Eating Tucson (condiments): Santa Cruz Chili Paste and Red chili beef

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When I lived in Tucson, I used to buy Santa Cruz brand red chili paste concentrate from the 17th Street Farmers Market, which was just a short bike ride down the street from my house in the barrio.

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It’s a mild and very versatile paste made from red chilies grown in Southern Arizona, just north of the (Sonoran) Mexican border. When I was last in Tucson, I made sure to swing by the market to procure a jar to smuggle back up here to Portland for later use.

Red chili beef

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 1/2 pound beef chuck roast, but into very large chunks
  • Flour
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 can cheap lager
  • 1 large white onion
  • 6-7 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 red fresh jalapeno chilis, seeded
  • 5-6 dried guajillo chilies, cut lengthwise, seeded and stemmed
  • 1 tablespoon pasilla chile powder
  • 1 tablespoon chile de arbol powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground Mexican oregano
  • 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
  • 6 tablespoons Santa Cruz red chili paste concentrate*
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 bunch cilantro for garnish

*Of course, you’re most likely not going to find Santa Cruz brand red chili concentrate in your neck of the woods (you can order it online). I suppose a decent substitute is a a small can (14 ounces or so) of a Mexican brand red chili sauce, like Las Palmas.

Soak guajillo chilies in warm water for 30 minutes or until reconstituted.

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As shown above, use a knife to scrape the flesh from the chili, discarding skin. Set aside.

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Chop onions and fresh red jalapenos.

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Season beef with salt and pepper and dust with flour.

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Heat oil in large skillet and brown beef.

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Remove from heat, and add onions and jalapenos, and sweat over medium heat for 3-4 minutes.

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Turn up heat to high, and deglaze pan briefly with beer and chicken stock. As you can see, I use some pretty shitty, cheap-ass lawnmower beer.

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Add chili paste concentrate, guajillo chili flesh, all dried herbs and spices, and stir to mix well.

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In this case I was using my trusted Cuisinart pressure cooker, which I find works excellently with slow-braised dishes, so I transferred everything (inluding the beef, of course) to the chamber and set to low pressure simmer for half an hour. If you’re doing stovetop, return beef to pan and cover and reduce to heat to low, and cook for 2 1/2 hours, stirring every half hour or so. You can alternately transfer the pot to a 250 degree oven and cook it for 2 1/2 hours, as well.

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Top with cilantro.

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I enjoy eating my red chili with a simple, medium-grain white rice pilaf.

Chicken noodle soup

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Since it’s winter and the time where many humans are afflicted with “the sickness”, I thought I’d share my favorite form of chicken noodle soup. I guess in Vietnamese it’s officially “pho ga”, but that literally just means “chicken soup”. So the American patois in this instance is far superiour as it includes the word “noodle”. But I don’t really care at all what you call it. It’s a free country—until of course everyone has access to affordable health care at which point we will all be fascists.

Start the Broth

  • 1 Chicken
  • A lot of water
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seed
  • 4 allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
  • 6 star anise
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 10 cloves
  • 4 dried scallops
  • 15 dried shrimp
  • 4 tablespoons finely minced lemongrass
  • 7 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 large white onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 1 medium sized knob ginger, sliced

Put the chicken in a stock pot. Pour enough water in the pot to cover the chicken by a couple inches or so. Add vegetables and spices (all the rest of the broth ingredients) and bring to a low simmer. Lower heat to low and allow chicken to poach for 45 minutes or so, and then remove the chicken and stick it in the fridge. After it’s cooled sufficiently, remove the breast meat (but keep the rest of the chicken on the bone).

Bring the stock back to a low simmer and return the rest of the chicken back to the pot. Reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting (and if there are burners on your stove smaller than others, move the stockpot to the smaller burner). “Simmer” overnight (there really should be no bubbling at all).

Season the Broth

The next morning, strain twice (or more!) and place in the fridge. Once a layer of fat congeals at the very top, skim it. Return the pot to the stove (and heat) and add:

  • A few, small (nickle-sized) pieces of rock sugar
  • Salt
  • 1 teaspoon or more of Ajinomoto (aka “MSG”) – this is your call (if you hate MSG, I respect your wishes. The scallops and shrimp do add a significant amount of umami).
  • Many dashes of fish sauce

Taste and season accordingly.

Bowl It Up

Bring the broth to a roiling simmer. In the meantime, boil fresh banh pho noodles for 30 seconds and remove to a bowl. Add to that:

  • Torn chicken breast meat (see above)
  • Chiffonade of thin omelette spiked with a lot of black pepper
  • Torn Thai basil leaves
  • Sawtooth herb (if you can find it)
  • Cilantro
  • Thinly sliced onion
  • Chopped green onions
  • Chopped bird chilies
  • Bean sprouts

Pour hot broth over noodles. Finish with a couple dashes of fish sauce and grinds of fresh black and white pepper. Squeeze of 1/4 or 1/2 of a lemon over the soup. Slurp.

Sate marinated game hens

I like game hens. They are like chickens, except in diminutively exact scale. You can eat an entire game hen at one sitting and not feel like a glutton. So I eat two.

One thing that worries: are “game hens” simply baby chickens prematurely slaughtered on a factory farm? Is this a moral quandary for which I’m ill equipped to handle due to my own shortcomings? My failure to subscribe to a moral imperative derived from a careful exploration of Kantian ethics? Or are these really indeed “game” birds that have lived a fruitful life wandering the short brush of Appalachian foothills until they met their untimely fate? I’d prefer to subscribe to the fatalism of the latter, though the former is most likely closer to the inconvenient truth.

In any regards, this is some delicious poultry.

This is a simple recipe for excellent grilled game hens. Since they are small, you can grill them on an open flame without having to spatchcock the bird (though certainly if you want to butterfly it to cut down on cooking time you could).

The marinade is simply a deep rub of the Vietnamese “sate” condiment, a wonderfully reddish and fiery paste of lemongrass, fish sauce, and chilies. My recipe is cribbed straight from Andrea Nguyen, who I considered the Julia Child of Vietnamese cuisine in these here United States.

You can also buy jarred versions of sate (not to be confused with “satay”) sauce at any Asian store that specializes in the Southeast Asian ingredients, and that should work in a pinch. It should be an oily, deep hue of red, with lots of “gritty”-ness (from the aromatic alliums and lemongrass).

Sate Grilled Game Hens

  • 2 Game Hens
  • 6 tablespoons prepared sate condiment (see Andrea’s recipe)
  • 2 stalks of lemongrass, ends and nubs removed (and set aside) and finely minced
  • 4 ounces lager beer
  • Dozen kaffir lime leaves
  • Discarded tops and nubs of various lemongrass stalks (from those used to make the sate and from the fresh lemongrass I just told you about)

In a small bowl, combine sate, minced lemongrass, and beer. Mix into a paste. Rub all over each game hen and in the inner cavities. Stuff the inner cavity with lime leaves and lemongrass discards. Allow to marinate 4-12 hours in the fridge.

Prepare a charcoal grill, piling the coals disproportionately with one hot side and one cool(er) side. Once the coals are hot, grill over hot heat, turning often to get grill-y marks on all quadrants of the bird. Move to the cool side of the grill and cover (opening up the slot vents). Roast for 20 minutes, turning every 5 minutes. Set aside and let rest.

I could eat this forever and a day with plain, steamed jasmine rice.

Grilled summertime halibut

I’ve had oral surgery recently and have been limited to soft foods. As a result, my normal routine has been eviscerated, as I’ve been drinking a lot of soymilk protein shakes and eating a lot of soups.

As summer plays out its final days, it’s been extremely frustrating as this is when you want to get in some quality outdoor grilling time. Normally, I would spend my weekends grilling ribs, chicken, steaks, burgers, etc. in the twilight. However, I can’t eat any of that.

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I can, however, eat the delicate, sweet flesh from the sea, and have been using it as a foil to scratch my outdoor grilling itch.

Grilled Halibut (Marinated in Olive Oil, Sel Gris and Herbs)

Place a nice, thick filet of halibut (skin on the bottom) in a shallow dish and cover it generously with extra virgin olive oil, and turn a couple times to coat. Coat the skinless side with a generous layer of coarse sel gris and fresh cracked pepper, and use your hand to pat down the seasonings. Allow to marinade for at least a few hours.

Right before building your grill, top with chopped fresh thyme, whole fresh mint leaves, and a couple garlic cloves forced through a garlic press.

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Build your grill. I’ve got one of these slotted grill “skillets” that is perfect for grilling fish filets. Since I’m not blackening the fish, and halibut is a delicate flesh, I prefer to build a low flame with a minimal amount of charcoal.

Place the filet, non-skin side down, making sure the herbs and garlic aren’t displaced.

Grill for 2-4 minutes (depending on the strength of your fire), and flip over.

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What to eat with your grilled halibut? If you’re lucky, like me, to have a sous chef, you can skirt child labor laws and put them to work on grilling a bundle of fresh spinach leaves while you kick back and enjoy a nice glass of whatever pleases you.

Hey, you’re outside, it’s summer, the grill is your plate. Time to eat.

Poke

Ahi Poke

  • 1/2 pound sashimi-grade ahi block, diced
  • 1 stalk chopped green onion
  • 1/4 chopped white onion
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • Squeeze of lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Hawaiin red salt
  • Grated fresh ginger
  • Togarishi (Japanese chili pepper blend)

Combine all ingredients except togarishi. Refridgerate for a bit. Sprinkle with togarishi before serving.

Steak Salad

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This is a pretty standard Vietnamese cold noodle dish, aka “bun”. Go to any Vietnamese restaurant serving standard fare and you’ll see “bun thit nuong” (rice noodles with grilled pork), “bun thit nuong tom” (rice noodles with grilled pork AND shrimp) and “bun thit nuong cha gio” (rice noodles with grilled pork AND crisp spring rolls).

This version is sort of a twist with rare-ish grilled steak, which you generally won’t find on a standard Viet menu, as the beef, while perfumed with lemongrass and fish sauce, is most likely thin slices of beef that has either been quickly sauteed or threaded in skewer form and grilled.

Steak Salad

Makes two servings. If you want to make more, just double everything, you fucking moron.

  • 1/2 pound semi-lean steak filet, like a sirloin, flatiron, or skirt
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 3 kaffir lime leaves
  • 3 stalks of lemongrass, trimmed
  • 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 thai bird chilies, minced
  • 1/2 pounds of rice stick noodles
  • 1/2 English Cucumber
  • A couple broad leaves of red or green leaf lettuce
  • Variety of fresh herbs, including spearmint, perilla (shiso), cilantro, thai basil, rau rum
  • 4 tablespoons coarsely ground toasted peanuts
  • 4 tablespoons prepared nuoc cham dressing

lemongrass

Prepare the lemongrass by chopping off the thin tops, and the large 1/2 inch nub on the fat end. Halve the stalks, the quarter lengthwise, then use your fine knife skills to create an extremely fine mince.

Similarly, mince the lime leaves and chilies into extremely fine particles.

Coat the beef filet with lemongrass, lime leaves, garlic and chilies, and pour over fish sauce and sesame oil. Turn a couple times to coat completely, and marinate for an hour or preferably more.

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Grill the steak over very hot coals for a couple minutes per side.

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Set aside to cool for 10-15 minutes. Slice.

Peel, halve, and slice cucumber. Chiffonade lettuce and herbs.

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Toast the peanuts in a cast iron pan.

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Give them a few pounds in a mortar or a few whirls in a coffee grinder.

Boil rice noodles for 2-3 minutes (or according to directions). Shock in ice bath, and rinse in cold water to remove residual starch.

Put noodles and steak into large mixing bowl and add herbs, lettuce, cucumber. Pour over nuoc cham dressing and toss to coat evenly. Dish out and top with chopped peanuts.

Beef Daube

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As winter winds down, it’s probably a good time to share one of my favorite winter dishes.

Beef Daube

  • 2 1/2 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1 1/2 inch-ish chunks
  • Few tablespoons of flour
  • 9-12 peeled cippolini onions – hey, Trader Joes has these, how easy!
  • 1 very large onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 or 3 carrots, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 2-3 stalks of celery, cut into 1/2 inch chunks
  • 10-12 or so garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 pound button mushrooms (if you really like mushrooms), whole or halved if really large
  • 3 thick slices of slab bacon, cut into 1/4 inch “lardons”
  • 3 tablespoons fine tomato paste
  • 2 cups broth, preferably beef
  • 1 bottle of red wine, like a Cotes de Rhone or something that sounds Frenchy
  • Few sprigs thyme and rosemary
  • One bunch of Italian parsley
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 tablespoons veal demi-glace reduction (or a slurry of the cooking liquid and corn starch – see note)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Egg noodles

Preheat an oven to 275 degrees.

Cut the stems of the parsley and set aside. Finely chop the parsley leaves, and put that in another container.

In a stainless steel saucepan, combine red wine, parsley stems, thyme, and rosemary. You can also augment with a pinch or two of dried herbs de provence. I do.

Bring wine to a simmer, lower heat, and simmer until the wine is reduced by half (probably 30 minutes or so). Remove herbs.

While that is happening, in a large dutch oven, heat olive oil to smoking. Toss beef with flour and season with salt and pepper. Brown beef in pan, and set aside, draining all liquid from the pan onto the same platter or bowl on which you are setting the beef aside.

Bring the pan back up to heat, add butter and bacon, then add onions, carrots, and celery, and cook over high heat, stirring often, for a few minutes. Add mushrooms and garlic, and sautee for a couple more minutes.

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Return beef and all the liquids back to the pot, and stir fry for a minute before adding wine, broth, tomato paste, bay leaves, and some salt and pepper. Bring to a nice simmer…

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Then place into oven, with a very loose cover of foil on top (do not cover completely). Cook in the oven for 2 to 2 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove and allow to cool. Set aside in the fridge overnight.

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The next day, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, add demi-glace and bring the pan back up to a simmer. Simmer for 15 minutes or so until it’s a nice consistency, while salting and peppering to taste.

NOTE: I use Demi Glace Gold or, more recently, Williams Sonoma, with good results. I love this stuff — it’s pricey, but an oh so rich and delicious way to thicken and “luxuriate” this stew or most anything really. Alternately, you can extract a 1/3 cup or so of the braising liquid and mix with a tablespoon or more of cornstarch to create a slurry, and slowly drizzle this into the simmering stew to help thicken things up a bit.

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I like to serve the daube on top of cooked egg noodles (straight, curly? your call), and top with a pinch of your finest finishing salt, a quick turn or two of the pepper grinder, and a sprinkle of parsley. Instant comfort.

Scallop Ceviche

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Here it is, in tostada form and sprinkled with Bufalo Jalapeño hot sauce.

  • One pound bay scallops, halved (or quartered if somewhat largish)
  • 2 limes
  • 1 smallish meyer lemon
  • 2 small clementine tangerines
  • 2 fresh roma tomatoes, finely diced
  • ½ small red onion, finely diced
  • 1 smashed and finely minced garlic clove
  • 2 green onion stalks, chopped
  • (½ combined bunch) of fresh chopped Italian parsley and cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste
Combine scallops, onions, herbs, tomatoes and oil in a large mixing bowl. Using a citrus press or juicer, extract juice from fruit and pour over mixture. Season with a few pinches of salt. Cover and allow to sit in fridge for three or four hours, stirring occasionally to mix things up a bit, you know?

Round eggs

I’ve long had a round egg fetish, and was pleased when this year I was gifted with a pair of these round egg molds purchased from Crate and Barrel.

Here are the results of employing the devices to top a smoked ham and anaheim chili hash. As you can see, these eggs are round.

On a side note, this hash used about $1.12 of raw ingredients, and tasted better than 90% of the hashes I’ve bought on the free market, yet people all over this city line up and wait for 55 minutes for the privilege of paying $10 or more for the same experience. I’ll never understand white people.

Satay and peanut sauce

Meat

  • 1 amount of Meat (pork shoulder strips, beef strips, chicken, but in long, thin strips)
  • Many stalks of lemon grass, trimmed on both ends, out leaves peeled, and minced like a muthafuck
  • 1 knob of galangal, peeled, julienned finely and pounded in a mortar
  • 1 small knob of ginger, peeled, julienned, and pounded in a mortar
  • Many cloves of garlic, peeled, and pounded in a mortar
  • A few thai bird chilies, stems removed, and pounded in mortar

Oh yeah, you need a mortar.

  • Stalk of green onions, coursely chopped
  • Tablespoon(s)ish of turmeric
  • Tablespoon(s)ish of sesame oil
  • Tablespoon(s)ish of fish sauce
  • Teaspoon or less ground coriander

Mix meat and marinade ingredients together. Allow to sit for a few hours or overnight. Soak wooden bamboo skewers (if using) for an hour in water.

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Pork.

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Beef.

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Chicken. Etc.

“Thread” the meat onto the skewer The surface area of each piece of meat should pierce the end of the skewer at least three times.

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Grill.

Peanut Sauce

  • 2 thai minced bird chilies
  • 1 stalk of lemon grass (de-nubbed and green tops snipped), finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 1 clove minced garlic
  • 4 kaffir lime leaves
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 7 tablespoons natural creamy peanut butter (no sugar)
  • 1/2 cup pounded (from a mortar) peanuts

Some people would say if you don’t use whole roasted peanuts and grind them yourself you’re a poser, but those people are most likely elitist egomaniacs and effete, latte-sipping Massachusetts liberals. My mom used Jiffy (or whatever corporate peanut butter that was on hand). A good choice is a natural brand that has no added sugar, and you can add sweetness yourself to taste (and the coconut milk lends sweetness as well). If you were really serious, though, you could go to New Seasons or the hippy aisle at Fred Meyer and grind fresh peanuts (which actually doesn’t sound that hard when I consider it), which would gain my admiration.

You could also experiment with the chunkiness factor, but mixing the ratio of creamy to chunky peanut butter. I would advise going against a pure chunky peanut butter, but that’s just a personal taste. For me, the right amount texture is achieved with a smash of a small handful of peanuts in the mortar, adding to the sauce at the end.

Heat a small amount of peanut oil in a saucepan. Add chilies, lemon grass, garlic, ginger and lime leaves, and sautee at high heat for a minute or two. Add coconut milk, fish sauce, turmeric and sugar, and bring to a boil.

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Reduce heat to lowest setting and let steep for 5-10 minutes.

Remove lime leaves. Add peanut butter, crank up the heat, and start stirring. Stir constantly until the peanut butter is completely incorporated, and sauce starts to boil. Reduce heat to lowest possible setting and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Watch out as the sauce can erupt and will bubble and possibly shoot hot projectiles of peanut sauce in the air like molten lava.

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When the sauce is thick, it’s ready to serve. Garnish with chopped peanuts.

Holiday eatings

This is a wonderful recipe that takes me back to my childhood. My father would make this dish for special occasions, such as Arbor Day, or, interestingly enough, on Nooruz, which is the Kyrgyzstan celebration of New Year that is actually commemorated in the spring. Despite the fact that he had never visited Kyrgyzstan, or had any ties whatsoever—ethnic or platonic—to this landlocked Central Asian country, my father fashioned himself as quite the Krygyz-ophile.

He once even went so far as to befriend a traveling group of Uyghur circus performers, who sponsored his admittance into their homeland in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China with the intention of leading him on a cross-border incursion into greater Kyrgyzstan (this was at the height of the Cold War). Unfortunately, while navigating the highland border crossing, a mule ate some of the psychedelic peyote buttons smuggled back by one of the Uyghur guides (scored during a night of reveling in Bisbee, AZ) and ended up killing half the expedition in a mad rampage.

My father’s life was spared when, in a fit of desperation, he frantically grasped at and accidentally—in a mad flailing—impaled the crazed beast with the dagger end of a kefta kebab skewer. The trip was cut short as the surviving members returned to base camp in order to properly lionize my father with song and fermented yak spittle. Then the Chinese Red Communists came in and imprisoned my father against his will, details of which I will not go into as they were documented in the 1997 movie Red Corner (starring Richard Gere), which is based loosely on my father’s travails.

Nooruz Dumplings (or Arbor Day Stew, or National Heroes’ Day Fricassée, or Administrative Professional’s Day Ragoût)

  1. Construct a lanyard from girded twine reinforced with titanium filaments.
  2. To this attach a bulb of elephant garlic using ordinary helicopter cabling hooks, and loop around your neck.
  3. Extract exactly 43 seeds from a dozen (or so) preserved Moroccan lemons.
  4. Using a vernier micrometer (in a pinch, a digital caliper will suffice), extract the top .002 millimetre sheath from each seed using your best carbide-based honing stone. Bless with elephant garlic by waving the lanyard exactly 2 cm above in exactly 7 counter-clockwise concentric circles (progressively diminishing in size, you may choose to honor the Golden Ratio…your call). Set aside.
  5. Meanwhile, in a large stockpot, pour 2573 milliliters of witchhazel stock over one free-range ham hock and the hoof of a middle-aged albino alpaca, and bring to a rapid boil.
  6. Add 2 tablespoons of tincture of wort (recipe to follow), stir, and lower to a low simmer.
  7. Bless the stock with garlic lanyard, this time maintaining a 5 cm seperation cushion, doubling the number of concentric circles (again, the Golden Ratio comes highly recommended), but this time use clockwise rotations, except on the very last (14th) rotation.
  8. Light an incense.
  9. In a non-stick 12-inch sautee pan, bring 2 tablespoons non-GMO rapeseed oil to smoking point over high temperature. Sear 8 ounces of lean, cubed Virginia Oppossum tenderloin (that has been sprinkled with Tamil peppercorns and Gibraltan sea salt) for 1 minute. Then take the garlic lanyard, smash against your forehead with a force strong enough to maim a small child, and then add to pan with lemon seed shavings and one gingko nut. Stir-fry until the papery garlic skins become translucent.
  10. Hermetically seal these ingredients with your favorite brand of high barrier plastic, and place inside a thermal immersion circulator and allow to cook sous vide at exactly 185 degrees Farenheight for a fortnight.
  11. When the meat has been cooked, plate in a shallow dish, top with a ladle of stock, and garnish with a dollop of wort tincture (recipe to follow).

Tincture of wort

  • 3 kilos assorted wort, including but not exlusive to Adderwort (aka Snakeweed), Blue Navelwort, Bullock’s or Cow’s Lungwort, Golden Ragwort, Laserwort, Mallowwort, or Sea Milkwort. However, I would advise against using Hemlock Dropwort, which imparts a slight bitterness that is not very pleasing to the palate.
  • 1123 milliliters of common bog liquid
  • 5346 milliliters desalinized North Sea water
  • One nutmeg berry
  • One tablespoon Brewer’s yeast

Bring all the ingredients to a boil in a pressure cooker, and cook for one hour. Decant the liquid using Spanish Moss as the filtering medium, then wash the residue, puree, and set aside. Reduce the liquid by 1/2, add 1/2 teaspoon of agar agar, pureed residue, and 1/8 a thimble of sodium sulphate. Stir well and salt to taste. Mixture with thicken as it stands.

Wonton noodle soup with soy eggs and bbq pork

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Now that I’ve made basic noodle stock and char sui pork, here’s one of my favorite soups to enjoy in the comfort of my own home. It enjoy it as a great weekend breakfast.

Soy Sauce Eggs

  • 6 eggs
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine or chinese black vinegar
  • Few dashes chili oil
  • Any “tincture” you want (garlic, ginger, five spice — you’re the boss)

Boil eggs for 5 minutes. Carefully drain and shock in cold water/ice. Carefully peel.

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Place eggs into shallow saucepan with the rest of the ingredients. Slowly bring to a steaming bath. Allow to steep over low temp for 30 minutes or more, flipping eggs often. Remove eggs from liquid and allow to cool.

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Here’s the finished product.

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These are wonton noodles. You can find them at most Asian markets for under $2/pound of fresh noodles.

Soup vegetation suggestions

Bok choy and other choy-type cabbages
Spinach
Mushrooms, shitake and otherwise
Bean sprouts
Celery greens/leaves

Garnishes

Soy sauce eggs
Char sui pork, sliced
Onion, sliced paper thin
Green onions
Cilantro
Chili oil/paste

Assemble

Bring 1 1/2 cups of basic noodle stock up to a boil. In another pan, bring enough water to temp to boil 1/4 to 1/3 pound of fresh wonton noodles.

Simultaneous add the vegetables to the boiling stock and noodles to the boiling water. Stir accordingly for 90 seconds. Kill heats.

Strain noodles, and immediatly place into large soup bowl. Throw in your garnishes, and pour over broth and veggies.

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As a final touch, grind fresh black and white pepper.

BBQ pork bánh mì

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I’ve described my process for making unnaturally red char sui bbq pork. Here’s what you can do with it. Make a sandwich.

I’ve made bánh mì on this blog a couple times in the past. Here’s a bbq pork bánh mì, with the requisite radish and carrot garnish, that, incidentally, if you leave to marinate on the counter at room tempurature for more than a few hours it will then smell like crusty taint seeped in an ass perfume.

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Ass Salad

  • Equal parts daikon radish and carrots (julienned, roughly—I prefer flatter pieces)
  • Rice vinegar and sugar (1 tablespoon sugar for every 1/2 cup of rice vinegar)

Combine and mix thoroughly. Allow to assify at room temp for an hour or two and then stick in the fridge.

Garnish

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For me, I need cilantro, jalapenos (preferably sliced length-wise), cucumber (essential), pickles, and Maggi.

I also usually prefer to sub in a conventional french roll from a local bakery, as opposed to a Viet/French bakery, whose crust I feel aren’t substantial enough to agnonizely pierce the top of my mouth. Label it gastronomic S&M, if you will.

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Slice up your char sui pork. Assemble the sandwich. I like to lightly toast the bread.

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A fully dressed sandwich. One of those rare moments in life where you think maybe all of it is really worth it.

Char sui pork

Here’s a secret.

I use the packet.

Yep.

The ingredients list of a representative packet, which you can pick up at any Asian store for anywhere from $.69 to $1.19. Reputable brands include Noh and Mama Sita. What’s not to like? Anti-caking agent…yum.

Here’s the deal. This marinade is pretty standard, and you can forego the packet, but I eat with my eyes. I need the red. I get off on the red. Eating something red really indulges a fetish I can’t fully explain.

And if that means I eat a bit of food coloring, I’m ok with that. Isn’t this molecular gastronomy? And it is “natural”. It’s a derivation of anatto/achiote. And probably cochineal beetle.

Char Sui Pork

  • 2 pounds pork of various sort, preferably a fatty cut like country style ribs (if I’m using something like a pork shoulder, I like to trim fat and tie it back up with butcher twine )
  • 1/2 packet commercial char sui seasoning. I prefer Noh brand, which is plenty RED
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice wine
  • Couple squirts chili oil (more RED!) or sesame oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder

Combine all ingredients except for the meat, and mix well to create a nice slurry, sludgey liquid. Pour over meat and use your hands to really get the marinade in there. The meat should be red. If it’s not sufficiently red enough, I would add more of the char sui seasoning or perhaps slit your jugular and allow the contents to spill all over the pork.

Allow to marinade for at leat 4 hours, more if you are like me and like flavor.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the pork on a sheet pan or wire rack, reserving marinade, and roast for 20-25 minutes. “Lacquer” marinade with a brush every 10 minutes, three times (an additional 30 minutes or so).

Remove, allow to cool, and slice up.

This marinade is equally delicious with spare ribs. The marinade is equivalent to the brining that I usually do when I cook ribs, though I would tent the ribs with foil in a 250 degree oven and steam/roast/bake for 90 minutes before finishing off/lacquering on an open flame grill.

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Often, at Asian markets you can find individually sliced ribs for the purpose of making individual, cha sui ribs. Here’s those ribs marinating with a loin or two. Acknowledge the red.

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And the pork all cooked up.

Now that you have a lot of char sui pork on hand, you can use it in stir fries, banh mi sandwiches, salad rolls, and, my favorite…

…as a topping for noodle soups.

Carne Guisado

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This is essentially a red chili stew that can be made with either pork or beef. The key here is low and slow, and long, which allows the collagen of the meat to break down and become fall-apart tender. My adaptation here is fairly spicy; you might want to tone it down if you’re trying this at home.

The can of commercially made chili sauce may sound like an unnecessary shortcut to you. That’s your right. You’re entitled to your opinion. I just like the way it sort of “rounds” things off. You could omit and increase the liquid and dried/powdered chili if you feel like riding that high horse.

Carne Guisado

  • 3 pounds beef shank, beef chuck, or pork shoulder, trimmed of excess fat (probably around 2 1/2 pounds), cut into one inch pieces
  • Flour
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 28 oz can Mexican brand red chili sauce (such as Las Palmas)
  • 1 1/2 cups beef broth
  • 4 dried guajillo chilies, stem and seeds removed
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 7 cloves garlic, forced through garlic press
  • 1/2 teaspoon pasilla chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon chile de arbol powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon new mexico chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 dried habanero peppers, stemmed
  • 1/4 bunch of cilantro, torn

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Put guajillo chilies in a small saucepan and cover with 1 cup of beef broth. Simmer on low for 20 minutes. Remove chilies to cool.

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Split the chilies, and using the back of your knife, scrape the flesh from the inside of chili. Discard the skin.

Put meat pieces into a large mixing bowl and dust with flour, and mix to coat lightly. Heat vegetable oil in cast iron dutch oven, and brown beef.

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Add the the rest of the ingredients, stir to mix, and bring to a rapid simmer.

Cover and transfer to oven. Wait 2.5 hours, remove cover, stir, and return to the oven for another hour. Make sure you don’t eat those habaneros.

There are a couple ways I like to consume this. One way, as you can see in the first photo in this post, is with a mildly seasoned rice.

Rice

  • 1 cup long grain white rice
  • 1 1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 tablespoon or so vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon anatto seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Put oil in small saucepan, add anatto seeds, and allow the seeds to perfume/color the oil over low heat for ten minutes. Drain oil into large saucepan and throw away the seeds.

Heat oil over medium heat, add onion and sweat. Add rice, garlic, spices, and saute for a couple minutes. Pour over broth, stir, cover, and simmer over low for 15 minutes. Turn off heat and allow to sit for half an hour. Remove cover and fluff rice.

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Another option I enjoy is shredding the meat with a fork.

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And enjoying it in taco format with your favorite table salsas and chopped onion/cilantro.

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Or the next morning fry up a couple corn tortillas and an egg. Put the egg on top of the tortilla, top with shredded stew meat, add a few spoonfuls of the sauce, top with queso fresco, and put under the broiler for 30 seconds. Top with chopped onion/cilantro and a squirt of hot salsa.

Meatball soup

I like the New Seasons butcher counter. It’s a shame, as my entire life in Portland, I lived biking distance to a New Seasons (Sellwood, then Concordia, then Arbor Lodge), but now that I live in Southwest there’s no longer a New Season super close-by. However, there is a Fantasy Video Adult Superstore.

I digress. New Seasons has a variety of ground meats and sausages of various derivations, sold by the pound, ground and prepared on the premises. They have a nice selection of ground chicken, including an excellent spicy Italian sausage. After seeing Je Mange La Ville’s take on Italian Wedding Soup, I decided to give it a shot using New Seasons spicy chicken sausage, rolled into meatball form, which added a nice undulating heat to the soup. And instead of a small Italian pasta, I used orzo, which is more associated with Greek cuisine. And I didn’t add the egg, which to me would remind me too much of egg drop soup. I also added other stuff. So think of this as…

Italian Divorce Soup (with a Pre-Nup)

  • 3 quarts homemade chicken broth
  • 1 pound ground, hot italian chicken sausage
  • One tablespoon butter
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 6 stalks of celery, leaves and ends trimmed, split lengthwise then sliced 1/4″ thick
  • 3 or 4 decent sized carrots, peeled, sliced into coins
  • 8 oz. sliced button mushroom
  • Entire bunch of green kale or chard, chopped
  • 1 garlic cloved, minced
  • 3 sprigs of thyme
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning or marjoram
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 4 ounces dried orzo
  • Salt and pepper

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Roll those meatballs.

Melt butter in large pot or dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, and celery, season with dried herbs and some salt and pepper. Sweat vegetables for a couple minutes. Raise heat to high, add white wine, and stir for a minute or two.

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Add garlic, mushrooms, kale, and pour chicken broth over everything, and bring to a boil. Add meatballs, lower heat to low, and simmer for ten minutes. Add orzo, and continue to simmer for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to your tastes. I find soups much more pleasurable allow it to sit and “steep” for a while before eating. Your results may vary.

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Enjoy it on a cold, rainy day, of which we have many in Portland. If you live in some place that’s perpetually sunny and warm, you can still enjoy a hot bowl of soup before your environment becomes inhabitable and your society eventually erodes.

I got nothing by which to appreciate loafed meat

It’s National Meatloaf Appreciation Day. All the cool kids are doing cool things, conjuring up loafed meat dishes worthy of praise, like Michelle @Je Mange la Ville, who is doing things with her usual aplomb.

Me, I got nothing. I was dreaming up a layered meatloaf with alternating layers of ground pork and veal with whole cloves of roasted garlic, wild mushroom duxelle, topped with a tomato jam, but I’m moving to a new house and have spent the last 4 weeks up to my butthole in paint and bleach and hammers and kitchen shelf liner.

So I’m trotting out out an old post. Consider it made from “recycled post-consumer and post-industrial waste”. This is for kefta kabobs, which is a form of loafed meat, in this case around a metal skewer.

Happy National Meatloaf Appreciation Day. Now appreciate the fuck out this tired, recycled post, bitches.

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I like kebabs. I particularly enjoy the Kefta kebab, which is ground meat formed around a skewer in kebab-like fashion. I like saying the word kefta. It’s one of those words, like película and Kofi Annan, that you never grow tired of saying. I remember when Congress a couple years ago was debating the merits of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, I secretly wished the debate would draw out into a longer, more contentious debate than it had at the time, just because I enjoyed all the talking heads uttering the acronym “CAFTA” (which was close enough for me). Each time I watched the news I’d get hungry.

You can make this with beef or lamb (or beef and lamb) as well. New Seasons sells ground lamb, though keep in mind it is very fatty and will imbue the atmosphere with quite a gamy scent for some time (especially if your hood isn’t all that). My wife was all bothered and stuff, but the deliciousness factor made her harangues worth it.

Kefta Kebab

  • 1 and one-half pounds ground beef or lamb (or both!)
  • 1 bunch chopped fresh Italian parsley, reserve a couple tablespoons (to cook with rice)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, forced through a press
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Ground pepper
  • Salt to your taste

Meat

Combine everything in a large mixing bowl and mix together with your hands. I like to use long, flat broad metal skewers — mold the meat around the length of the skewer and pat to form an elongated, rectangular patty.

Brown

Heat a grill pan over medium-high and brown skewers on each of the 4 ends, 2 minutes or so each side. Remove and let sit for a few minutes.

You can eat this skewers by themselves. But c’mon, man, don’t be such freak.

Rice Pilaf

  • Olive oil or butter (2 tablespoons)
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 chopped tomato
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Salt

Rice

Preheat oven to 325 F. Rinse and soak rice in water for half hour. Drain. Heat oil or butter in a medium saucepan (with a tight fitting lid) over medium heat. Add onions and sweat for a couple minutes, then add garlic, rice and saffron and sautee for a couple minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, and broth. Bring to boil, cover, and place in oven for 20 minutes. Allow the rice to sit on stovetop for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Sumac Onions

  • 1 white onion, halved and sliced
  • Ground sumac
  • Olive oil

Sautee onions in oil. Hit with sumac when they start to caramelize, and serve over kebabs.

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I like to squeeze lemon over the kebab, onions, and rice.

Bún Riêu

This is a classic Vietnamese seafood soup with a flavorful stock that draws flavor from a crab (or shrimp) paste “whip”, tomatoes and — like nearly all southeast Asian soups — fresh and distinctly aromatic herb garnishes.

The genesis for this version of Bún Riêu was the leftover carcass of a Diestel turkey. Pork pork neck bones were added as the stock starter, in addition to a combination of seafood-ish elements. Traditionally, if you are going full out, you’d get a whole crab and use that as your stock starter.

A big flavor component in this particular Bún Riêu was imparted by a couple dried seafood ingredients. Dried shrimp and dried scallops are added when simmering and removing the stock, adding a wonderful complexity. Dried shrimp are an easy score – most Asian (and all Vietnamse/Thai) markets will have them, and on the cheap, too. The dried scallops are another issue. They can be spendy, but they’re big on flavor, so a little goes a long way.

Here’s a commercially available crab paste which can be used for the protein “whip”. This brand is Taste Nirvana.

A Thai brand.

One thing I appreciate about Taste Nirvana is the seal on their label boasting of being 100% Real. When I cook, it’s important to me that the ingredients I use actually exist.

I’ve used shrimp sauce as well. A note on shrimp sauce: Shrimp sauce can come in a variety of forms. Lee Kum Kee makes a version that looks like a sludgy concrete slurry that’s probably best used to pave parking lot structures. Stay away from it. The kind you want is pinkly hued with a fair amount of crimson oil.

This version, in particular, had the word “Bún Riêu” right there on the label. Amazing, the serendipity. Don’t use the concentrated Thai variety (which is a very thick, dark red paste), Malaysian, or the Filipino versions.

A note on garnishes: I’ve added freshly poached shrimp and scored filets of squid, in addition to sliced raw onion and green onions. Fresh herbs really are essential to Bún Riêu – cilantro and the mint are vital, IMO. Spearmint, saw leaf herb, thai basil, in addition to more exotic herbs like fish mint and Vietnamese coriander (rau rahm) — it’s all good. Bean sprouts are essential, as is a squeeze of citrus (I prefer lemon with my Bún Riêu). Other garnishes could be a pinch of chiffonade of lettuce and banana blossoms.

Bún Riêu

Preparing the Broth

  • Pre-made pork bone or chicken broth or both. Obviously a lot…a couple gallons or more.
  • 2-3 tablespoons tamarind soup paste or 1/2 Tamarind packet (such as Knorr)
  • Two dozen shrimp
  • A few cuttlefish/calamari bodies, sliced to create 1 or 2 inch “filets”, and scored horizontally
  • Dried shrimp (a little more than a dozen or so)
  • Dried scallops (four or five)
  • Small handful Whole peppercorns (white and black)

Add all ingredients together, bring to a boil. Remove fresh shrimp and calamari once they are cooked through, and set aside as garnish. Simmer on lowest setting for an hour.

Preparing the “Whip”

  • Crab or Shrimp paste (2/3 of small jar – see the note above)
  • Dried shrimp and scallop from broth (above)
  • 10-12 raw shrimp
  • 1 egg + 5 egg whites
  • Ground white pepper
  • 2 finely chopped green onions

Strain the broth. Remove dried shrimp and scallops. Using a mini-prep processor, grind up the shrimp/scallops, followed by raw shrimp. Give a few pulses to get a coarse grind. Beat eggs in a large mixing bowl, and add all remaining ingredients and mix into a paste.

Finishing the Broth

  • 1 white onion, thinly sliced
  • Vegetable oil
  • 3 large tomatoes, cut into 1/8ths
  • Fish sauce aka Nuoc Mam
  • “Whip” from above

Fry the white onions. Add tomatoes and onions into broth, bring to boil. Stir and lower to low grade, simmering boil. Season the broth with nuoc mam as needed.

Grab the “whip” mixture and, using a medium spoon, drop lumps of the mixture into the undulating broth. These lumps will soon cook, rise to the top, and create a networked island of protein floatillas.

Turn off the heat and let stand for a half hour to meld flavors.

Assemble and Serve

Boil rice noodles and rinse with cold water. Assemble 4 ounces or so in a bowl. Garnish with shrimp and squid, paper thin sliced raw red onions, cilantro, chopped green onions, basil, mint, cilantro, culantro, Vietnamese coriander, bean sprout, etc. I like to give the bowl a quick 20 seconds in the microwave to bring things up to lukish-warm.

Pour hot broth over the soup, making sure to get a few choice protein flotillas. Squeeze lemon and snip a bird chili. You’re there.

Closeup shot of a protein floatilla. The texture is hard to describe, and could be somewhat offputting for the virgin, but once you get a craving you don’t lose it.

Lipstick on a pig (or, rather, cow)

A few Xmas-es ago, I got my sister and her boyfriend a Calphalon grill pan as a present. Since they live in San Francisco, amongst the beatniks, grifters, and militant hobos, they are cramped for space and don’t have an outdoor patio by which to grill tasty meats. They claim the Calphalon is the best pan they’ve ever used for cooking steaks indoors. I tend to think nothing tops an old, worn-out cast iron pan, but I’ll let them think what they want.

Then I watched an episode of America’s Test Kitchen on PBS. That preachy Vermont guy and his trusty oily sidekick ran through a number of stovetop grill pans and proclaimed the Calphalon was the only brand that was worth its anodized aluminum.

Pan

Since I always need my decisions validated by a third party, I decided to pick one up for myself.

Tenderizer

Also, since I had a leftover gift card from Christmas, I bought one of these meat tenderizers. I recalled flipping through the SkyMall™ during some flight and they featured this meat tenderizer that boasted it could make even the most erstwhile cut of beef as tender as sheets of caul fat soaked in rendered lard. Or something.

Prong

As you can see, the prongs of the tenderizer are quite menacing. I’m surprised a meat tenderizer was never used as plot device in the Sopranos.

To test the claims of the shameless copywriters who work for SkyMall™, I decided to pick up a grass-fed top round steak from Whole Foods, a cut you wouldn’t generally eat in steak form. I proceeded to rock the shit out of that flesh, nailing it a dozen times per side, then salted and peppered the pulverized steak before christening on the Calphalon. For good measure I sauteed some red chard in the same grill pan.

Steak

So did it work? Does the meat tenderizer make a top round taste like a filet mignon? Of course not, you fucking fool. But it does help a bit, especially if you intend to marinade your meat.

Simple carnivore pleasures

Steak-Sandwiches

Sometimes, especially on the tail end of a late, warm summer’s eve, all you really need is some grilled beef, crusty bread, and sliced tomatoes. A cold beer and a seventh-inning stretch, and it reminds you that being alive is sometimes preferable than the alternatives.

I like to keep it working-class by using a sliced flat iron or sirloin (pictured above, from New Seasons market here in Portland). The steak itself is simply brushed with olive oil, and seasoned with sea salt and coarse cracked pepper. Maybe a couple sprigs of fresh rosemary from the garden.

Stack each slice of bread with tomatoes and a few slices of steak, and swallow.

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The best part? The tomato/steak juice residue that collects on the plate. Be sure to save a couple slices of bread to sop this up, as this is the essence of life itself.

Cold noodles

Korean-Cold-Opening-1

It’s June. That means the return of the heat, and the start of the cold noodle season. Unless you find yourself living in Phoenix, at which point you should kill yourself.

There are two brands of instant cold noodles I frequent during the warm months. You can certainly buy dried noodles, such as chuka soba, and make your own dressing. Go ahead.

Myojo-Package

The first brand is Myojo Chukazanmai. This is a Japanese style, and the noodles cook up like conventional ramen noodles. Myojo, incidentally, is the Cadillac of instant ramen. Their broths (for their shoyu, hot bean paste, and XO lobster flavors) are unparalled.

Myojo-Noodle-Cake

Unlike many instant noodles, the noodle block — dried, hard, and brittle — is not fried. The instructions on the packet call for a cooking time of 5 to 6 minutes, but I wouldn’t take it a second further than 4 and half minutes, especially if you like your noodles al dente.

Myojo-Packets

The dressing (which features soy, sesame paste and oil) is fantastic. They include a diminutive companion pack of hot mustard. Incidentally, if you get the prepared cold noodle dish in the deli case at Uwajimaya, this is what they are using — the unopened packets are right there in the plastic container. These noodles, prepared by the Uwajimaya staff and featuring egg and a few slivers of cucumber and roast park, are sold for $5.25, but you can pick the dried packets up on their shelves for $1.99. You do the math. You can also get Myojo at Fubonn for $1.39.

The second style is from the venerable Korean conglomerate Wang GlobalNet. Wang is a fine name in Korean foodstuffs, and their cold noodles are excellent.

Wang-Packet

You can find Wang in the freezer aisle at Uwajimaya, and it’s very affordable — $1.59 for a two-pack serving.

Wang-Noodles-Raw

Once you defrost the brick hard noodle block, the strands are more similar to conventional fresh noodles. They cook up to a perfect toothsome consistency in just 3 minutes.

Wang-Pepper-Packet

The dressing packet is a completely different style than Myojo, and like many Korean products, it is devilishly incendiary, red, and spicy. I find the dressing to be a bit too thick, so I’ll add a couple splashes of rice wine vinegar, and drizzle of sesame oil, and a squirt of soy to loosen things up a bit.

So what to put in/on/around your cold noodles? The packages themselves have some very helpful suggestions, and you can gleam some ideas from the photos featured on the packaging as well.

Cold-Noodles-Mise

My mise place. In this case, sliced tamago egg omelette, sliced Japanese cucumber ($2.99/lb at Uwajimaya — small, slender, with a very thick, somewhat bitter skin), chopped green onions, julienne carrot, browned and sliced English cottage bacon, and chopped Italian parsley (I like the fresh, grassy essence it lends). Other suggestions: cilantro, various, delicious sliced hams of assorted styles and origin, Chinese-style BBQ pork (char siu), tomato, even celery.

Wang-Noodles

Squash and shrimp soup

This is a criminally simple soup, yet it’s very satisfying. Growing up, we referred to this as “canh” (literally, “soup”), and a fresh pot often sat on the back of the stove, recently simmered, waiting to be ladled on top of hot rice from the steamer.

This soup features a opo squash (“bau”), a large, long gourd with a pale green flesh. It is sold at all Vietnamese markets, and I’ve seen it at Fubonn and Uwajimaya. Some will describe the flavor as similar to zucchini. I suppose this is somewhat true. But I wouldn’t substitute zucchini in this soup anymore than I would substitue lime zest for lemongrass, or listen to Black Rebel Motorcycle Club instead of Jesus and Mary Chain, or masturbate to the mental image of Kirsten Dunst rather than Jessica Alba. OK, that’s a bit extreme. I actually listened to B.R.M.C. a lot, and Howl was a suprising changeup. And lime zest can add a nice flavor profile.

Squash and Shrimp Soup

  • 1 large opo squash, or 2 smaller
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 pound shelled and deveined shrimp
  • 6 green onions, chopped
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, leaves separated (discard stems), and coarsly chopped
  • Coarse cracked pepper (I like a lot — probably too much — but that’s me)
  • Salt
  • Fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 sliced yellow onion

Using a small food processor, pulse the shrimp, half the green onions, and half the cilantro.

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You could also do this on a wide cutting board. Lay the shrimp out, layer on the onions and cilantro, and go to town. I don’t like to go too minced out, though, preferring bits and pieces of shrimp to come through. Though shrimp meatballs could work just fine.

Transfer the meat to a bowl, and season with sugar, fish sauce (tablespoon or so), sesame oil, and pepper. Mix thoroughly and set aside.

Heat water in a large dutch oven. Peel squash, trim off ends, and cut into 1/2 inch discs, and then 1/2 juliennes. You can go real skinny, too — this was how my mom commonly sliced her squash.

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Drop into pot and bring to a boil.

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Once you have a nice boil, add sliced onion and use a spoon to drop small “dumplings” of the shrimp into the boiling soup.

Lower heat to a simmer, and salt (augmenting with a few squirts of fish sauce) to season to your taste. Once there, remove from heat, and throw in the onions and cilantro (but don’t stir). Cover partially and let sit for half hour or more.

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I almost always serve this soup on top of a couple spoonfuls of steamed jasmine rice, and give it a couple squirts of Maggi to round out the flavor.

Pan-fried pomfret with lemongrass

This is a good recipe for any whole fish, but these small little pomfrets are well-suited to soak up all the flavors.

Marinade/Crust

  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 3 thai bird chilies
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Black pepper

Cut off the green fibrous ends of the lemongrass, and slice thin then mince as fine as possible. Combine with garlic, chilies, fish sauce, sugar, and pepper.

Score the pomfrets on a bias (this helps the flavor to seep into the flesh). Coat with marinade, and allow to sit for half hour or more.

Heat neutral vegetable (i.e. peanut) oil in pan, and fry the pomfrets on each side, 3-4 minutes per side.

The skin become crisp and really holds a lot of flavor. This is great with plain, steamed jasmine rice. I’ll even scrape the pan of the leftover, browned bits of the crust (and oil) and eat that alongside the fish and rice.

This can also be adapted for a skinless filet (like halibut, above), but really works well with a whole fish.

Kimchi bánh mì

Opening-Kimchi-Banh-Mi

As I was making kimchi, it occurred to me that the daikon and carrots I was prepping at the time could also do double duty as the garnish for some bánh mì down the road. As I considered setting aside some vegetables for some mandolin action, an idea was born…the kimchi bánh mì, using kimchi’d (that’s a transitive verb) daikon and carrots.

First of all, the lemongrass pork that serves as the protein for this particular sandwich.

Grilled Lemongrass Pork

  • 1 pound boneless country-style pork ribs
  • 3 stalks of lemon grass, ends trimmed, and minced like a motherfuck
  • Few cloves garlic
  • 3 bird chilis
  • 1 inch knob of ginger
  • Fish sauce
  • Tablespoon sugar

Smash the ginger, garlic and chilis in a mortar to form a paste. Put in a bowl and combine with lemongrass and sugar. Add fish sauce and mix lightly until a thick sludge develops. Slather this all over the pork and allow to marinade for a few hours.

Grilling-Pork

Get some hot coals going on one side of a grill, and grill the pork. If you’re using the ribs, you’ll want to alternate between the hot/cool side of grills, and give them some time…I dunno, 40 minutes? Just whatever feels right, I’m not going to nanny you. If you’re using a leaner cut like a tenderloin or even shoulder steaks, you’ll want to reduce the time of course.

While the pork cools a bit, get your sandwich house in order.

Bread

The bread. These are from a local Vietnamese bakery (behind the Pho Oregon on East 82nd). You can pick these up at Vietnamese stores around town (5 for about $1.50).

Garnish

The garnish. I like cucumber on my bánh mì, and lots of cilantro. In this case I had some Thai basil, so I figured what the hell. And don’t forget the Maggi.

So here’s how it went down. I sliced up that pork, stuffed everything into a toasted roll, and topped with slivers of daikon and carrots I carefully extracted from my kimchi.

Sandwich

I think I ate three of them that day.

Vietnamese Chicken Slaw

Opening-Shot

With the return of warm weather, it’s quickly becoming salad season. This is a crunchy, tangy, and healthy salad. Salad.

Vietnamese Chicken Slaw

This will serve probably 3-4 people as a main dish, and more if serving as an appetizer or if those people are diminutive, children, or drug-addicted models.

Salad Components

  • 1/2 a cooked chicken, shredded (I like to use more of the white meat)
  • 1 head green cabbage
  • 2 carrots, shredded
  • 1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped coarsely
  • dozen or so leaves spearmint
  • 6 or so purple perilla leaves
  • 6 or so thai basil leaves

Dressing

  • 1 clove of garlic, forced through a garlic press
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Juice of one nice, large juicy lime (or two smaller limes)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 thai bird chilies, minced
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon garlic chili sauce or siracha

Garnish

  • Handful of roasted peanuts (no skins)

Dressing: whisk together all ingredients, and set aside to “steep”.

Peanuts

Crush the peanuts in a mortar with a pestle.

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Chiffonade the cabbage. You can skip this step by buying those pre-cut coleslaw packages in the E. coli aisle of the produce section of your local mega-mart. There’s often carrots in the mix, too, so that will save you the step of shredding the carrots.

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Get your herbs in order. What is perilla? It’s essentially shiso — a broad leafed member of the mint family. The versions utilized in Vietnamese cooking have a purple face. Chiffonade the perilla and mint, and along with cilantro, combine with the cabbage, carrots, and chicken in a large mixing bowl. Whisk dressing and pour over salad, and toss.

Closeup-Slaw

Garnish with peanuts.

Lamb Kefta Kebabs

Opening-3

I like kebabs. I particularly enjoy the Kefta kebab, which is ground meat formed around a skewer in kebab-like fashion. I like saying the word kefta. It’s one of those words, like película and Kofi Annan, that you never grow tired of saying. I remember when Congress a couple years ago was debating the merits of the Central America Free Trade Agreement, I secretly wished the debate would draw out into a longer, more contentious debate than it had at the time, just because I enjoyed all the talking heads uttering the acronym “CAFTA” (which was close enough for me). Each time I watched the news I’d get hungry.

You can make this with beef or beef and lamb as well. New Seasons sells ground lamb, though keep in mind it is very fatty and will imbue quite a gamy scent into the atmosphere for some time. My wife was all bothered and stuff, but the deliciousness factor made her harangues worth it.

Kefta Kebab

  • 1 and one-half pounds ground beef or lamb (or both!)
  • 1 bunch chopped fresh Italian parsley, reserve a couple tablespoons (to cook with rice)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 egg
  • 1/3 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 or 4 garlic cloves, forced through a press
  • 1 white onion, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Ground pepper
  • Salt to your taste

Meat

Combine everything in a large mixing bowl and mix together with your hands. I like to use long, flat broad metal skewers — mold the meat around the length of the skewer and pat to form an elongated, rectangular patty.

Brown

Heat a grill pan over medium-high and brown skewers on each of the 4 ends, 2 minutes or so each side. Remove and let sit for a few minutes.

You can eat this skewers by themselves. But c’mon, man, don’t be such freak.

Rice Pilaf

  • Olive oil or butter (2 tablespoons)
  • 2 cups basmati rice
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 chopped tomato
  • Pinch of saffron
  • Salt

Rice

Preheat oven to 325 F. Rinse and soak rice in water for half hour. Drain. Heat oil or butter in a medium saucepan (with a tight fitting lid) over medium heat. Add onions and sweat for a couple minutes, then add garlic, rice and saffron and sautee for a couple minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, and broth. Bring to boil, cover, and place in oven for 20 minutes. Allow the rice to sit on stovetop for 10 minutes, then fluff with a fork.

Sumac Onions

  • 1 white onion, halved and sliced
  • Ground sumac
  • Olive oil

Sautee onions in oil. Hit with sumac when they start to caramelize, and serve over kebabs.

Plated-2

I like to squeeze lemon over the kebab, onions, and rice.

Buffalo burger

Front

I ran across these buffalo patties in the freezer case at Costco. They come 8 to a package (5 oz each).

Copy

As you can see, the copywriting on the back of the package educates on the plight of this poor animal, detailing the rough and tumble history this noble creature has endured over the centuries, fighting off near extinction just so we can eat it today. What a cruel, cruel fait accompli. We are all grim, macabre, and willing merchants of death.

One selling point for buffalo meat is the relative lean meat it provides. A 5 oz patty in this case has only 12 grams of fat, whereas a typical ground chuck burger would contain around 30 grams. At 9 calories per gram of fat, that’s a quite a savings. So much of a savings, in fact, that…well, you know those burgers, that are like, double burgers? Yeah.

Burger

Verdict? Meaty. Big. Bold. Substantial. It tastes as if you took Montana and stuck it between a toasted bun and dressed it with sharp Tillamook cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and distilled vinegar sauces.

Pho Tai

Pho

EatDrink&BeMerry asked for a Pho recipe, so here’s mine.

The Portland Angle

This Portland-centric info won’t help EatDrink&BeMerry, but he lives in Southern California, the land of Ranch 99 markets and over a quarter of a million Vietnamese, so I’m sure he’ll manage. (After all, he’s a resourceful guy who managed to score an entire segment in Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations LA episode!)

There’s a short list of stores I would consider for an all-inclusive Pho run. They are in my order of preference:

1. Thanh Thao market, 65th and Sandy.
2. Hong Phat market on Prescott and 99th.
3. Fubonn
4. Uwajimaya

Certainly, there are other stores.

The first two market are Vietnamese, Fubonn is pan-Asian, as is Uwajimaya, though the latter obviously primarily Japanese. But Uwajimaya sells fresh rice noodles, has an incomparable selection of Asian produce, and you can find bones necessary to make a fine stock.

But it’s at Vietnamese markets like Than Thao where you’re going to have certain details taken care for you. Like at the butcher counter you can get pre-bagged portions of beef leg soup bones, and oxtails by the pound.

I like to buy my meat pre-sliced from Thanh Thao market on 65th and Sandy – it’s lean, consistently thin slices of the eye of round. At $3.29/lb, it’s a bargain.

If you are slicing it from home from your own eye, you can freeze it for an hour before slicing. It’s key to get the meat as thin as possible. If for some reason round is unavailable, you could also in a pinch use london broil, but keep it cheap and lean. This is peasant food, and something like strip or ribeye would be wasteful. That’s not to say a frou-frou version of Pho Tai couldn’t be something like, say, raw buffalo carpaccio draped on fresh rice tagliatelli and poached with scalding hot, anise-and-lovage-scented brown veal stock, topped with julienne of cinnamon basil and saw leaf herb, but you wouldn’t see me making this in my humble kitchen (even if I had the ambition).

Pho Tai

Pho Tai basically means Pho with raw, lean beef (“Tai”). This is my favorite type of Pho, but it is also very good with braised, tender beef (commonly brisket — Chin), or with lean, cooked flank (Nam). With two types of meat? Pho Tai Chin.

The Broth

I like a fragrant broth. Many people would probably be bothered by the variety and proliferation of aromatics and spices in my Pho broth. I don’t care. I live life to the fullest, with wanton disregard for prudes and haters.

  • A few pounds of beef leg bones (you could use oxtails — expensive, but tasty — and strip the meat from the bones for the Pho Tai Chin)
  • 1 extremely large onion
  • A bunch of water
  • One cinnamon stick
  • 6-8 star anise
  • 10 cloves
  • 1 decent knob of ginger, washed
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • Couple carrots
  • Half bunch of celery
  • 1 nugget of rock sugar
  • Kosher Salt
  • Fish sauce
  • MSG (yes, MSG! Ajinomoto, of course)

Put the bones in a large stockpot and cover with water…say a full 12 inches over the bones themselves, and crank up the heat.

My mom impressed the following method upon me: peel the onion, and then stud that thing with cloves, really sticking the points deep into the onion flesh to make sure they are firmly implanted. Turn on the flame of your gas stove (or you can use a creme brulee or crackpipe torch) and, using tongs, scald that allium, turning to toast all the clove points and to get an even char all over the onion. Throw into the stockpot, and repeat with ginger.

Put the rest of the spices into a dry cast iron pan, and toast over high heat for a minute, and dump into the pot. Add carrots (unpeeled) and celery.

Disclaimer: for a clear broth, some people say to boil the bones, and skim off the “foam”. But I prefer just to allow everything to simmer for a buttload of time (the impurities seem to melt and evaporate away) and then strain.

So…bring everything to a healthy boil, then add rock sugar and reduce to simmer. Personally, I would have started this around 8am or 8pm, because this is going to take a while. Simmer for 6-8 hours. Yes…even overnight on the lowest of low settings.

Strain broth through a fine sieve (it helps to own more than one stockpot — I own three. But I am a notorious hoarder). Sometimes I’ll cool the broth in the fridge, and skim off the coagulated fat “sheet” that accumulates. Other times I’ll just eat an unctuous first bowl of Pho, and then cool and skim later.

Bring back to a healthy simmer, and season with fish sauce (3 tablespoons?), salt, and a couple teaspoons of MSG. Do this in stages, and taste constantly. There is no magic formula — everything is approximate and requires constant salty bootstrapping to get it just right.

The noodles

Noodles

Use fresh, thin rice noodles. Usually 99 cents for an entire pound. Blanch in boiling water for no more than 20 seconds, and then strain and bowl immediately.

Assemble

Bring the broth to a roiling boil. Drape thin slices of Tai over the noodles. Top with:

  • Paper thin slices of onion
  • Sliced green onions
  • Chopped cilantro
  • The leaves from a few sprigs of Thai basil
  • A small handful of bean sprouts
  • 2-3 torn pieces of culantro (ngo gai aka saw leaf herb)
  • Fresh chilis (I like to snip two small bird chilis with kitchen shears, but sliced jalapenos are quite common)

Using a ladle, skim the scalding, boiling broth over the noodles, beef, and garnishes. Hit that soup with a couple dashes of nuoc mam (fish sauce) and the juice of half a lime, and give it a few grinds of white and black pepper. Enjoy.

Noodles

Egg, Pork (and Shrimp) “Pancakes”

Stack

I ate this all the time growing up. My mom would make a dozen of these, and my brothers and I would eat them over the course of a day or two. It was an easy, go-to meal in our household.

I suppose you can call this a version of the ubiquitous Egg Foo Young. It’s actually known as Trung Mam Hap, but this is my take on the steamed Vietnamese egg dish. That version is more like a cross between a Japanese omelette for sushi (tamago) and a soufflé. I’m not a huge fan of the texture of Trung Mam Hap — for me it’s too light and delicate. This is more substantial and savory, in my opinion. I have enough emasculation issues already.

Egg, Pork (and Shrimp) “Pancakes”

  • 3/4 lb ground pork
  • 1/3 cup dried woodear mushroom strips, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, and drained
  • 2 or 3 minced garlic cloves
  • 2 or 3 chopped shallots
  • 3 green onion, chopped
  • Cracked black pepper
  • 1/8 pound mung bean thread noodles, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, and drained
  • 6-7 healthy dashes of nuoc mam
  • 1/4 pound raw, chopped (very fine to almost a ground consistency) shrimp
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 6 eggs

Beat eggs in a bowl. Combine all ingredients (except eggs) in a separate, large mixing bowl. Pour eggs over meat mixture, and use your hands to really mix the shit together.

Pour out “batter” on preheated, oiled non-stick pan. Cover and cook over medium low for 5 minutes. Flip and repeat, uncovered.

Cross-Section

I eat this with Maggi (the favored, potent, delivery vehicle of choice for MSG salt bombs) and steamed jasmine rice.

Christmas dinner 2006

What I made the family and in-laws Christmas evening. The in-laws are very picky eaters, so we tend to go very simple. I am posting this belatedly most so I can chronicle for posterity; next year, I’ll look back and tell myself to try something different.

Salmon

Herb crusted Steelhead salmon fillets with lemon and caper buerre blanc. As I mentioned, everyone’s a bit picky, but they do like capers, so I went nuts with them. I need to go to Costco to replenish.

Herbs

I used herbs from my garden — rosemary, marjoram, oregano, mint, chives — that were still alive. I also used a bit of ground coriander, salt, pepper, lemon zest, and just a smidgeon of smoked paprika. Seared in olive oil to get a nice crust, flipped and roasted in the oven while I made the sauce.

Potatoes

Roasted potatoes.

Potato-Raw

The potatoes were seasoned liberally with kosher salt and smoked paprika (and a pinch of chopped rosemary and chive) and tossed in melted butter before roasting

Parsnips

Pureed parsnip and carrot gratin.

Carrots

Roasted carrots glazed with just a touch of honey and rice wine vinegar.

Spinach

Creamed spinach with a hint of garlic and nutmeg. Topped with fried shallots.

Salad

Perfunctory mesclun salad with shallot and dijon vinagrette.

Makenna

My little Christmas angel had fun rolling around into the discarded wrapping paper.

Your own private taqueria

Tacos

This is your chance to have a taqueria experience in the comfort of your own home. After all this trouble, you might realize that perhaps it’s much easier to walk to the nearest taco truck or taqueria and throw down a five spot. That may be true. But give a man a taco, and he eats that day. Teach a man to taco, and he eats until his colon ruptures.

First of all, we start with the duality that is red and green taqueria table sauces. These two colors help make the Mexican flag. I guess if you wanted to complete the flag you could add crema or *gasp* sour cream to your taqueria tacos, but I will personally hunt you down and torture you by slicing off your eyelids and staking you to a pole in a sandstorm.

The first sauce I co-opted from a recipe that was shared on Chow.

Red

Taqueria Table Sauce

  • 5 medium roma tomatoes, cored and halved
  • 10 dried chile de arbol
  • 2 dried chile negro (dried pasilla)
  • 2 tablespoon dried pasilla powder
  • 1 3/4 cups water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon roasted salted pepitas
  • 1 tablespoon roasted salted sunflower seeds
  • Juice of one lime or juice of two key limes
  • 1/3 bunch of cilantro

Place the tomatoes, skin side up, under heated broiler on top rack and broil until the skins start to blacken and shrivel.

Remove and add to saucepan. Break off stems from dried chilies, and shake out most of the seeds. If you want, get into the larger dried pasillas and remove some of the pith. No biggie. Add to saucepan, along with dried pasilla powder, salt, sugar, garlic, and water. Bring to boil and simmer over low for 20 minutes.

Pour into blender, add seeds, lime juices, cilantro, and puree incrementally using all those unneccesary escalating power settings on your blender (“These go 11”). My blender actually has 12 settings, though the initial level, “Fast Clean” I don’t think actually qualifies, but I make sure to utilize it because I feel like I’m being wasteful if I don’t. Oh yeah, stop when you have a nice, liquid consistency. There’s often a setting on blenders called “liquefy”. I suggest you escalate to this level. Maybe not at first, though — build up to it with some blender foreplay.

Green

Tomatillo-Avocado Sauce

You could use fresh hulled, roasted tomatillos for this recipe, but I find that a canned Mexican brand of pre-made salsa verde works quite excellently. But if you want to use fresh tomatillos, by all means do, but nobody is going to give you a prize or anything.

  • 2 7 oz cans Embasa Brand Salsa Verde (warning, link to THE BEST WEBSITE EVER)
  • 1 Haas Avocado (who is this guy “Haas”? Did he invent the avocado?)
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 bunch cilantro
  • 1 clove garlic, peeled
  • 3 dashes El Yucateco Chile Habenero XXXTRA (that’s 3 x’s for those keeping score at home) Hot Sauce

Put everything in a blender. Pulse and tease the salsa using the aforementioned blender foreplay, until a smooth, even consistency is reached.

Now for the carne asada.

Seek out a carniceria in your neighborhood — you’ll be happier to have found one, if only for the fact that the most popular brand of bread in Mexico is called “Bimbo”. They usually sell flap meat/steak, often even pre-marinated/seasoned for your pleasure. You can also find this cut at Winco foods. It is usually sliced in thin, broad sheets.

You say there’s no carcineria in your ‘hood? I find that hard to believe. Haven’t you been listening to right wing talk radio? If you had been, you’d realize the Mexicans are taking over ‘Murica and will soon reclaim the entire southwest as the Republic of Aztlan via “El Reconquista”. Tom Tancredo and Michelle Malkin said so! Beware the brown! Except for today, the day we make carne asada tacos. ¡Viva México!

General Zapata’s Carne Asada

  • Bunch o’ slices of flap meat, like over a pound or so
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 5 garlic cloves, shoved through a garlic press
  • 1 teaspoon chile de arbol powder
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • Kosher salt

Combine the meat and spices and salt everything to suit your tastes. Marinade for at least a couple hours. Grill over hot coals, few minutes per side, for a nice all around char. Chop up the carne into little bite size pieces, though only what you plan to eat right then and there.

Asada

I actually prefer to keep the flap steaks intact, refrigerate, and then for subsequent taco meals chop and reheat on a hot griddle. The meat will transform into perfect little crispy carnuggets. Spoon the carne asada onto doubled, warmed corn tortillas. I guess you could use flour tortillas — I suppose — but you’ll lose all my respect and in fact earn my resentment for some time to come. Garnish with diced white onions and cilantro.

Taco

Oh yeah, and the table salsas.

Salsas

For added effect put the salsas in plastic squeeze bottles. Squirt the sauces onto your tacos ONLY WHEN YOU’VE BROUGHT THE TACOS TO THE TABLE. I personally don’t even get that far. I eat my tacos standing up, at my kitchen counter, and pretend like I’m at a taco stand in the streets of Tijuana, drunk off tourist tequila and pissed because I’ve foolishly bet all my money on worthless football trifectas.

Incredibly simple 5-spice grilled chicken

Opening

I like the fowl.

One of the all time faves, for simplicity and comfort, is the whole roasted bird. This bird I’ve done on the grill, back in the day when I used to have a dual burner gas grill. I only lit one side and would alternately move the bird back and forth between lit and unlit halves of the grill, keeping the lid down at all times. An imperfect science, and a method by which I’ve ruined a few morsels. Then I sold the damn grill (and forsaked gas altogether) just when I perfected the method.

You can obviously use the same method with a large Weber kettle grill — which I do. Just build the fire on one half, and maybe employ the use of a drip pan so the delicious fat doesn’t spatter and cause flareups and burn the skin.

Usually I would suggest you tie up the bird with some butcher twine, but goddamnit I was feeling lazy, and plus, I kinda like the way the legs start to kick out when the chicken becomes done. I’ve been known to pull off a leg or two and mack it right there on the spot.

5-spice grilled whole chicken

  • A chicken
  • 4 tablespoons Chinese 5-spice powder
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon of: water, fish sauce, rice wine
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine the wet ingredients with the dry.

The-Paste

Mix so it becomes a paste.

Marinading

Rub all over the bird (including cavity and under the skin if you’d like) and let it stand for at least a few hours.

Fire up your grill, and grill for an hour or so using the method described earlier. You might want to employ a meat thermometer if you like to do things right. I tend to wing it, much to the detriment of many of my results.

The-Chicken

But this time it turned out well! This bird pairs nicely with steamed jasmine rice.

Coco-Rico Braised Pork

Dscf5729-01

This is a Vietnamese dish my mother bestowed upon me. I’m sure it has a proper Vietnamese taxonomy consisting of 3 or 4 (or more) constructors, but I call it Coco-Rico Pork due to the soda that helps fill out the braising liquid.

During a recent visit to 82nd Avenue, I picked up over a pound of freshly roasted pig at Good Taste. Good Taste sells sections of whole roasted pig for $7.95/lb, on the bone, complete with crackling. I think the portion I used was from the lower back? Hard to say, as, while I’m generally quite saavy in playing “Know Your Cuts of Meat” on Late Night with David Letterman, I’m definitely not an expert of the flesh. I don’t think it was shoulder (butt), as it was leaner. Maybe picnic shoulder? Leg? Did I cover every part of the pig yet?

The butcher at Good Taste will ask if you’d like the portion cut down into manageable pieces, but in this case we chopped it ourselves, bone and all. The key in this dish is to use the crackling, it helps lend an unctuous richness to the dish. This is like a fat bomb, oh yeah, and I would compare the texture to that of really good carnitas. When you plate it all atop steaming hot jasmine rice, there is that serendipitous moment when you fork in a bite that simultaneously combines shreds of the pork, a sliver of braised pig skin, a firm section of egg white and a crumble of yolk — all married together with the braising juice — that really allows one to experience a true Calgon moment.

Coco-Rico Braised Pork

  • 1 1/2 pound of whole Chinese-style roast pig, cut into 2 inch (or so) chunks, bone and skin intact
  • 7 eggs
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoon waters
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • Half white onion, sliced
  • Small knob ginger, peeled and sliced into sheets and fine julienne
  • 2 chopped green onions
  • Juice of one fresh coconut (not coconut milk)
  • 1 can Coco Rico soda (available at Fubonn/Vietnamese markets)
  • Ground pepper (tablespoon? you tell me)
  • Fish sauce

First, soft the boil eggs — place in a saucepan, cover with cold water, and cover. Bring to a boil and remove from heat, and let stand for 6 minutes (or so). Shock in ice bath and peel, taking care not to tear the egg whites.

In a large saucepan, over medium heat, add sugar, stir for a few seconds, and then add water and stir for a minute or so to create a caramel of sorts. Add garlic, onion, ginger and green onions, stir “fry” for a minute or two, and then pork, coconut juice, and soda.

Dscf5736-01

For those who aren’t familiar with Coco Rico soda, here’s a photo. As you can probably guess from the nomenclature, it’s a sickly sweet coconut flavored soda popular with…who knows. I guess people drink this piss – I can’t stand it, but it really works here. Bring the concoction up to a low boil, and reduce to low and simmer for 30 minutes, covered.

After 30 minutes, add the eggs and ground pepper. Be careful not to break the flesh of the eggs — you want them to remain intact and pick up a nice brown sheen from the braising liquid.

Dscf5727-1

Continue to simmer 2 hours, covered, on low. Stir in fish sauce to taste.

Dscf5735-01

Here’s a close up shot.

Dscf5728-01

And an example of the texture of the pork. Very much like carnitas. Rich, sweet and savory.

Ghetto carnitas tacos

Dscf4871-01-1

Real carnitas isn’t terribly difficult, I suspect. I’ve never actually made it, but it involves large sections of pig that braises in its own fat, much like duck confit. The pork is spiced with fruit juice and spices, and the result is a rich, sinful pulled pork that is worthy of canonization in the Church of the Sacred Meatstuffs.

This version is quick and easy, foregoing the time-consumption normally associated with authentic carnitas. In fact, this is simply braised pork, not worthy of carnitas status, thus I call it “ghetto” lest it suffer from delusions of grandeur.

Ghetto Carnitas

  • 2 pounds of pork shoulder, cut into two-inch chunks
  • Orange juice
  • Water
  • Broth (chicken, beef, unicorn – whatever you’ve got)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken in half
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon chile de arbol powder
  • 1 tablespoon some other chili powder (New Mexico, etc. – the idea here is to add 3 tablespoons of various chili powders)
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1/2 white onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, pushed through a press or minced very fine
  • Salt to taste

Preheat over to 275 degrees.

Put pork in a dutch oven – I’ve found my cast iron Lodge works extremely well. Cover with equal parts of each liquid component to cover the pork by just over a half inch. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir and bring to a low simmer, cover, and transfer to oven. Braise 2 1/2 to 3 hours, stirring lightly every 45 minutes or so.

Let cool, then transfer to a platter with a slotted spoon. Press pork gently with the tines of a back of a fork to “shred” — the meat should naturally start to fall apart.

Dscf4870-01

Heat up corn tortillas on a griddle, double them up and scoop the braised pork on top. Top with chopped onions, cilantro, and your favorite homemade or jarred Mexican table hot sauce.

Cook’s Illustrated “Modern” Coq Au Vin

This coq au vin recipe, featured in a recent issue of Cook’s Illustrated (September, 2006), is very good. I was wary of the boneless, skinless thighs it called for (sacré bleu!), but they surprisingly worked in this dish. I added a shot of cognac after sauteeing the vegetables, and — as I’m wont to do out of laziness — substituted frozen pearl onions instead of blanching, scoring, and peeling 24 fresh onions. I also pretty much doubled the mushrooms (and garlic) the recipe called for. I served the results with egg noodles and was quite happy with the results.

Modern Coq au Vin

  • 1 bottle red wine (or more if you are drinking while cooking)
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 10 sprigs fresh parsley (what the hell is a sprig? I just used half a bunch)
  • 1/2 bunch parsley, stems removed, chopped
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 3 slices thick-bacon, cut into “lardons” (fancy way (and a misnomer) to say “slice the bacon into strips”)
  • 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut lengthwise. My thighs were smallish, so I didn’t cut all of them, and I didn’t really bother trimming the fat. Fat makes the world a better place.
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter. My butter had salt in it. Don’t hate me.
  • 24 frozen pearl onions, thawed, drained, and dried. I used 27.
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, stems removed, halved (or quartered). I also used white button mushrooms, and kept the stems. For button/cremini mushrooms, I like the stems. I think they taste good. There, I said it.
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press. 2? Try more like 7.
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 shot (1 1/2 ounces) of cognac

In a non-reactive saucepan, combine wine, broth, 1/2 bunch parsley, stems and all, and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, reduce, and simmer until reduced in half, prolly around 1/2 hour or so. If you’re drinking, pour a glass of wine for yourself, and put on some music.

Mise

My mise en place, including an iPod shuffle connected to my Tivoli iPal speaker. Set List: “Guided by Voices’ Under the Bushes Under the Stars”, The Selecter’s “Too Much Pressure”, The Thermals “The Body, the Blood, the Machine”, Golden Smog’s “Another Fine Day”, Okkervil River’s “Black Sheep Boy”, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks’ “Face The Truth”, and enough assorted singles from Paul Westerberg to properly fill out 512 megabytes.

Chicken

Salt and pepper the chicken thighs. In a hot Dutch oven or huge ass sautee pan (i.e. deep and wide), swirl a tablespoon of butter and brown the thighs in two batches. Remove from pan and place on plate. Add bacon to the pan and render, then add two tablespoons of butter and sautee mushrooms for a few minutes, and then add the pearl onions.

Sautee

After a minute or so, turn up the heat, then hit the vegetables with a shot of cognac. If you’re the dramatic type, you can light it on fire for a flambé, but if you’re like me and have an annoyingly sensitive indoor fire alarm, you can simply pour yourself another glass of wine and lament on what could have been. Add garlic, sautee for a few more seconds, salt and pepper the vegetables, and hit them with some of the chopped parsley.

Simmer

In the meantime, you’ve already (in the past) reduced the wine/broth mixture, and strained it, right? I sure hope so. Return the chicken thighs the pan, and pour the liquid reduction over it, add tomato paste and flour, and stir. Bring to a simmer and reduce heat.

Simmered

Go watch The Office and after a half hour or so check the seasoning and adjust the salt level. Continue to simmer and reduce on low heat until your coq soaks up more of the vin, and reduces to a stew, about another half hour or so. Once finished, swirl in last two tablespoons butter and remove from heat.

Plated

Serve with egg noodles, garnish with chopped parsley. There you have it, the ultimate French comfort food. The chicken thighs take on a wonderfuly complex, meaty flavor and the texture is just perfect, almost belying that it is ordinary poultry. Sit down in front of a fire with a glass of wine and enjoy your “modern” coq au vin, and if you want to complete the “modern” theme put on some “modern” French pop like Air or Phoenix and then ride the Max and pretend you’re on the Metro and then go on strike.

Tilapia

Tilapia is a very mild fish with a flaky, white flesh. I find it to be tender, and almost neutral in flavor. During a recent Iron Chef America battle it was the theme ingredient, and all the judges bashed it for being pretty lame, almost a non-ingredient, devoid of any discernible flavor characteristics. Fuck those bitches.

I like it for its clean, simple taste, and it’s perfect for sauteeing for fish tacos or to eat with rice. Also, it’s dirt cheap. Tilapia fries up really well – many Mexican restaurants will feature it fried whole.

Library - 2003

Here’s a fried tilapia I picked up from Fubonn for a mere $3 for THE ENTIRE FISH.

Library - 2007

Flesh extracted and served atop jasmine rice. Simple grub.

Speaking of Fubonn, Asian fishmongers (Thanh Thao on 65th and Sandy also comes to mind) will ask you if you’d like the fish dressed, which means they’ll use a bandsaw to cut off the fins and section the body. This makes it ready for soups, but I also like this because it allows me to marinate the fish in disparate parts, and put it back together again to steam/roast whole. It’s kinda creepy, too.

Library - 2014

Surreal Dali fish in a simple marinade of soy, fish sauce, lime juice, sesame oil, rice wine.

Library - 2016

Reassembled fish. Cavities and flesh rubbed with minced ginger, lemongrass, garlic, bird chilies. Pour over marinade, tent with foil, and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove foil and continue to roast for 7-10 minutes.

Library - 2017

Steamed and roasted tilapia in random state of deconstruction.

Thai chicken wings

Now that football season is in full swing, it’s time for chicken wings. Actually, any time or occasion is a good time or occasion for chicken wings. Including hockey preseason, the fortnight between Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing events, proms, quicieneras, and the occasional bris.

A couple years ago I was invited to a Super Bowl party (Patriots v. Eagles) hosted by one of my wife’s co-workers and her boyfriend. The theme was chicken wings, and apparently it was a contest*. The following is my favorite spicy Thai-style wing recipe – for this event I “kicked it up a notch” (remind me to kill myself for using that phrase) and added a “wet” component, but these wings are plenty flavorful without the final steps. Here are a couple photos of these delicious wings:

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*I placed second in the wing contest. However, I was early to the party. And apparently everybody brought their wings raw to be cooked there either in the oven or on the grill. I was not aware of this custom. And so my plated, ready-to-eat wings were quicky devoured by the early party guests. The host’s boyfriend, who I was quite certain was stoned at the time, kept remarking how “fucking” good the wings were as he downed close to a dozen himself. Therefore when balloting happened, many of the party guests DIDN’T EVEN GET A CHANCE TO TASTE MY WINGS and of course did not rate them on the ballot. Thus, I firmly believe I actually won the wing contest. However, since there was no real prize for winning outside of the personal satisfaction of knowing you’ve won, I didn’t contest the results.

Thai chicken wings

  • 1 lbs chicken wings
  • 6 garlic cloves
  • 1 small knob ginger (approx. 2 inches, peeled and sliced in thin sheets ~ 2 tablespoons)
  • 2 thin slices of a decent sized, peeled galanga (1 tablespoon?)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 7 thai bird chilies
  • 2 lemon grass stalks, stems and ends trimmed, finely minced
  • 2 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon Maggi or soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • Juice of a lime

Optional Enhancement

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon ketchup
  • 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon honey

In your large stone mortar (What, you don’t have one? Go buy one.) combine garlic, ginger, galanga, chilies and salt. Pound the living shit out of the contents.

Scrape your mash into a large mixing bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix well, and chill overnight or at least 4 hours.

Grill over hoat coals.

2nd place enhancement option. Here’s the extra step for a bootstrapped special flavor upgrade with added presentational flair. This is what I did when I captured 2nd place at the aforementioned Super Bowl party.

Reserve marinade after placing wings on grill. Preheat oven to 500 degrees. Add 1/2 cup water to reserved marinade, 1 tablespoon ketchup, and 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar, and additional tablespoon honey. Simmer until reduced to a glaze. Toss glaze with wings once they are removed from the grill, spread on sheet pan, and bake for 3-4 minutes. Platter and top with finely diced chives.

Costco Soup

I like Costco. It is the closest thing to Disneyland for me. There’s just something about buying industrial sized goods and commodities in a staid, grey warehouse that gets my juices flowing. Costco is distinguished by the lack of a refined and crafted branding strategy, bereft of the ostentatious promotional displays and garishness that almost implies a conscious lack of self awareness.

A lot of people don’t like Costco because they claim its practices (packaging, mainly) perpetuate a lot of waste. Many others don’t enjoy the experience of jockeying with the effusive jowl set that habituate the Costco environs. I like it despite all these things, pointing to its wonderful labor practices (it’s the anti-Wal Mart), and how the original owner/founder still collects only $350k/yr in a time when successful CEOs reward themselves with eight (or nine) figure salaries. I’m sure there’s enough dark practices behind the curtain that we plebes are unaware of, but if anyone ever took the time to analyze my dreams I’m sure you’ll also find some evil simmering under the surface.

One time after a Costco run I discovered that during the course of my shopping stupor/hysteria I had purchased, among other things, a chicken, a bunch of asparagus, and a bunch of artichokes. I imagined all of them together — since I don’t really have that great of an imagination — in a soup. Now, Costco ingredients are generally high quality, and quite acceptable to my standards. Their choice meats, for instance, are something I woudn’t be embarrased to eat or serve to people I don’t hate. But they are pretty mainstream – for instance, the roasted chickens are actually from a well-known brand. This isn’t free range fowl, raised on an outpatient rehab center in Sedona, and I can’t confirm the vegetables were grown locally on a sustainable wind farm and irrigated by pygmy horse tears and the reconstituted sweat of a hundred Quakers brimming with an overwhelming sense of immense self-satisfaction. But I can confirm that the place you would buy goods of that sort would not also feature 42″ plasma televisions, steel-belted radials, or a customize-your-own-death series of designer caskets.

Asparagus, Artichoke and Chicken Soup

  • 1 $4.99 Costco roasted rotisserie chicken, sold one chicken per package
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 5 sprigs thyme
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 1/2 cups artichoke boil (you’ll see below)
  • 1 1/2 pound asparagus, sold in a 2 1/4 pound increment
  • 4 artichokes, sold 4 per package
  • 1 white onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 cup cream or half-n-half
  • Salt

Pick apart that chicken carcass, setting aside the meat. You’ll only be using some of the shredded breast portion. Use the rest for sandwiches, salads, ramen, tacos, enchilidas, whatever. It’s your life.

Cut stems off artichokes. Place artichokes into large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to boil and cover and simmer for 45 minutes, and remove from water. Set aside. You’ll actually be using just one artichoke, so save the others and eat when your fancy strikes. I like eating the petals with lime juice, olive oil, and an insane amount of coarse cracked pepper and salt. I grew up eating artichokes with equal parts ketchup and mayo, though, and will return to this when I’m feeling nostalgic (I also watch “Cheers” the same reason).

Trim the asparagus 1/2 inch from the ends, and throw those callous ends away. Then seperate the stalky ends from the green tips (about a bisect). Blanch the green tips in the artichoke water for a couple minutes and shock in ice bath (make sure you don’t dump out the artichoke water, though) and set aside. Once cool, dice into 1/8” segments.

Put the chicken bones (and chicken skin, if you so desire) and raw artichoke stalks into a stock pot with carrots, celery, thyme. Cover with 4 1/2 cups of the water with which you boiled the artichokes. Bring to a boil and simmer for another 45 minutes. Strain, pick out the asparagus stalks(!important) from the bone and vegetable mixture and place into blender.

Peel one artichoke, and remove that hairy toupee. Roughly chop the heart and add to blender.

In a dutch oven, melt butter and sautee onions. Add garlic and sweat for a few minutes. Add to blender.

Puree to a smooth, even consistency. Depending on the size of your blender, you’ll need to do this in batches.

Return blended soup to dutch oven, and heat under medium. Add peppers, salt it to taste (be careful, the chicken has already been seasoned by Costco). Once soup starts to bubble, turn off the heat and whisk in cream.

Ladel the soup, top with diced asparagus tips and shredded chicken. Top with more fresh cracked white pepper.

Lamb loin chops

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to increasingly appreciate lamb. When I was quite young and discovering all the deliciousness that existed in the world of food, lamb was slightly gamey for my virgin tastes. This pretty much all changed when I was seventeen and worked as a server at a spa resort in northeast Tucson. Every 10th day was lamb chop day, and we would serve each nutritionally apportioned lamb entree with 2 frenched rib chops per plate – topped with a herbed dijon “sludge”. Since we would have anywhere from 200-325 guests showing up for dinner on any given day, the kitchen would make enough chops to serve the high end number of potential house covers.

The result is that at the end of the night there were pans and pans of uneaten lamb chops – sometimes enough for a greedy starving teenager to eat as much as a dozen and take a few home as well. I would scape off the sludge, which left behind a subtle dijon and herb essence, and top the chops with low sodium Kikkoman. I did this for 2 years. And this wasn’t only lamb chops either – this applied to nearly everything. The spa was pretty posh and had a clientele of east coast stock brokers and the Hollywood elite. So while the menu was definitely geared towards lean and healthy preparations (we would memorize the calories, fat and sodium stats for every item each shift — they gave us cheat sheets we taped inside of our books), the ingredients were top shelf. In college, although we were broke (and often resorted to scraping together change to attend “silver coin drink night” at the local college binge drink warehouse) my roommate and I often ate lobster tail in our Maruchan and Top Ramen.

There is hardly anything has delicious as the lamb loin chop, which is the T-bone steak of lamb. The only drawback is that the chops I encounter are quite spartan in terms of flesh preponderance. There’s only a few bites of meat you can negotiate with a knife and fork before you pick up the chop and go full on neanderthal on the bone — this act being one of life’s unrivaled joys.

Here’s a quick and simple preparation that doesn’t do too much – you don’t want to mask the loin chop’s natural flavor. It’s almost imperative that you use a cast iron pan to really get a good char – if not grill these on a high flame.

Lamb Loin Chops with Tamari, Black Vinegar, Garlic Chives and Fried Shallots

  • 3 lamb loin chops. You could trim the fat, but lamb fat really does taste delicious.
  • 1 Tablespoon tamari
  • 1 Tablespoon Chinese Black Vinegar
  • Kosher salt and coarse cracked pepper
  • Fried shallots
  • Chopped garlic chives

Pre-heat a cast iron frying pan over medium to medium high heat for five minutes.

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Sprinkle both side of the chops with salt and pepper. Sear the chops, about 4-6 minutes per side. Remove and let rest for 3 minutes.

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Top with tamari and vinegar. Sprinkle on chives and fried shallots (you can fry the shallots yourself and keep them around – or you can buy pre-fried shallots from an Asian store). Eat.

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The pleasures of emulsified forcemeat

In last month’s issue of Gourmet, Michael Ruhlman — who recently guest-blogged at Megnut’s place and whose writing I respect — penned an ode to hot dogs.

He claims the best hot dogs in the world are Vienna Beefs, and having had a Chicago-style dog last year at O’Hare on my way to Rochester, I can’t say I’d put up a firm argument.

Hot dogs, he explained, are part of the meat genus we call “emulsified forcemeat”. I’d never heard of that term before, and in addition to conjuring images of a Nordic death metal four piece (or a gay S&M fetish flick), this reductive term sounds a little less than appetizing. But as every professional athlete inevitably says in the course of a cliche-ridden press conference (and as Pope John famously pronounced when asked about Mel Gibson’s Jew-baiting movie), “it is what it is.”

I ran across an article (via Ruhlman via NYTimes and I made a short post here previously about it but I’m too lazy and thick with enchiladas to bother linking to) about how the organic franks from premier beef producers were making a splash on the hot dog scene. Instead of the pessimistic nitrates used to artificially preserve the meat, they used celery juice. See, nitrates also give the dog its nice, pinkish hue, and nitrate-free dogs have a really nasty brown tinge to it, like cardboard. Celery juice to the rescue!

I stopped by Trader Joes shortly after reading the article and picked up what I consider to be the best hot dogs in the world – Niman Ranch Fearless Uncured Beef Franks.

Hotdog

They come four to a package, and each one weighs in at a hefty quarter pound. I checked the ingredients list, and lo and behold celery juice was listed. If you haven’t had these hot dogs and consider yourself a hot dog fan, pick up a package next time you’re at Trader Joes (I’m not sure where else to buy them). They are actually leaner than many 1/4 franks I’ve seen – with 19 grams of fat – I’ve seen other dogs such as the Sinai Kosher’s at Costco run 30 grams. For post-cooked weight, that’s actually less fat than a raw 80% ground beef burger.

Here is a full metal jacket Chicago dog I’ve recently had, starring a Niman Ranch uncured.

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Bánh mì

I’ve always loved a good sandwich on a crusty french roll.

Lately, Vietnamese sandwiches, aka Bánh mì, have been becoming more institutionalized in American culture (as evidenced by the Wikipedia entry). A large immigrant population, combined with how ridiculously cheap these sandwiches are — and of course how tasty they are too — have helped bánh mì to become part of the culinary landscape of many North American cities.

When eating at a deli, I tend to stick with the predictable — bbq pork, grilled lemongrass pork or grilled beef. You can go nuts and get paté or other strange spreads and offal bits (as my mom and sister are wont to do), but those things sort of freak me out. Part of it I think goes back to when I was 8 years old, visiting relatives in Paris. I was holed up in a hotel room (because as a young kid I was complete prick and never wanted to do anything), listening to Blondie with nothing to eat except a baguette and various tins of paté. That same trip I ordered a steak at a sidewalk bistro and it came out so bloody rare that I swore the heifer was still chomping the cud, and was subsequently pretty freaked out about the entire Franchophilia thing in general.

At home I’ll make my sandwiches with pork meatloaf, which is sort of like an emulsified forcemeat, a Vietnamese bologna. Growing up, we called this stuff “Hong Kong meat”, which I presume was a vaguely pejorative term coined by mom to refer to its erstwhile status in comparison to “real” meat, Hong Kong being at the time the origin of her Louis Vuitton knockoffs.

So why even make these sandwiches at home, when they are ridiculously cheap, sometimes even only $1.75 per sandwich? It’s all about the quality control. First of all, you’ll notice the meat to bread ratio of bánh mì is pretty low. You’re getting mostly bread – I don’t think you’ll ever confuse a commercial Viet sandwich as being “overstuffed.” Second, you can really go crazy and load on the garnishes – unless you know the language and the person making the sandwich, you’ll have a difficult time cajoling extra peppers or cilantro. It’s not Subway.

Assembling a sandwich is fairly simple: slice the pork loaf, top with daikon radish and carrots, julienne jalapenos peppers, sliced cucumber, and toast. After toasting, garnish with lots of cilantro (if you’re like me), and douse liberally with Maggi. That’s another bonus of making these at home — if you are so inclined you can really make the sandwich a veritable salt bomb by soaking the surface of the toasted french roll.

Hong Phat market (NE 99th and Prescott) sells cartons of pre-marinated, julienne daikon and carrots for $2.50, and it is enough to dress probably a half-dozen (or more) sandwiches. Keep in mind, this stuff smells like ass and will commandeer your entire fridge, not to mention probably imbue its nasty ass perfume to a few of the less sturdy items in your freezer as well.

The french rolls used for bánh mì can be picked up at pretty much any Vietnamese market in town (Hong Phat, Than Thao on Sandy/65th, Fubonn), and are usually around 5 for $1.50. Untoasted, these can be a bit too fluffy and doughy, so make sure you toast them, as they will become much more palatable. You are even better off picking up a mini baguette from New Seasons, as that has a better crust.

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This is the brand of pork loaf I commonly buy – it’s available in most Vietnamese markets. It is one of the few brands that has nutritional information, and also appears to be the leanest. Keep in mind that there are a couple other variations, with pork skin added, if that’s your thing. For me it’s a little too weird, with a ring of translucent, gelatinous fat that runs the length of the loaf.

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This stuff smells like ass, but is essential for a good bánh mì. Maybe I should make my own to try to temper the ass out of the smell.

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Ah, good old Maggi, liquidized vegetable protein and potent MSG delivery vehicle. Abide by the firm suggestion on the label – a few dashes. It’s much saltier than soy sauce. This is the bulk, Americanized bottle – the gold standard is the actual Swiss brewed nectar that comes in much smaller bottles yet is twice the price.

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Fully dressed bánh mì.

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Rehearsal dinner

A few months ago my sister-in-law was married in downtown Portland, at the Treasury Ballroom, which is just across the street from the Benson hotel. The ceremony was very nice, and as usual I got drunk and started to break dance in my suit, only to shown up by one of her 6-year old former students (the sister teaches kindergarten at a Montessori school in Lake Oswego).

The night before I put together a very informal rehearsal dinner buffet at my home in North Portland. I went with a Greek/Meditteranean theme, as that cuisine tends to appeal to a wide variety of people and is very veggie-friendly. I spent a couple days shopping and prepping, and took a Friday off from work to pull it all together.

There were about 25+ people at the dinner. Nobody retched or become violently ill the next day, so I assume it was well received by the groom’s family and our out-of-town guests. Here’s the menu:

Menu

  • Roast Leg of Lamb scented with Rosemary, Preserved Lemon and Garlic. Served with Lemon Tahini
  • Pork Souvlaki with Tomato, Orange Peppers, and Red Onion
  • Greek Salad of Romaine, Cherry Tomatoes, Hot Peppers, Feta, Kalamata Olives, Cucumbers, in Red Wine Vinagrette.
  • Tabbouleh with Tomato, Cucumber, Parsley
  • Orzo Pasta Salad with Tomatoes, Peppers, Feta, Red Onion, Artichoke Hearts
  • Dolmathes stuffed with Rice and Herbs with Egg Lemon (Avgolemono) Sauce
  • Lemon Garlic Tzatziki with Pita
  • Hummus with Pita
  • Assorted Baklava

And the photos:

Spread

Partial view of the spread…orzo and tzatiki. The pita I actually purchased from Alladin’s restaurant on NE 33rd (around Ainsworth). I don’t know or want to know how to make good pita – I’ll let those guys do what they do best.

Tabbouleh

Tabbouleh. I bought the bulger wheat from the bulk bins at Fred Meyer. I like a higher percentage of wheat to parsley than what you’d find at some Middle Eastern restaurants. Lots of lemon juice – when steeping the wheat to make it tabouleh-ready, I use the juice of half a lemon and a few tablespoons of olive oil in addition to hot water. I saw that breathy vixen Ina Garten (from TV’s The Barefoot Contessa) use this technique.

Tzatziki

Tzatiki. I used half plain non-fat yogurt and half that creamy whole milk greek yogurt you can score at Trader’s Joes. The non-fat stuff needs to strain in cheesecloth for at least a few hours. Lots of raw garlic.

Dolmathes

Dolmathes. See recipe for lemon egg sauce below.

Greek-Salad

Greek salad, with simple vinagrette of equal parts red wine vinegar and olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil drizzled on top after tossing. I usually like huge blocks of feta, but went with a pre-crumbled bulk brand I found at Costco.

Hummus

Hummus. Simple and creamy. Dusted with Spanish paprika and garnished with parsley and a single, oil cured olive.

Orzo

Orzo pasta salad, served slightly warm.

Lamb

Boneless leg of lamb, from Costco. Marinated with rosemary from my garden, lemon, olive oil, kosher salt, coarse ground pepper, and seared on my grill and finished by roasting in the oven.

Meat-Platter

The platter o’meat, including lamb and souvlaki. The tahini sauce is simply whipped sesame paste and lemon juice. It was disappointing as the consistency was more like peanut butter instead of saucy.

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More meat.

Souvlaki

Pork souvlaki, grilled on skewers.

Backlava

I suck at desserts, so I didn’t even try. I simply bought Baklava from Trader Joes. I heated honey, freshly squeezed orange juice, and a cinnamon stick in a sauce pan, dipped the bottoms and arranged the baklava pieces on a couple platters.

Here’s a recipe for Avgolemono sauce I found while surfing the tubes of the Internets. I can’t find the link for the source, but it is pretty simple (outside of technique) and is how I remember it when I used to work in a Greek cafe in college.

Egg Lemon Sauce (Avgolemono Sauce)

4 egg yolks
1/2 cup lemon juice
A little over 1 cup hot (not boiling) chicken broth

Whisk the yolks until they start to become frothy, and slowly stream in the lemon juice. Continue whisking for a minute or so, and start to pour in the broth in a steady stream, constantly whisking. Pour everything into a saucepan and heat at low. Continue to whisk while heating until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.