Let’s talk Menudo. Yes, that brothy soup with hearty bits of honeycomb tripe, pigs feet, and elk shank. What, elk shank? That’s right, this recipe brings that delicious bowl of Menudo to the table cooked with parts of the elk that most hunters discard.
Before we dive in, I think I should give fair warning, we eat Mexican food probably 2-3 times per week. This week alone I’ve already cooked enchiladas and nachos, while I currently have a big pot of Menudo simmering for dinner. I have an addiction to Mexican food that my family has fallen into as well (they had no choice). So when I say this Menudo is good, it’s good. Like, seriously, you can thank me later.
Cooking with Elk Shank
Elk shank is tough and contains connective tissue that oftentimes makes it easier to be left in the field or tossed on the grind pile for burger (and ruin your grinder), but when cooked right, elk shank delivers tender meat.
Often used in recipes like slow-roasted Osso Bucco, when cooked low and slow with moisture, the connective tissue, ligaments, and collagen of the elk shank breaks down to deliver a favorable dish and silky, smooth broth. To soups and stews, those flavors meld together to create an outstanding broth that could stand up to Pho or Menudo.
Elk shank is quite large and hard to cook with whole. Use a saw to cut the shank down – be safe and very careful here – to 3-inch pieces. If you’re using shank from an antelope or deer, you can leave it whole or cut in half.
Using a saw can be very dangerous. It scares me to use the saw to cut the shanks down, which is why my husband does it for me. If you have a local butcher that can help you cut them down, do that. If you are cutting them yourself, make sure to secure the elk shanks so they don’t slip away.
Wrap twine around the elk shanks to keep the meat held to the bone so you can later pull it out of the Menudo pot to dice the meat to bite-size pieces. Don’t discard the bones before digging the marrow out to enjoy on a tortilla or piece of toast.
The Day I Met Menudo
But let’s back up, this is a story about Menudo. I didn’t grow up eating Menudo; in fact, the first time I ate it was on a camping trip with a co-worker when I was in my mid-thirties.
We got the invite to go on the camping trip up north in Wyoming from one of the best co-workers I’ve had the privilege to work with and was informed that it was his family’s annual camping adventure. I was told not to worry about bringing food because everything was already covered.
If you know me, you know I was still going to bring food because that’s in my nature… this is how I make people happy and this is why I started this blog. My co-worker told me, “Every family cooks a meal for the entire crew, but we already have breakfasts, lunches, and dinners covered, so don’t worry about it.” What kind of camping adventure am I getting myself into?
The best camping adventure ever!
We showed up at camp in Wyoming and was instantly greeted by my co-worker and some of his family. They graciously helped us park our camper, handed us a cold beer, helped us set-up our camper, and proceeded to show us that where our camper was, was just one of multiple camp spots for this camping adventure. Come to find out, I’m pretty sure we entered a small village. There were easily 50 people, well over 10 campers and tents, and an entire kitchen set-up in a field. Where have I landed?
This was a foodie girl’s version of authentic Mexican food heaven. Over the next few days, we ate the most authentic Mexican food we’ve ever had in our lives, including Aunt June’s Menudo.
As Aunt June called us over to her camper on the day we were leaving she handed us our breakfast burritos and asked, “Have you had any of my Menudo yet?” We said no, and she went back in her camper for a few minutes and came out with a hot bowl of Menudo and a to-go container for us to eat later. As we tasted it for the first time, my husband and I fell in love with everything this soup had to offer. We slurped it up as Aunt June smiled and said, “You like?” Aunt June’s nephew came over laughing and said, “Do you know what is in that?”
Now, you have to remember this is the first time these people have met us, and the first time we’ve met them. They don’t know we hunt and pride ourselves on harvesting as much of the meat as possible. So when the nephew laughed on and said, “You’re eating tongue, tripe, and feet!” My husband and I looked at each other and he said, “Well, I guess we like those things.” As I said, “I suppose it’s time to learn to cook it.” Of course, that made Aunt June even happier, so we ended up with even more Menudo to-go.
Menudo Recipe Discovery
That first taste of Menudo sent me on an adventure to learn more about the recipe, how it’s made, it’s history, and years of chasing different recipes (and failed attempts) to find the recipe that we think reminds us of Aunt June’s recipe.
We’ve had many different versions of Menudo now, but still think this recipe is the best for our taste. I’ve had the honor of having people share tips and hints with me along the way of their favorite Menudo and have creatively crafted the recipe you see below.
As Menudo goes, it is like meatloaf is in many homes, it is made to your taste. The same common ingredients usually remain like garlic, onion, hominy, tripe, and chilis, but the amount used and different add-ins make it unique to each home. As meatloaf may have tomato sauce and chunks of vegetables or barbecue sauce like my meatloaf recipe, Menudo really is adjustable to your palate. I’d suggest making this recipe as is and adjust from there.
Menudo is known as a hangover soup, but it’s good anytime… maybe just freeze some for the next hangover you have. And yes, this soup freezes really well – we often end up freezing half of the soup to have for later.
Where to Get Menudo Ingredients
I like to buy my ingredients from the local Mexican grocery store. I go there to buy everything but the elk shanks. I get honeycomb tripe already cut, pigs feet already sliced in half, chilis, spices, limes, hominy, and the chile molido puro mix (sometimes labeled Menudo mix molido). I also often ask the butcher for tips on his Menudo preferences and have picked up a few tidbits here and there, like boiling the tripe, pigs feet, and elk shank with apple cider vinegar for about 20 minutes ahead of time to help get rid of impurities.
The local Mexican grocery store is also the best place for freshly cooked tortillas. The flavor of freshly cooked tortillas will leave you wondering why you ever ate any other type of tortillas. They are much thinner and not as gummy as regular grocery store tortillas.
Don’t live next to a Mexican grocery store? Drive to one or order your ingredients online. I live 45 minutes from my closest store… and I still drive there quite often. Make a day of it, but definitely get authentic ingredients.
Make sure to pick up your toppings too, including lime, onion, cilantro, oregano, red pepper flakes, and tortillas.
Oh, goodness, someone much more knowledgable than me could speak to all of the different dried chilis. When you go to the Mexican grocery store there are many different types of dried chilis to choose from, it can be quite overwhelming. I’ve tried dried chile pequins, anchos, cascabels, chipotle, arbol, guajillo, New Mexico, and more.
Fresh peppers I can definitely taste the difference in because of the heat level – jalapenos are your basic go-to pepper for most recipes, Fresnos add color and heat, serranos tends to be a bit hotter than jalapenos, and habaneros are much hotter than jalapenos. But for the dried chilis, I only taste smokiness in chipotle and all the rest taste the same. I have about 8 bags of dried chilis in my arsenal and vary things up every time I make this recipe. Know that anchos, guajillos, and cascabels are close in flavor.
Menudo with Elk Shank
Tripe, Pigs Feet, Elk Shank Boil
- 1 gallon Water
- 1/4 cup Apple Cider Vinegar
- 2 lbs Tripe
- 5 split Pigs Feet 5 halves
- 2 Elk Shanks 3" pieces cut down
- 1 1/2 gallon Water
- 1 chopped Onion
- 4-5 diced Garlic Cloves
- 1 3oz package Chile Molido Puro Powder
- 1 25 oz can Hominy Not drained
- 2 tbls Oregano
- 1 tbls Salt
- 1 tbls Cumin
- 10 dried Chilis Chile pequins, anchos, cascabels, chipotle, arbol, guajillo, New Mexico, etc.
- 2 cups Water
- 1 Beef Bouillon
- 1 sliced Lime
- 1 diced Onion
- Red Chili Pepper Flakes
- Sour Cream
- Hot Sauce
- 10 warmed Tortillas
- Cut honeycomb tripe to bite-size pieces and trim off any fat. If your tripe is frozen, do this part after you boil it and it cools down.
- Bring to a boil a gallon of water with 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar. If the smell of the boiling honeycomb tripe bothers you, try squeezing a full lemon in with the boiling water to cut down on the smell.
- Wrap elk shanks with twine to keep meat connected to the bone. Add 2 lbs of honeycomb tripe, 5 split pigs feet, and elk shanks to the pot of boiling water. Boil for 20 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Meanwhile, in a larger pot start to boil 1 ½ gallon of water (there are 16 cups per 1 gallon).
- Add 1 chopped onion, 4-5 diced garlic cloves, 2 bay leaves, 1 3oz package of chile molido puro powder (sometimes labeled Menudo mix molido), 1 25oz can hominy (not drained), 2 tbls oregano, 1 tbls salt, and 1 tbls cumin.
- Add in tripe, pigs feet, and elk shank. Cover and simmer for 2 ½ hours.
- After simmering for 2 ½ hours, remove elk shanks, remove the twine, chop meat, and add back to the pot. Scoop out bone marrow from the elk bones, set aside to smear on your tortillas later. Toss the elk bones to the dog.
- Tear off the tops off of 10 dried chilis, break in half, and empty out seeds. Warning, even though they are dried, they still have heat and will do the same to your skin as cutting fresh peppers… wear gloves to keep your eyes and lips from burning later.
- Add the chilis to a small pot, add a beef bouillon cube, cover with water, and boil for 10 minutes. Let cool for 10 minutes.
- Blend chili mix to make it finer, and then add to the Menudo pot and stir. Cover and let simmer for 1 more hour.
- Prep toppings: slice lime, chop an onion, chop cilantro, pull out the oregano and red chili pepper flakes, lay out the sour cream and hot sauce, and warm the tortillas.
- Serve the Menudo in a bowl with a good mix of the hearty ingredients in the soup and have the toppings available for people to add as they like.
You can add elk tongue to this recipe too. For this recipe, you would only need about half an elk tongue. Heat oven to 350℉, wrap tongue in foil, place on a baking sheet, and roast for 3 hours. When done, let cool until you can easily handle the tongue to dice up into bite-size pieces. Add in with the hominy. You can substitute elk shank for beef bones or beef shank. If you don’t like pigs feet, no worries (I don’t either). The flavor from them adds to the soup, which is great, but if you don’t like to chew on fat, let the people that do like it scoop it into their bowls.