The French term jolie laide translates to "pretty ugly," and refers to the striking beauty found in what would conventionally be deemed unattractive.
Bandied about in the fashion world, the phrase has a place now in food too. Suddenly, the ugly ducklings of ingredients, such as odd meat cuts, are the gourmet swans. Case in point: tripe—a word with sour enough connotations. Calvin W. Schwabe's "Unmentionable Cuisine" describes it as "the beef stomach…actually all four stomachs of cattle, sheep and other ruminant animals."
Among the four digestive chambers hoofed creatures possess, it is the cow's reticulum lining that is getting all the culinary play, particularly its protein-rich "honeycomb" lining (shaped and textured like the bee variety).
Recently, Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi of Manhattan's Torrisi Italian Specialties teased the cow tummy into a calamari-like state. "It is very thinly sliced tripe that has been boiled for several hours," said Mr. Carbone. "We toss it with currants, peanuts, fermented chili and an emulsion of lemon peel."
Andrew Carmellini, chef of the Dutch in Manhattan, serves Barrio Tripe, cooked "low and slow with a lot of love and attention," he said. Simmered in beer—then garnished with avocado, lime and a Fritos dusting—his tripe dish has a Mexican foundation.
Meanwhile, in Oxford, Miss., John Currence of City Grocery Restaurant Group, is cooking tripe like chitterlings, frying the whole piece and serving it with either a Creole-spiced romanesco or a Southern-spiced harissa. (Chitterlings, or "chitlins," are pig intestines.)
San Francisco's offal overlord Chris Cosentino takes tripe still further. "We grill it, fry it crispy, even make dessert with it," he said.
In Italy, according to Jacob Kenedy, chef of London's Bocca di Lupo, tripe is an omnipresent cut served distinctly in each region. From Lazio, in central Italy, his is one of the most straightforward preparations—Trippa alla Romana balances the gut's strong taste with tomato, guanciale, mint and pecorino.
The cardinal rule of "tripery"? Pre-cook it for at least two hours. (Fill a stockpot with water, add lemon juice, some salt and turn on the gas.) A savory, warming bowlful proves the sumptuous ends justify the malodorous means.