Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi

So this one is very near and dear to my heart right now.  In six short weeks, my wife and I will be on a plane to Ho Chi Minh City  for a two week long honeymoon all over Vietnam.  Just about everything is booked and ready to go, we just need to fast forward a few weeks to actually being there (if we can fast forward, maybe I can go ahead and make a request to continue fast forwarding through the 24 hours of travel to get there too).  We are excited to see all the sights; the busy cities and spectacular mountains and bays, but we are almost more excited to eat everything there is to eat.  We love Vietnamese food and can't wait to get knee deep in bowls of rice noodles, soups, and pretty much anything else placed in front of us.  To celebrate the upcoming trip, I decided to make Banh Mi - Vietnam's well known sandwiches.  Banh Mi is one of many vestiges of French occupation in Vietnam, bringing together baguettes and sometimes paté or other potted meats from French cuisine and cilantro and pickled carrots and daikon from Vietnamese cuisine.  The French first introduced baguettes to the Vietnamese in the early 20th century, so they are a relatively recent addition to Vietnamese cuisine.  Technically, banh mi refers to the baguette only, which is made with wheat and rice flour, although the word is commonly considered to be the sandwich, which is usually stuffed with vegetables and meats.  The recipe that I made was for pork meatballs, which also contained Vietnamese flavors including fish sauce and hot chili sauce.  These things are a slam dunk and can be made very quickly using store bought ground pork.  The only cooking that is really involved is the meatballs - everything else is very easy to put together.

Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi
(adapted from Bon Appetit - January 2010)

Hot Chili Mayo
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (I used sriracha)

1 lb well marbled boston butt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (I used Sriracha)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

2 cups julienned peeled carrots
2 cups julienned peeled daikon
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

4 8" long pieces of baguette
Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles (personal preference)
16 large fresh cilantro sprigs

For the meatballs:
I ground my own pork for this but you could very easily opt to buy store-ground pork.  I was just looking for an excuse to use my Kitchenaid grinder attachment =).  If you can get boston butt broken down into 1 lb portions, that will work great.  If not, there is no shame in buying a larger portion and freezing the leftover ground pork.  There will always be a use for it eventually.  Begin by freezing your auger, blades, and dies for the grinder.  Break down the pork into roughly 1" cubes and spread them out on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle salt on top and use your hands to mix the pork up and help distribute the salt.  Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes, until the pork is starting to freeze through.  This will make grinding easier.  If they are frozen through when you check, let them thaw until they are partially unfrozen before grinding.  Set up your grinder attachment with the large die and grind the pork into a bowl which is set in an ice bath to help keep everything cold.  Switch out to the smaller die and pass the pork through once more.  Reserve 1 lb of the ground pork and freeze the rest.

Make the meatballs by adding the rest of the ingredients listed above and mixing well with your bare hands.  Line a baking sheet with saran wrap and make the meatballs by portioning out about 1 tbsp of meatball mix into your hands and forming them into a meatball shape.  Place on the saran wrap sheet and continue for the rest of the meatballs.  

Place the meatballs in the fridge until ready to cook.

For the pickles:
Julienne your radish and carrot however you like - I used a mandoline but I'm not totally convinced that I like my mandoline.  Every time I use it, I manage to cut myself.  This was no exception.  I guess it's faster but I'd almost rather julienne by hand.  Anyway - place the veggies in a bowl and mix the other ingredients in.  Allow to sit for at least an hour for pickle to occur.  

For the mayo:
Mix ingredients together well in a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 To compose the sandwich, cook the meatballs in a large skillet in 1 tbsp of sesame oil or canola oil.  Cook on all sides until the meatballs are well done.  Cut your baguette into appropriate sizes and tear out some of the bread in the middle, leaving a shell for you to place the fillings.  Spread a good amount of the mayo on the bottom and, if desired, line with jalepeno slices.  Place meatballs on top of those, followed by pickles and cilantro.

It was a lot of fun to make this and get a little Americanized taste of what I might expect out of Vietnam.  I'd love to get into some more involved recipes, so if anyone has any good recommendations for legit Vietnamese recipes, I would be really excited to hear about them.  I can't wait for this trip and I can't wait to try to bring back some of the sights and sounds and smells to share!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Duck Prosciutto

Welcome to my first adventure into air cured meats.  It's a scary world to enter - I went the majority of my life not knowing that cured meats technically meant uncooked meats.  The idea is hard to grasp at first:  relying on salt to create an inhospitable habitat in order to ward off nasty bacteria, but it's how some of the tastiest meats on earth are made.  It's also one of the classic methods of preservation, so if people were doing this for centuries prior to refrigeration, why shouldn't I be able to pull off some fun stuff in my kitchen?  

I saw some duck breasts at Whole Foods and it crossed my mind that I could make the duck prosciutto from Charcuterie.  It's probably the easiest air-cured meat in the book, the only seasonings are salt and white pepper, so it's really all about the duck breasts.  If you like having lazy afternoons with a couple cheeses, olives, and bread around, then I highly suggest you give this a shot.

Duck Prosciutto
(from Charcuterie)

2 duck breasts
2 cups kosher salt
1/2 ground white pepper

Start by putting 1 cup of the salt in a dish that is just big enough for both duck breasts to fit in without touching each other.  Place the duck breasts on the bed of salt and cover with the rest of the salt.  You want the duck breasts to be completely covered by salt.  Cover the dish with baking salt and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

Remove the duck breasts from the salt, rinse thoroughly and pat dry.  The flesh should have turned a deeper red and will have firmed up.  Dust the breasts with white pepper.

Wrap each breast individually in cheesecloth.  Hang the breasts for about 7 days, until the flesh is firm throughout.  In my next attempts at making this, I will try to find a better hanging system.  I wrapped each breast like you would wrap a present with ribbon at Christmas.  It worked fine from a functionality standpoint, but because there were only 4 tie points, it caused some imperfections on the final cure.  I'd like to spend some time coming up with a better way to hang it so that I get a more presentable final product.

After the breasts are fully cured, just remove them from the cheesecloth and store them in the refrigerator in plastic wrap. Some of the cheesecloth filaments may stick to the duck, they can be easily pulled off.  I had some white mold on one corner of one of the prosciuttos that had a structure similar to cotton candy.  I actually emailed Michael Ruhlman to see if that was ok or a sign of rancidity, and he suggested simply wiping the section with some vinegar (he also responded within 2 minutes of the sending of my email, how's that for speedy response from a guy who no doubt gets hundreds of dumb emails from people like me per day).

To serve, slice very thinly on a bias and serve with anything you want.  Charcuterie suggests serving with Parmigiano-Reggiano, arugula, and lemon juice.  I served it with a cheese plate that included Camembert, Uniekaas Reserve, and sliced baguette.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Beet, Ricotta, and Braised Pistachio Terrine

A couple of years ago, my wife was working as a hostess at a restaurant in Manhattan called Mas Farmhouse, which is in the West Village.  I remember one of the most memorable dishes that I had there was also one of the simplest:  a butternut squash terrine with ricotta and a black pepper vinaigrette.  Simple in presentation, simple in concept. It wasn't even necessarily the best thing that we had that night, but it stuck with me.  I still think about it every once in a while and recently it dawned on me that I should take a shot at recreating it.  It's like a new tattoo, if you can't get the idea out of your head, you should probably just go for it.  So it took me a couple of years, but I decided this weekend that I wanted to make an attempt at my own terrine.  I had a few specific ingredients in mind - I wanted to use beets, ricotta, and pistachios.  I wanted to make a departure from the predictable beets and goat cheese combo.  It's a solid combination, no doubt about that, but I thought beet and ricotta could be just as good - strongly flavored marinated beets mixed with creamy ricotta, with some pistachios in there for texture.  I used gelatin to try to bind the layers together, which ultimately ended up not contributing much.  I think I could have solved that a couple of different ways (which I will get to later), but the terrine was really tasty in the end.

Beet, Ricotta, and Braised Pistachio Terrine

2 bunches beets (red, golden, or chiogga) with greens
1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 c white balsamic vinegar

1 gallon milk
2 c heavy cream
1/3 c + 1 tbsp lemon juice
1/4 c chopped tarragon
1/4 c chopped chives

1 c pistachios
2 sprigs parsley
1 bay leaf
2 sprigs tarragon

2 loose c arugula
gelatin packets (optional)

For the beets:

Preheat the oven to 400º.  Separate the beet greens and set aside.  Trim the beets and place in a roasting pan.  Fill 1/4 way up with water and cover with aluminum foil.  Bake for about 40 minutes or until they pierce easily with a knife.  Allow them to cool and then peel them with your fingers.

When they are cool, slice them approximately 1/8" to 1/4" thick. Mix the oil, vinegar, and 1 tsp salt to make a vinaigrette.  Lay the beets in a pan and pour the vinaigrette over them.  If you are mixing red beets with any of the others, keep them separated and distribute the vinaigrette evenly.  Allow them to marinate in the fridge for at least an hour.  When you pull the beets out to make the terrine, reserve the vinaigrette.  That will end up as the dressing for the arugula salad.

For the ricotta:

Home made ricotta is no joke.  If you haven't tried it before, it is well worth the effort.  It dries out to a crumbly cheese consistency, not the wet mush that you get in the store.  If you buy store bought ricotta, just spread it out on some cheesecloth on a cooling rack or something to allow the liquid to drain off and let it dry out for a while prior to using.

Bring the milk, cream, and salt to a near simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent scorching.  Pour the lemon juice in and give a good stir.  Allow the curdles to form and stir again.  Let the mixture simmer for a few minutes until the curds are mostly formed.  Line a colander with cheesecloth and place a large bowl under the colander.  Drain the curds into the colander and reserve about 2c of the whey which has dripped through into the bowl.  This will be your braising liquid for the pistachios.  When the ricotta has cooled, stir in the chopped tarragon and chives.  If you're feeling frisky you could zest the lemons prior to squeezing the juice out and then add the zest to the ricotta.

For the pistachios:

Pour the whey into a saucepan with the parsley, bay leaf, and tarragon.  Bring to a simmer and pour the pistachios in.  Braise them in the liquid for approximately 10 minutes - until soft but still with a little bit of bite.  Strain the pistachios out, rinse, and chop.  These turned out really tasty, faint hints of tarragon and the buttery pistachio taste made for a good combination.

For the beet greens:

Trim the stems out of the beet greens and rinse.  Bring a pot full of water to boil and prepare an ice bath.  Blanch the greens for just a minute and then move to the ice bath.  Lay them out on paper towels and cover with plastic wrap until ready to assemble.

To assemble:

In my nervous state to put this together, I forgot to take pictures of everything, so I'm going to have to improvise on some of these. The layers don't progress perfectly but you get the gist.  If you are using the gelatin, sprinkle some between each layer to help bind them.  I used the powdered gelatin and sprinkled a generous amount on each layer.  It still did not seem to bind well though.  Another option suggested to me, which I wish I would have tried, was to use a spray bottle with gelatin/water to evenly coat each layer.  My real problem was the pistachio layer - the gelatin did not bind anything in that layer.  I could have solved that a couple of different ways - I could have bookended the pistachio layer with ricotta, which would have made a little ricotta sandwich and potentially bound everything together.  The other option might have been to create a separate pistachio/gelatin mold and then lay in the layer after the gelatin set.  I'm not sure if the textures would have worked (jello mixed with ricotta?) but it would have held together much better.  In the end it tasted great but the gelatin brought very little to the party.  If you are vegetarian or just don't want to use gelatin, I'd just drop it altogether and make sure that the pistachios are layered in a fashion that is conducive to slicing later.

Ok here we go:  Line some sort of deep walled pan (like a bread pan) with plastic wrap.

Line the edges with the blanched beet greens...

Place a layer of red beets down - pat them dry with paper towels prior to laying them in to reduce the amount of bleeding that they do (this is actually the top layer, tee hee).

Place a layer of ricotta down, about half of the total amount

Another layer of beets...

All of the pistachios

And repeat the process in reverse (gold, ricotta, red) for the top layers, wrapping the beet greens over top at the very end..

Cover the top with a sheet of plastic wrap and place a heavy weight on top.  Refrigerate overnight.   To serve, invert the dish and use the plastic wrap to help get the terrine out.  Use a warm knife to cut through the terrine and wipe the blade clean after each slice.  You can see that the red beets bled into the ricotta, despite the fact that I literally wiped them all dry with paper towels.  I think next time I will avoid red beets altogether.  I wish I could get my hands on some chiogga beets, they would be really nice.

To plate, toss the arugula with the reserved beet vinaigrette and some chopped pistachios.  I served the terrine with the salad and seared tuna with chive oil.