Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Chicago Autumn Banh Mi

The West Side now has its own Banh Mi restaurant....Bon Bon, on North right past Western. The service is iffy and the sandwich quality highly variable, but the price is right and the atmosphere genial. We have gone a few times, but I always think that I could produce a better sandwich at home with minimal effort.

If you don't know Banh Mi, it is a Vietnamese sandwich made on a wheat and rice flour baguette. It is stuffed with pickles, hot peppers, vegetables, herbs, various proteins, and topped off with a slathering of mayo. They are amenable to improvisation and generally better than a standard "Italian" sub. Traditionally the pickle is made with matchsticks of daikon radish and carrots. While this is delicious, daikon radish pickle presents a dilemma for the home cook -- the fridge, indeed the entire kitchen, is usually permeated with a funky fermenting radish smell that takes days to dissipate. I imagine this is not an issue in the open air markets of Vietnam, but the aforementioned restaurant bathes patrons in this unique odor upon entry. I came upon a solution to this odor dilemma earlier this year, when my sisters hosted an informal "Iron Chef: Santa Fe". I went up against one of their boyfriends and a neighbor and it was "Battle Apples". I decided to make three southeast Asian dishes, and one was a Banh Mi, with an apple-based pate and apple pickle substituting for the daikon. It was a rousing success, and I have never looked back. P.S. I won.

So, here is my riff on Banh Mi, featuring products from my garden and the local farmers market. Please note, the bread matters here -- the overly chewy French baguettes a la Whole Foods are not appropriate. The bread needs to be shatteringly crisp on the outside and very pliant on the inside. The rolls and loaves you can pick up at any local Mexican panaderia are much closer to the real thing. This is less a recipe and more a list of suggested ingredients

Chicago Autumn Banh Mi

Crisp baguette
Slathering of Mayo
Cucumber slices
Quick Apple-Chicken Liver pate (see below)
Quick Carrot-Apple pickle (see below)
Strips of serrano peppers

Quick Apple-Chicken Liver Pate

2 spoonfuls of oil, bacon or chicken fat, or butter
1 large onion, sliced thin
1-2 apples, sliced
1 pint container chicken livers, cleaned
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch Chinese five-spice powder

1. Heat the fat in a saute pan, cook the onions until translucent, add the apples and cook until soft but not mushy. Scrape into a food processor, add a little more fat to the pan and saute the livers until slightly pink in the middle. Season with spices to taste.

2. Process to a chunky paste and let cool in a bowl. If you want to save it, pack into a bowl, smooth the top and pour a thin layer of melted butter or fat over the top. Refrigerate.

Quick Carrot-Apple Pickle

2 apples
2 carrots
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt

1. Peel and cut the apples and carrots into uniform matchsticks.

2. Stir the vinegar, salt and sugar until dissolved and add the carrots and apples. Toss well and let sit for 20 or so minutes until pliant.

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