Friday, May 29, 2009

Making Banh Mi

Banh Mi

Now, I certainly can't claim that we are anything even approaching experts on Banh Mi. Quite the contrary - we are relatively recent converts to the Church of the Vietnamese Sandwich. What I can say, however, is that we've been making, eating and enjoying Banh Mi a lot lately. And you should, too.

Banh Mi starts with good bread. Luckily, our Banh Mi obsession has coincided with Sherry getting more into bread making. We've tried a number of baguette recipes, some more complex than others, and have been happiest with the simplest - I love it when that happens!

Our Banh Mi bread of choice is a straightforward, knead-rise-shape-and-bake recipe from a basic Williams Sonoma bread book. No overnight starter or slow-rise retarding - the dough is shaped into personal-sized "baguette" sandwich rolls and ready in time for lunch:


Another key ingredient in Banh Mi is some sort of meat filling. At home, we've been favoring pâté. One nice version that we've used is from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, by Andrea Nguyen:

Liver Pate - Vietnamese Style

Her recipe uses chicken livers, ground pork, ground beef, eggs and some extra pork fat. It sets up quite firm and slice-able, and is flavored with an aromatic mixture of onion, garlic, salt, pepper, Cognac and Chinese five-spice powder.

Liver Pate - Vietnamese Style

No need to make your own pâté, though - your favorite store-bought variety will do just fine. We really like using a humble liverwurst.

Next up, what I think is the most important component of Banh Mi - the pickled vegetables. We do a quick-pickle of carrot, daikon radish and cucumber with a bit a jalapeño for some kick.

Banh Mi

Start with the meat on the bottom, top with the tangy marinated vegetables, add a generous amount of cilantro and mint, and you're good to go.

Banh Mi

While pâté is our most common protein of choice, we have had great success experimenting with other fillings as well. Case in point, this chicken milanesa Banh Mi with hit of chile-lime sauce:

Banh Mi

So, if you haven't made your own Banh Mi before, we definitely encourage you to give it a try.

The pickled vegetables are really the only part you need to make yourself, and they are easy. Here is the recipe we've been using:

Marinated Vegetables for Banh Mi

1 large carrot, peeled
1 4-inch piece of daikon radish (about 1 1/2 inch diameter), peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 2-inch piece of cucumber, peeled
1 jalapeño

Cut the carrot and daikon into 2-inch lengths. Julianne each (matchstick or thinner) and place into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Using your hand, massage the salt throughout the vegetables. Let sit for 5 or 10 minutes, at which point a piece of carrot should bend in half without breaking.

Add the sugar to the rice wine vinegar and stir until completely dissolved. Thoroughly rinse and drain the carrot and daikon. Return them to the bowl and cover with the vinegar-sugar marinade. Let sit at room temperature about an hour.

Meanwhile, cut the cucumber into 1/4-inch sticks (discard the seedy center). Cut about half of the jalapeño into thin slices. Taste to assess the heat level - if very hot, cut the slices in half. Add the cucumber and jalapeño slices to the carrot-daikon mixture for the last 30 minutes.

To use, grab a generous pinch of vegetables and gently shake, but do not drain. Use as a condiment or garnish. Makes enough for about four 6-inch Banh Mi. Extra carrot and daikon can be stored with the marinade in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks (discard extra cucumber or jalapeño).

Friday, May 22, 2009

Saucisson Sec

Saucisson Sec - Homemade

Saucisson Sec is pretty much the easiest cured sausage you can make - in fact it just means "dry sausage" in French. The meat is pork, unadulterated save for some salt, pepper, sugar, garlic and "curing salt #2".

While it may be sparse in ingredients, it is big on flavor. Pure pork goodness.

Saucisson Sec - Homemade

It cures quickly - about three weeks in our meat curing fridge. We've made it twice so far, and given how simple it is to make, we will likely keep it in regular rotation going forward.

Saucisson Sec - Homemade

Writing this is making me hungry. I think I'll go grab a few crackers, slice up some Saucisson, and have myself a little snack.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Chile-Lime Chicken

Chile-Lime Chicken

Chiles and limes just belong together, somehow, and this simple dish is a perfect expression of that harmony.

We call it Chile-Lime Chicken, but it is based on a recipe from British restaurateur and television chef Nancy Lam. She calls her dish "Mummy Saucy Chicken" because, as she says "it and stir-fried vegetables were the only things that my mother ever cooked for us, when she wasn't gambling".

If this dish represents childhood neglect, well then sign me up!

Chile-Lime Chicken

It really is easy to make. Take your favorite cleaver (you do have a favorite cleaver, don't you?) and hack up a chicken into small pieces.

Chile-Lime Chicken

After several hours in a soy-based marinade (we usually mix it up in the morning for dinner that night), fry 'em up.

Chile-Lime Chicken

The marinade gives them a fantastic golden color.

Chile-Lime Chicken

Make a simple sauce of chile, lime juice and a bit of sugar. Use whatever kind of fleshy, red chiles you can find. We've used red serranos, red jalapeños, and (when we can get them) the red Holland chiles that are commonly used in Indonesian cooking. The heat level will vary wildly depending on your chiles and how much of the hotter inside bits you use. We like it pretty hot.

Chile-Lime Chicken

The fiery, tangy sauce pairs perfectly with the salty, savory chicken. We serve the chicken family style with individual bowls of the sauce for dipping and bowls of sticky rice to help absorb the chile-burn.

Chile-Lime Chicken

The sauce is also good for other things - a dipping sauce for potstickers, adding some kick to an Asian slaw, on Banh Mi, etc.

Chile-Lime Chicken

If you can only find a 5 pound or larger bird, remove one of the breasts and save for another use.

1 whole chicken, about 4 1/2 pounds
2 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, divided
3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup soy sauce
4-5 whole limes
4-6 fresh, hot red chiles
1/4 cup sugar
Approx. 1/4 cup canola oil, for frying

Use a cleaver, kitchen shears or heavy knife to cut the chicken into small pieces (ie: breasts in 4-5 pieces each, wings split, thighs and legs in half). Leave the skin on.

In a large bowl, mix 1 ½ teaspoon salt, the soy and the black pepper. Coat the chicken pieces evenly in the mixture and refrigerate for at least 4 hours (you can do this in the morning, and let it marinate all day in the fridge).

Squeeze the juice from the limes -- you should get 2/3 to 3/4 cups juice. Chop the chiles into smallish pieces. Put the chiles, a teaspoon of salt, and the sugar into the lime juice, then use a hand blender or food processor to chop the chiles finely. Taste the sauce and add additional sugar or salt if needed.

Heat the oil to medium high in a fry pan. Without crowding, place the chicken pieces into the pan and fry until golden brown and cooked through, turning as needed (15-20 minutes). Remove cooked pieces and keep warm while cooking the rest.

Serve the chicken family-style and provide each diner with a small bowl of dipping sauce and a second bowl of plain short-grained rice.

NOTE: Beware of your fingers after dinner - the spiciness may linger...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Pacific Beach Farmers Market

Pacific Beach Farmer's Market

I go to the beach nearly every Saturday morning - not for surfing or sunbathing, but for outdoor grocery shopping. The PB Farmers Market is one of San Diego's smaller markets, offering only direct farmer-grown products - there are none of the street-fair style prepared-food stands or arts-and-crafts booths. I love the fact that every vendor is a local farmer (or farmer's kid!) selling only what they grow - it's all fresh and top-quality, and the selection is getting better all the time.

I always start at the South end of the market where most of the heavy things are located - they go into the bottom of my bags. My first stop is Schaner Family Farms from Valley Center for onions, garlic, shallots.

Onions from Schaner Family Farms

This winter we also enjoyed their super sweet Tangellos, a cross between a mandarin tangerine and pomello grapefruit (affectionately dubbed "franken-fruit" by Mike). Now in early May we're getting beautiful spring onions and green garlic.

Spring Onions and Green Garlic

Next stop is Polito Family Farms (also from Valley Center) for big bags of Valencia or Navel oranges and huge Oro Blanco grapefruit. Depending upon the season I get all kinds of lemons, limes, tangerines and avocados here as well. France is usually running the stand and she always has a young man helping her out - in this case, her son.

Citrus from Polito Family Farms

A fairly new addition to PB's Farmers Market is the Hopkins AG table. Darrin sells raw and freshly roasted and seasoned almonds from his grandfather's almond and cherry tree farm up in Bakersfield.

Darrin at the PB Farmer's Market

Our absolute favorite are the fresh, raw, in-shell almonds. Tasty snacking, but since it takes time to crack open the shells they don't disappear by the handful the way the others do - much safer for the waistline!

Almonds from Hopkins AG

Cherry season started last week, and our first batch was great.

At the table next door I purchase my weekly supply of lovely, red tomatoes, grown on a farm near Carlsbad. These tomatoes have been tasty the entire year - even in the winter months.

Tomatoes from the PB Farmers Market

Every week, rain or shine, Annie (aka "the Ramona Egg-Lady") sells local, farm-fresh eggs from her family's Eben-Haezer Egg Ranch in Ramona. I always get a dozen large, free-range browns.

Eggs from Eben-Haezer in Ramona

The PB Market is split into two sections. Crossing over to the Northern half, the focus shifts to flowers and fresh vegetables.

PB Farmers Market

One of my favorite stops is the Maciel Family Farm stand manned each week by Sue and Laura with occasional help from a young man. Laura and her husband, Adam (who is at a market in Temecula on Saturdays) grow a huge and varied assortment of vegetables and flowers up in Bonsall. The selection changes frequently, but I can always count on greens like romaine and red leaf lettuce, swiss chard, mustard greens, collard greens, spinach and kale. Often there are beets, turnips, kohlrabi, radishes, chives, lemons, tomatoes and fresh herbs like tarragon, parsley and cilantro.

Maciel Family Farm

Right now they have the sweetest, most flavorful carrots I've had in ages.

Carrots from the Maciel Family Farm

Just across the way, George and Lois sell freshly cut flowers from their farm near Encinitas. Every week George teases me: "Look Lois, she's here. It must be time to close up shop." Without fail, I'm always running late and by the time I'm at their stand it's almost noon - market hours are 8am to 12pm...

George and Lois

In addition to large mixed bouquets, roses, and seasonal bunches of lilies, freesia, tulips, and gerbera daisies, Lois and George sell beautiful little bouquets of mixed posies. I like to keep one by my kitchen sink at home.

Flowers from George and Lois

Right next door, Brandt Beef parks their refrigerated truck. We've been enjoying their meats since they first set up shop in our market just over a year ago (you can find posts of ours using their products here: New York Strip, Bavette Steak, Tri-Tip and, of course, burgers) . If you time it right, you can often sample a freshly grilled piece of steak or burger - I was too late this time.

Brandt Beef at the PB Farmers Market

Several stands sell strawberries, but I've been buying mine from the same two guys since January, when the berries were a bit "crispy" but loaded with great flavor. Now, later in the season, they really can't be beat.

Oceanside Strawberries at the PB Farmers Market

Located right next to the Maciel farm stand, these two guys (who don't really pose for pictures) bring their strawberries, blueberries and vegetables from their farm up in Oceanside. I've been really pleased that this stand carries things like cauliflower, broccoli, snow peas, artichokes and bell peppers. I'm looking forward to corn season, too.

Red and Green Bell Peppers at the PB Farmers Market

Finally, my last stop of the morning is here at the potted-plant stand. There are gorgeous hanging plants and lots of potted flowers of various types.

Potted Plants at the PB Farmers Market

The grower is a super friendly fellow. Over the years, I've purchased several pots of herbs now growing on my patio - rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram, oregano, basil, mint and tarragon. During the winter holidays he sells an assortment of poinsettias, while currently he's got chile pepper and tomato seedlings.

Potted Herbs at the PB Farmers Market

There are a few items carried by multiple growers at the PB Farmers Market, but generally speaking each one fills a specific niche allowing me to do a significant proportion of my grocery shopping on Saturdays at the beach.

Surf, sun, sand and a really good farmers' market - I'm happy.

Pacific Beach Farmers Market
Saturdays, 8am - noon
Mission Boulevard between Pacific Beach Drive and Reed Avenue
(at Promenade Mall)