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To make tripe and drisheen great again, a Tipperary chef makes it Japanese
For the Cork on a Fork Festival, one of the hardest-working restaurant crews in the city is on a mission to get Cork eating tripe and drisheen (and talking about it), at least for one night only.
When I dropped by the small but industrious kitchen in Miyazaki on Evergreen Street one morning last week it was still a week out from the Cork on Fork food festival where chef Mike McGrath and his team at Miyazaki are going to attempt to make tripe and drisheen great again.
Or, failing that, just edible.
The quartet of chefs led by McGrath had been boiling tripe earlier in the week, and according to sous chef Paudie Nagle the kitchen “smelled like a farmyard.”.
Very few, if any, restaurant kitchens in the city are boiling tripe and drisheen or serving it up, which makes what McGrath along with chefs Nagle, Rosin King and Andrew Breewood are trying to do for Cork on a Fork not without some risk.
To start with, tripe and drisheen is not much of a looker. The tripe, lining from a cow’s stomach, looks like a milky-coloured dish dishcloth. Drisheen is a mixture of sheep’s, cow’s or pig’s blood mixed in with milk, salt, fat typically encased in suasage-like skin. (Drisheen is the one that looks like black pudding).
It’s fair to say that Cork knows tripe and drisheen, but how many people actually know what it tastes like?
Irish Times Diary writer has Frank McNally has a memorable paragraph which segues from buying tripe and drisheen from the English Market into James Joyce, who had a few things to say about our famous dish, from a few years back.
In Portrait of the Artist, he remembers his old man ordering “drisheens” for breakfast in a Cork Hotel. And in Finnegans Wake, Joyce pays it the compliment – very unusual in that book – of three sentences in intelligible English: “Correspondents […] will keep on asking me what is the correct garnish to serve drisheens with. Tansy Sauce. Enough.”
Well now James, let me introduce you to tonkatsu sauce.
Enter the Miyazaki team and their dainty but refined Japanese approach to putting tripe and drisheen back on the plates of Cork, for at least one night.
Chef McGrath’s plan for tripe and drisheen is simple and ingenious: he’s going to add panko (those lovely light, crumbly Japanese breadcrumbs) and deep-fry the tripe and drisheen. Then, he'll dress it up in Japanese condiments such as tonkatsu sauce and Kewpie mayonnaise, and put it between toasted bread. Hey presto, a drisheen sando (sandwich) topped with slivers of fried tripe. Take that, Joyce.
McGrath, a Tipperary native who’s been heading up Miyazaki for the past four years, is quietly confident that the dish will go down well.
“Who doesn’t love anything that’s been fried?” he said.
A load of tripe, and drisheen
Chef McGrath’s been toying around with the idea of making or updating a tripe and drisheen dish for a while now.
He told me the inspiration is Tripe + Drisheen (this publication), and I believe him because it doesn’t get more on-brand or meta than that. But he also said he’s been walking past O’Reillys tripe and drisheen stall in the English Market for years now and wondered what he could do with this Cork dish. Instinctively, he knew what he didn’t want to do: serve it up as a stew.
Cork on a Fork Festival, which starts this week, gave him the occasion and the opportunity.
To pull it off, the Miyazaki crew first began by boiling the tripe and drisheen in a marinade of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, and mirin. This, along with sugar and vinegar, is basically one of the fundamental building blocks of Japanese cooking: sugar, salt, vinegar, soy sauce, and miso.
The chefs then left well enough alone, allowing the tripe and drisheen to cool down for a period of 24 hours in the cold room. From there, as Chef McGrath explained, they split the tripe in half to create two layers.
“You get one sinewy layer which you can still use,” he said. But Chef McGrath went with the less sinewy side, diced it into fine pieces, then added a light dusting of potato starch before deep-frying it.
For the drisheen, Chef McGrath says they basically made a burger out of it.
Into that mix are minced garlic, minced onion, a little drop of milk, some breadcrumbs, some egg, tonkatsu sauce, and 'some other bits to make it taste nice.'
Now, I know there's a certain vagueness to 'some other bits,' but that matches with drisheen anyway, and besides, the best chefs don't give all their game away.
'We form it, cut it, and deep fry it in a coat of panko. It’s your classic katsu (pork) sando, except it’s drisheen,' Chef McGrath said, adding that it has a terrine-like texture.
For those coming along to The Imperial Hotel this coming Friday August 18 for DiverCITY as part of Cork on Fork, what you'll see is a transformation of tripe and drisheen. That's probably a good thing. Built into Japanese cuisine is an aesthetic appreciation that goes above and beyond.
A very special sando
Before I moved back to Ireland in 2020, I was a restaurant reviewer for The Japan Times. Of the many incredible meals I (critically) devoured, one that lives on in my memory involved a giant lily-like leaf onto which the chef poured drops of something gelatinous and edible, and it flowed into the dish. It was meant to resemble a downpour. Yes, it was theatrical, but not just for the sake of theatrics.
The Miyazaki crew won’t be sending in the tripe and drisheen on elaborate origami cutouts from The Echo, but they have created some memorable side dishes that will be served in a 'birdcage' alongside dishes made by Ali Honour, executive head chef of The Imperial Hotel, and Virginia O'Gara from My Goodness in the English Market.
Chef King will be serving up a glorious sweet dish that’s a little bigger than a full stop, made with honey from Leamlara Honey in Sast Cork, white chocolate mousse encased in a dainty dark chocolate shell, topped off with dehydrated white chocolate powder. Meanwhile, Kerryman Chef Nagle, who has been working alongside Chef McGrath for six years, will be making tamagoyaki, a layered omelette, studded with Gubbeen cheese from Schull in West Cork.
Japan’s chefs are famoulsy flexible, curious and innovative: some of the Japan’s best-known dishes, such as ramen and gyoza, began life outside Japan before being fine-tuned and made famous in Japan.
Could tripe and drisheen catch on in Japan? Hmmmmmm is probably the answer there, but as Akiko Katayama, a New York-based author, podcaster and food writer from Japan, told me, crubeens, or pigs trotters, are a regional delicacy Okinawa (where they’re known as tebichi) and Fukuoka, where Chef Takashi Miyazaki of Ichigi Ichie hails from. So why not tripe and drisheen?
As for how the tripe and drisheen sando tastes? I could tell you, but here’s hoping that the Miyazaki crew’s take on tripe and drisheen makes it onto a menu near you, and you can try it yourself. And remember where you read it first: on Tripe + Drisheen.
In the words of Joyce: Enough.
Cork on a Fork Festival starts tomorrow, August 16 and runs until August 20. DiverCITY at The Imperial is sold out.