided evenly).
Add 6 of the garlic cloves, 2 TBS Bouillon (6 cubes), sliced onions.
Adjust flame to medium-low, add tripe and cook for 3 hours.
Then add the 2 cans Hominy, 10-12 cups of chili sauce (to taste), S&P t.t.
Simmer for another 1 hour and serve, or for maximum flavor...
Allow to cool, refrigerate and enjoy next day
Suggested Condiments, served on the side:
Small bowls of Dried Oregano
Dried Crushed Chile Peppers
Fresh Limes, wedges
Yellow Onions, diced
French or Mexican dinner rolls (aka “Bolillos” from a MX Bakery)