Food is our common ground, a universal experience.
~James Beard

Paninis, tacos, burgers, croque-monsieurs, BLTs, lobster rolls, empanadas, and gyros, all sandwich fodder, have been exalted earlier here. Each have their unique crust, mantles and cores. Bánh Mì is just another ambrosial meal settled between or under dough slices, all united in mouth. A Vietnamese sub, of sorts, and yet another food born of a sordid imperialistic affair…a tale of conquest, occupation and social inequity. Later, America entered the fray and matters may have worsened. Someday, while mistrust will linger, we will heal some, and breaking bread never hurts.

Bánh Mì, while generally a Vietnamese term for all breads, now implies a sandwich chocked with meats and friends. The French baguette was first force fed to Indochine during turbulent, often overtly rebellious, colonial days (1887-1954). Việt baguettes, though, now differ some and have retained their culinary autonomy. Often made with a combination of rice and wheat flour, these demi-baguettes tend to possess a lighter, golden crust and an airier not so overly dense interior. Again, fresh bread is the star — yeasty, thin-skinned with a delicate crackle but sturdy enough to handle the usual suspects. The rest is about balance with the innards.

Traditionally, bánh mì are made with chả lụa, a pork roll made with finely ground pork wrapped in a banana leaf and steamed. The pork belly or butt are just a variation, but no less savory. As with most other fare, to assume there is some purist version of bánh mì is mistaken, even myopic. A little spread of black bean sauce, grilled pork, head cheese, fried eggs, aïoli, fried oysters, even the layering sequence are a few improprieties that come to mind — so, smite me, O mighty smiter!

BANH MI (VIETNAMESE BAGUETTE SANDWICH)

Việt baguette
Mayonnaise*
Fresh cilantro leaves
Pâté de campagne
Duck rillette

Braised pork belly, sliced or slow roasted pork butt, pulled
Tương Ớt Tỏi (chile sauce) or bird chiles or jalapeños, thinly sliced
Cured cold cuts (thịt nguội or đặc biệt), thinly sliced

Pickled carrots and daikon radish (do chua)*
English cucumber, thinly sliced
Nước chấm or nước mắm Phú Quốc (optional)

Slice the baguette lengthwise and hollow out the insides some, making a trough in both halves. Slather with mayonnaise on both insides. Lay cilantro on the top half of the bread with judicious smears or slices of pâté de campagne and rillette on each half. Arrange the pork belly slices on the top half along with the Tương Ớt Tỏi or chiles. Put cold cuts (thịt nguội or đặc biệt) on the bottom half, topped by the pickled carrots and daikon radish (do chua), and then the cucumber slices. If you so desire, drizzle ever so lightly with nước chấm. Close the hood and indulge.

MAYONNAISE*

4 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t white wine or champagne vinegar
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

Whisk together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, and cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient, because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.

PICKLED CARROTS & DAIKON RADISH (DO CHUA)*

1 large carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 lb daikon radishes, peeled and cut into matchsticks
1 t sea salt
2 t sugar

1/2 C sugar
1 C distilled white vinegar
1 C lukewarm water

Place the carrot and daikon radishes in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Knead the vegetables for a few minutes, expelling the water from them. They will soften and liquid will pool at the bottom of the bowl. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently to exude extra liquid. Transfer the vegetables to a pickling jar.

In a medium glass bowl, combine 1/2 cup sugar, vinegar, and water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat, allow to cool to room temperature and pour over the vegetables. The brine should cover the vegetables. Allow the vegetables to marinate for at least two hours, preferable overnight. Keep in the fridge for a month or so.

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Sandwiches, Anew

April 2, 2010

Too few people understand a really good sandwich.
~James Beard

Stated otherwise, Mom always reminded us that “a sandwich is always much better if someone else makes it for you.” Something about inspired, yet minimal, textural play, fine bread, and a good schmear with no shortcuts. A gift of sorts — a labor of love, knowledge, devotion and that pampered touch, I suppose. Mom always seemed to choose her aphorisms judiciously so they tended to ring true. They have born repetition more than I could count.

These may not be the precise lobster rolls she so coveted during trips to coastal Maine, but hopefully they assimilate distant cousins. Probably just some no frills freshly trapped boiled or grilled lobster, mayonnaise, simple seasonings and a toasted bun would even suffice.

Mom was an almost unparalleled tomato zealot and egg sandwiches were a house staple, so the BELT (bacon, eggs, lettuce & tomato) is simply a natural. The basics to create an incandescent BELT are: fresh eggs, ripe heirloom tomatoes, slab artisanal bacon preferably from heritage pork (The Berkshire, The Tamworth, The Duroc, et al.).

As for the last sandwich, tins of sardines and kipper snacks commonly adorned our pantry. Maybe they were period pieces—food stashed for that ominous Cold War nuclear armaggedon we ever awaited, cowering under our school desks. Now, beyond their gentle sea flavors, canned sardines are known for their nutritional omnipotence. One nutritionist dubbed sardines “health food in a can.” Health food advocates assert that they do nothing less than:

• Prevent heart attacks and strokes
• Build healthy cell walls
• Improve cholesterol levels and help to lower triglycerides
• Lower blood pressure
• Protect brain development and improve cognition and mood
• Improve memory problems associated with aging
• Alleviate inflammatory conditions such as asthma and arthritis
• Provide essential support for joint and skin health
• Slow the progression of Alzheimer’s Disease
• Maintain blood sugar balance, thus reducing risk of diabetes

Both impressive yet sadly ironic given that the Stinson plant in Maine, the last sardine cannery in the United States, is shutting down this month. For those who may wish to extend life expectancy or slightly slow the aging process, buy a case of these wunderkind. That even goes for those who think enhanced health care coverage is “armaggedon” too. More sardines and less orange skin dye may help you in the long run, Rep. Boehner. A nearly comical faux terror alert carrot facial hue. Is that cream applied head to toe or just above the collar? ~Sincerely, I am Curious Yellow

For the aioli recipes, chose from any of those in the Aïoli, Aïoli, Aïoli (and Rouille), 01.25.09 post.

LOBSTER ROLLS WITH TARRAGON MAYONNAISE

2-1 1/2 lb whole live lobsters
Sea salt

2 T finely chopped red onion
3/4 C tarragon mayonnaise
1 T dijon mustard
2 T coarsely chopped tarragon leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper

Hot dog buns (preferably top loading) or petit pain (french roll), sliced open
Extra virgin olive oil or unsalted butter, softened

Prepare a large ice water bath. Immerse lobster in a large pot of boiling salted water, until they turn bright red, about 10 minutes. Using tongs, plunge the lobsters into the ice water for a few minutes, then drain.

Twist off the lobster tails and claws and remove the meat. Cut the lobster meat into 1/2″ pieces and pat dry, then transfer to a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate until very cold, at least 1 hour.

Gently combine lobster and next seven ingredients in a large bowl.

Split the rolls and brush with olive oil or butter. Grill, open side down, until golden, around 40 seconds. Fill each roll with some of the lobster salad and serve immediately.

Tarragon mayonnaise:
2 large fresh egg yolks, room temperature
1 T dijon mustard
1 T fresh tarragon leaves, finely chopped
1/2 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

2/3 C canola or grapeseed oil
1 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Separate egg whites from yolks. With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, tarragon, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick and creamy enough to hold its shape.

Pourboire:  consider using marscapone and heavy whipping cream in lieu of tarragon mayonnaise…a difficult choice, but such is the kitchen.

BELT (BACON, EGG, LETTUCE & TOMATO)

4 thick slices good quality slab bacon, sliced

2 thick slices of ciabatta or other rustic white bread, toasted
1-2 T aioli
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 fresh heirloom tomato slices
2 butter lettuce leaves

1 T unsalted butter
2 large eggs

In a heavy skillet, cook the bacon over moderate heat, turning, until crisp, about 8 minutes. Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Spread aioli on both slices of bread. Season with salt and pepper on the top piece.

In a heavy, nonstick skillet, melt the butter. Add the eggs and fry over moderate heat, turning once, until slightly crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes. The yolk should still be runny. Assemble the sandwich with lettuce, tomato, bacon, then eggs, and close with second bread slice. Serve promptly.

SARDINE ‘WICH

2 tins boneless, skinless sardines packed in olive oil
3 T aioli
1/4 C cornichons, drained and finely chopped
2 T capers, rinsed and drained

Ciabatta, sliced and toasted or grilled
Aioli
1 avocado, seeded, peeled and sliced
2 ripe tomatoes, thinly sliced
2 C fresh arugula
4 hard boiled eggs, sliced

Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Remove sardines from tin, draining oil. Transfer to a small bowl, and combine with aioli, cornichons, and capers.

Lay out ciabatta slices and lightly paint each with aioli. Then top with sardine mixture, avocado, tomato, arugula, and egg. Salt and pepper to taste, and then finish each with an aioli painted slice of bread.

Croque-Monsieur, -Madame

April 1, 2009

The poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.
~G. K. Chesterton

A supreme bar food (especially for cheesaholics), a croque-monsieur is simply a grilled ham and cheese sandwich taken to the next level. Gruyère, named after the Swiss village of Gruyères (and made in the cantons of Fribourg, Vaud, Neuchâtel, Jura, and Berne), is a creamy, unpasteurized, semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk. The cheese is a darker yellow than traditional Emmental but the texture, scent and flavor is more dense and compact. Slightly grainy, gruyère displays an intense complexity of flavors — at first fruity, then later becoming more assertive, earthy and nutty.

3 T unsalted butter
1/4 C all purpose flour
3 cups whole milk, heated
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

2 T unsalted butter, melted
8 slices high quality loaf bread, sliced 1/2″ thick
12 oz sliced fine ham
10 oz gruyère cheese, coarsely grated.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Create a béchamel sauce. In a small heavy saucepan, melt butter over low heat and whisk in the flour until blended but no more than light yellow in hue. Gradually whisk in the milk and cook, stirring constantly, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Set aside.

Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and brush with melted butter. Place bread slices in a single layer and spread each one evenly to the edges with béchamel. Divide ham among four of the slices. Top all eight slices with equal amounts of cheese, spreading it evenly to within 1/4″ of the edges.

Place four bread slices with béchamel and cheese, cheese side up, on top of slices layered with ham. Transfer sandwiches, cheese side up, onto sheet pan. Bake until grated cheese topping is melted and golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Pourboire: Much like clownfish, the male version can be changed to become a female. A croque-monsieur topped with a fried or poached egg is known as a croque-madame, or in parts of Normandy a croque-cheval. This version is my preference, not only because females are the superior sex…but, anything topped with an egg just goes up a rung. I mean, should it not be the ladies first? Should not the hierarchy be reversed? Face it guys, a croque-monsiuer is an inferior croque-madame missing the egg. A croque-provençal invites a sliced (seasonal, hopefully heirloom) fresh tomato to the pique-nique.

What garlic is to food, insanity is to art
~Augustus Saint-Gaudens

Aïoli, that luscious garlic mayonnaise, is a Provençal staple which enjoys almost boundless applications…gracing soups, adorning shellfish, awakening vegetables, accompanying grilled meats and spread on sandwiches. Here are three variations on a theme listed in no order of preference.

For optimal results, have all ingredients at room temperature for each recipe.

Aïoli I

4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
2 large egg yolks, room temperature
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 C extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt

Mash the garlic and salt together with a pestle in a warm mortar, forming a smooth paste.

Add the egg yolks and stir to thoroughly blend the garlic and yolks. Continue stirring and gradually add a few drops of the oil. Whisk until the ingredients are thoroughly incorporated. As soon as the mixture begins to thicken, while whisking vigorously, add the remaining oil in a slow, steady, thin stream.

Taste for seasoning, transfer to bowl and refrigerate.

Aïoli II

2 large egg yolks, room temperature
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced then smashed to a paste with a pinch of sea salt
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
1 T Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 C canola oil
½ C extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons heavy cream (or to desired consistency)
Sea salt to taste

A silkier version. Drop the egg yolks in a mixing bowl, then whisk in the garlic, lemon juice, mustard and cayenne. Slowly, gradually whisk in the combined canola and olive oils, first drop by drop and then in a slow, steady, thin stream. When the oils are incorporated, whisk in the cream.

Season with salt, cover and refrigerate.

Aïoli III

2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
1 T fresh lemon juice
3 T Dijon mustard
2 large eggs, room temperature

2 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Combine the garlic, lemon juice, mustard and egg in a blender and blend until smooth, between 1 to 2 minutes. With the blender still running, slowly pour in the olive oil in a slow, steady thin stream until the sauce begins to thicken. Take care not to add too much oil in the beginning as the aïoli will not emulsify. The aïoli should be the consistency of a smooth, creamy mayonnaise.

Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate.

Rouille

For a spicy variation on each of the recipes above, just before you slowly pour in the olive oil in a slow, steady, thin stream, add:

1/2 t saffron threads
1/2 t cayenne pepper
1 t tomato paste

Then complete the remainder of the recipe.

Categories’ Translations

January 22, 2009

Admittedly, a paranoia induced entry. In a late night, overwrought effort to be cute, some of my Categories titles may be rightly dubbed obscure. So, to assure the utter transparency that is ever much in the political vogue these days (a more accurate word might be “translucence”), the literal interpretations follow:

Ab Ovo — Eggs

Asides — Vegetables, Side Dishes

Between the Sheets — Sandwich fare

Dough & Yeast — Pasta, Pizza, Calzone

Fine Fowl — Poultry

Fish Out of Water — Fish, Shellfish

Gadgets & Toys — Cutlery, Cookware, Tools, Utensils

Going Green — Salads

Soupçon — Soups

Mulling over Mammals — Meats

Ruminations — Random Thoughts, Ideas

Silk Pantries — Pantry, Cupboard items

Small Pleasures — Appetizers, Hors d’oeuvres, Amuses gueles/bouches, Tapas

Sweet Teeth — Desserts

The Holy Grill — Grilling, Barbeque