Weird Crap I Cook: The Mercato Centrale Manwich

To start, I’d like to compare this poorly trafficked and regularly unpleasant to read food blog to one of the greatest bands of all time; Pink Floyd.  Not every attempt to create a new dish is going to be a masterpiece like The Wall or Dark Side of the Moon, there is going to be an occasional Ummagumma.  Actually, I’m not comfortable with that comparison, I’ve never cooked anything that was as god awful as that ear-ulcer of an album.  Kicking off the post with a statement then disagreeing with it, comin’ in hot!

Anyhoo, as documented in our Italy trip recap from August 2010, they make a pretty amazing tripe sandwich at the food carts by the Mercato Centrale in Florence.  Cow stomach braised until tender in a broth with lots of garlic, hot chilis and tomatoes, then served with cooked greens on an Italian roll.

I forgot how massive that sandwich was. I have hands that closely resemble an albino E.T., yet they were dwarfed by that huge organ sammie

You could tell you were eating offal, but the flavor from the braising was amazing and there were none of the funky flavors that occasionally come with stomach or intestines.  Like a hot dog in NYC or a cheesesteak in Philly, it’s the type of famous street food you have to try when in another city.

Speaking of Philly, George’s Sandwich Shop on the edge of the Philadelphia Italian Market is a famous joint that serves up what they call a traditional Italian tripe sandwich.  To put their own spin on it, they offer it mixed with braised tongue, peppers, and onions.  Obviously, I had to try it.

Visually I'm not giving this sandwich a fair shake since this is after making the mile and a half walk home from the market wrapped in foil and viciously swung about by my wildly swinging arms. On the other hand, it still might look better than it tasted

Look, there is no way that place would still be in business if my sandwich was representative of how things taste usually.  This sandwich was the opposite of the Florence version in that the stomach was chewy and there was no doubt you were eating part of the digestive tract.  To be honest, it tasted a little poopy.  Even the tongue, tomatoes, peppers and onions, which are all pretty strong in flavor, couldn’t overpower it.  Only made it through a few bites on that one.

What stuck with me after sampling George’s take on tripe was how completely illogical it seemed.  It just didn’t seem like that difficult of an item to get right.  I knew I would have to make it someday.

But what does that have to do with a Manwich?  DB superfriend Lenny Leonard was visiting Boston a couple weeks ago and requested that I take my best shot at a different take on a Manwich.  My Pink Floyd, “lets make a concept album that features an 8 minute ‘song’ with nothing but animal noises and human grunts”-decision was trying to merge the Manwich challenge with the George’s re-creation.  Oh well, lets start with the tongue.

Here's the exact order I placed with David at Snow Farm in Vermont via email, "a few pounds of the beef tongue and all of the lamb/goats tongues. I'd also take a couple pounds of the goat and lamb hearts". It's like Christmas in March for my readers!

The general plan was to boil the tongue for a few hours until it was tender and could be peeled, then boiling the stomach separately, and combining them together in a Manwich-like sauce to braise.

For those unfamiliar with tongue, that outer skin is why it needs to be peeled. Thick rubbery stuff. This and the rest of my meat order from Snow Farm was left on the roof of a car in a driveway in suburban Lexington, MA for me to pick up. Pretty awesome way to procure some meat

I despised Manwiches growing up and have never come around on them at all.  I remember the taste being way too sweet with the artificial ketchup-like sauce and way too sloppy.  So that’s what I was working with from a perspective of the flavors I was going to attempt to match.

The tongue headed into a pot of boiling salted water after cutting in half to ensure it would fit.  After about 3 hours, some of the fat had cooked out into the liquid and the meat looked fully cooked.

I should admit that I started cooking this the night before, prior to learning how long it would need to boil. Had to stop halfway through and finish the next morning. Janet makes me extremely tired but I never know my limits until I'm falling asleep standing up with a giant tongue boiling on the stove. But I won't bore you with that since you've likely heard that exact sentence from hundreds of other dads

The tongue had been fully cooked for a couple hours, but the extra time is needed so that the outer layer is easy to peel off.

The olllld "take a picture of food that grosses out most people in awful lighting to make it even more grey and unappealing" trick. I practically invented that trick

After the peeling. Remarkably easy to do, the skin was almost like leather. No idea why I positioned the pieces next to each other to look like a pair of shoes aside from probably having some subliminal recognition that it looked like a couple shoes

At this point my plan was to cube the tongue and place it into a pot to braise in the Pete’s take on the Manwich sauce for another hour or so.  I didn’t give enough thought to how to cut the tongue though, and ended up slicing it in a way that would make some very big cubes.

Terrible judgement begins about now. Tongue is best when sliced thin since the flavor is far more enjoyable than the texture. Should have cut it thinner to make smaller cubes

With the tongue ready, let’s talk tripe.  I took the stomach pieces out of the package, rinsed with water and salt then stood staring at it while shielding the offensive offal from our guests with my ample stomach.

Not that disturbing to look at, mainly because the grocery store version is boiled and bleached prior to sale. Gets rid of the stomach smell, but kinda gross that you could smell a hint of the bleach. Plus, the texture is almost furry. Please wait 'til you're finished reading to sprint to the grocer to buy yourself some

While the tripe boiled for 30 minutes, I put a few ribs of celery, a bell pepper, 5-6 cloves of garlic, and a couple baby carrots into the food processor.

Either the lighting in our kitchen is getting worse or my increasing mass is eclipsing every last bit of overhead light in these pictures. I'll go with the former, damn you high efficiency bulbs!

After loading up the processor, I heated some olive oil on the stovetop in ‘lil blue.  After blending, I dumped in a chopped medium onion and the processor contents, cooking until they became fragrant (or about 10 minutes).  Then the cubed tongue went in with salt & pepper.

Poorly chopped onions and stirring the pot with a salad utensil. I was really all over the place in the kitchen that night

After a few minutes, I used a beer to deglaze the pot.

Bud Light Platinum has been the deglazing beer of choice ever since I saw the look on my friend Nate's face when having the first one out of the six pack at the super bowl. Took five separate meals over two months to get through one six pack

Add in a can of diced tomatoes, a lengthy pour of maple syrup (for the signature Manwich sickening sweetness), and the chopped boiled tripe.  Now that’s a party!

"I love you Bleu Le CreusUT... I fill you up... let's have a party... let's have a party." Enjoy getting that one out of your head, next week will have a take on the infuriating Zou Bisou Bisou song from Mad Men

The lid went on, and the pot went into the oven at 350F for some braisin’.  I already had an inkling that this wasn’t going to come out well, so the usual slow cooked anticipation wasn’t there.  Mostly just questioning what I was thinking when I decided to combine beer, stomach, and maple syrup.

After an hour or so, I pulled the pot out of the oven and found it to be far more liquidy than I expected.

Lots of green from the bell pepper and celery. Add the color green to the previous list of elements that really have no business being in the same dish together

Since I was looking for a thicker, less-liquidy consistency like a Manwich, the lid came off and the pot went over medium heat on the stovetop to cook down.

Quick sidenote: you may call a Manwich a “Sloppy Joe”, but you would be wrong.  A Sloppy Joe is a glorious New Jersey deli sandwich consisting of rye bread, turkey, ham, Swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and coleslaw.  That ketchup and ground beef combo you were served in the cafeteria because they couldn’t use the brand name “Manwich” does not deserve the title Sloppy Joe when there is already a king on that throne.  I don’t think you’re getting it, I might need to take some pictures this weekend in NJ and drop some knowledge next week.

After fifteen minutes or so, the stomach and tongue Manwich had cooked down to the thick consistency I was hoping for.

Looks a little like Manwich, no? Either that or something similar to chili or bolognese. I wasn't intimidated by it, but I also wasn't looking forward to digging in

With the meal ready to serve, I had to assess the situation.  Here’s what I had going in my favor: Maiers potato rolls which make anything at least 50% edible, Len and Con who have previously shown a willingness to eat pretty much everything, and Buschy was willing to give it a shot.  However, I was pretty sure that the stomach could have used another hour of cook time, the sauce was too sweet (to my taste), and generally this wasn’t a very appealing meal.  But, we had to at least try it.

Didn't look too bad actually. Except that lettuce, that part looked like sh*t since it was from a week old salad in a bag that was past it's prime when I bought it. Way to dress up your awful offal, Pete!

The sandwich was not m’best work (despite Lenny having two).  As mentioned before, the sauce was very sweet from the maple syrup, however I’m not sure it was any sweeter than a traditional manwich.  Could have used more pepper flavor.

The tongue was just not the right cut or texture.  Tongue is at it’s best when sliced thin or roasted until crispy after the boiling; it would have needed many more hours of braising to get to the texture I wanted.  It wasn’t all bad, the flavor was decent and the meat was tender, but odd in the context of the sandwich.  The stomach didn’t add a whole lot of good, mostly just some annoying chewiness and a hint of organ flavor.  Just not a well thought out dish.

To make matters worse I lost track of time when cooking the carnitas (for the ladies) and also made some inferior tortillas (compared to last time) to go with it.  A poor performance by me across the board, punctuated with flu-like symptoms a couple hours later and having to go to bed while there was still a living room full of people in our apartment.  Hostess with the Mostest dudes!

Heading to NJ for some food activities and fantasy baseball.  Will document anything edible.

4 thoughts on “Weird Crap I Cook: The Mercato Centrale Manwich

  1. This was your funniest post by far…Janet has made you both tired AND funny dooder! Have fun in NJ. Tell Spuds I said hello.

  2. That was actually a great attempt, I do think it would be good (for my taste). I tend to not cook these type’s of dishes at home, but when in Mexico they do it great from brains to butt!!

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