Of Polish soups, we in America know only a few kinds. At Polish events the most often a black soup (czernina – pron. tscher-nee-nah) is served. It is prepared with a duck blood, or rarely pork blood preserved with vinegar. The dish is rather not nutritious (vinegar as ans ingredient) and in my opinion, not attractive visually or flavor-wise. Yet, some people like it.
When a young man visited parents of a girl he wished to marry and he was not welcome, he was served czernina. This was a polite way to let him know to leave the daughter alone.
Nowadays, we can safely state that czernina is not part of Polish cuisine. Pigs blood is used to make sausages of various kind while duck blood is simply wasted.
But wait. We have something exciting. A soup or maybe rather stew that is impatiently awaited by most Polish people. It requires much more preparation work; therefore, it is not consumed as more or less everyday’s food. It is rather an event dish or special attraction food. It is called Flaki, that translates as beef tripe.
Believe me, although physically I am now several thousand miles away, my spirit for all the times resides in Warsaw, the City where I was born and raised. Evidently, it must be some kind of a mysterious place; no one can be neutral toward Warsaw. You must either hate it or become crazy about this town that has a soul. Every stone, every brick, every square meter of sidewalk has a story to tell on its own. Every street intersection has a history; every piece of lawn hides its own secret. Torches, candles, crosses remind us of those great Times when hundreds of thousand people gathered together and became our Heroes…
Bazar Różyckiego is a flea market on the East river bank town section called old Praga. Some time ago, during darkness of the Reds, here was the very center of the elite of Warsaw’s free private enterprise. Manufacturers and traders used to keep their kiosks and booths here. They were good, credible, reputable firms; there was no other way possible to survive on the tough market. Dishonest vendors simply did not have any right to exist.
I still remember aroma of that specific dish, served from an enameled bucket under linen cloth. The Flaki with marjoram and black pepper smelled irresistibly from the basket. For equivalent of a few pennies, one could get a huge bowl of tasty tripe and, if so desired, secretly poured one hundred gram of the famous Polish product, a shot of straight vodka. It was a must, a tradition, to relax after whole day spent shopping in open air.
And, yes, this fresh Polish bread with thick, crusty skin. Hygiene was not an issue. The old women, called Grandma, washed the dishes in cold water by the hydrant nearby. Vodka assured protection from any microbial cross-contamination.
The most delicious Flaki, are made out of beef tripe. Some connoisseurs prefer veal tripe, called „krezki”. Pork-derived product is also used, yet not so good. The best material for the dish is a single beef stomach (księgi), regularly shaped. For veal tripe one could organize a veal stomach at a pharmaceutical plant or directly from a farmer.
In the United States, it is possible to purchase raw tripe already cleaned and bleached with chlorine, unfortunately, with a little too much fat grown in. Beef stomach is bought by Mexicans for menudo, or by Italians for Trippa, a thick-cooked substance, consumed with potatoes or gnocchi.
For Flaki, we should get up to ten pounds of tripe. I cannot explain why, but the recipe works the best in a three or four gallon pot. In the kitchen sink, under cold water, the tripe should be scrubbed and excess of fat simply cut off and discarded. Scrubbed tripe is placed in a pot and covered with cold water. The pot is then covered with a lid, brought to boil and slowly cooked for about twenty minutes to half an hour. Any foam or particulate rising to the surface should be removed, or skimmed so to speak.
At this time, let’s not forget to ventilate out kitchen as well as we can. The smell of first-cooked tripe cannot be classified in the most pleasant category.
If we want to reduce the time to heat the pot up to the boiling temperature, here is a simple trick. Place a kitchen cloth, folded in four, on the lid of the boiling pot. To prevent scorching, we can either frequently stir the contents of the pot or place tripe in water that is already boiling.
Now, the tripe is strained, water poured out and the boiling operation repeated one more time. Stomach cooked twice is cut or rather shredded into stripes 3/8” wide by 2” long. Yes, this is the procedure that takes entire family. Anything is worth spending quality time together.
The shredded flaki are finally cooked until tender and separated from the liquid. The stripes are added to a beef broth or reconstituted broth concentrate. Candidates for vegetarians use hot water and Vegeta mix. True vegetarians, evidently, do not eat Flaki. Please note that Flaki, from whatever animal derived, is not a Kosher dish since stomach is an organ and organs are not Kosher.
As a culinary pervert (cookbooks are full of regular recipes), I admit that I like to add vegetables cut in thin stripes, namely carrots, parsley root, celery root, pan fried on butter or oil for a minute or two with chopped onions. I also use a little garlic. For a bucket of tripe, it takes a little over a pound and half of such a mix.
Now, let’s exhibit some artistic invention. Let’s open our spice box and turn the imagination loose. Marjoram goes in first. This flavor has to dominate over all other herbs. Bay leaves and allspice are common and predominant additives in most Polish soups. For the above amount of tripe, I would use ten leaves and maybe a tablespoon of whole allspice. These two spices must be cooked at least for a few minutes, to fully release their flavor. If we have classical herbal pepper from Poland, we certainly should try it, too. Otherwise, black pepper will suffice, then, nutmeg, ground ginger, red Spanish or Hungarian paprika, a pinch of Cajun pepper or Pepperoncino, perhaps a little (I said a little) yellow curry powder. Feel free to adjust flavor concentration („umami” note) with Vegeta. Finally, very carefully finish with salt to taste.
Tripe liquid should be relatively clear (do not try to enrich with flour or cornstarch since it will blanden the flavor and reduce shelf life), brownish with visible particulate of marjoram and other spices, with very intense, exotic, pleasant aroma. The tripe pieces should not be too tender, yet easy to bite and chew. Generally, a dish should aggressively appeal to the consumer and if we observe the guests adding soy sauce or Maggi concentrate at the table, it is an indication of either our lack of culinary talent, or their lack of class. Or both.
Some chefs maintain that the best Flaki are so-called Warsaw style, in other words, with pulpets or meatballs. Here we go. About 20 minutes before end of cooking, we can add small meatballs directly to the pot, rolled about 3/4“ in diameter, prepared of lean ground beef with a little salt and pepper. The heat should be reduced so the pulpets retain their shape and do not fall apart. To make them more delicate, an egg and a piece of soaked bread can be added to the meat before the meatballs are rolled.
In the entire course of final cooking, tripe should be uncovered and liquid replenished with hot water from a teakettle. Periodically, fat can be skimmed away to reduce cholesterol, if we really want to believe the dietary hysteria that mass media impose on us.
The serving of tripe can be called presentation. The ideal way is to heat up thick ceramic bowls in the oven and pour the Flaki in. The bowls are placed on saucers or small plate, covered with folded paper or linen napkin. A small stalk of green parsley can be put in for decoration. In a basket, hot hard bread is placed, preferably dark full rye or full wheat Graham with thick, crunchy crust skin, just like in the Old Country. Of condiments, nothing but salt, pepper and maybe grated Swiss cheese should be present on the table.
Second plate is not necessary when we serve tripe. If you ask me about wine selection, my answer is none. However, beer served in foggy-chilled mugs with high head of foam is very appropriate. Also, very palatable addition is a two-ounc
e shot of straight crystal-clear vodka, well frozen to oily consistency. Because of high caloric value of this type of food, it is acceptable to drink a little more alcohol than normally, although as always, I have to warn against exaggeration in this matter.
Of course, Tripe, as a meat dish, are totally unacceptable for Wigilia, the Christmas Eve supper. Also, as an organ food, are not to be considered Kosher. But good luck trying to keep it away from your older brother in faith, who is drooling when seeing and smelling your dinner. We may explain to him, that kosher vodka from the freezer will „kosherize” all the food and now our conscience is calm and quiet. We can share the table and contribute to the peace making.
Nastepnym razem bedzie kuchmistrzowski tatar, chyba, ze sa jakies obiekcje.
(next time there will be a chef’s kanibal sandwich, unless any objections are raised)