May 1, 2011

Papparoti, He Wrote

Filed under: Food, Travel — Chris @ 6:04 pm

In my post last week, I totally forgot to mention one of our favorite parts of visiting Vietnam: Papparoti. They sell “Malaysian style buns,” delightful fist-sized pastries with a nugget of butter (or buttery substance) in the center, topped with some kind of (supposedly coffee-flavored) streusel, served hot out of the oven from a counter on the sidewalk for less than a dollar. We ate at least one of these every single day we were in Hanoi.
Top - Pappa Roti, Glen Waverley AUD2.20
Somebody in New York needs to get on franchising one of these immediately. They’ve already got them in Australia and Pasadena. (Pasadena, for Pete’s sake. Are we going to let those jerks lord it over us?!) This has all the makings of a white hot foodie fad that would last six months and end in bankruptcy. Doesn’t that sound like something you would like to be involved in?

Creative Commons photo courtesy of avlxyz on Flickr.


June 14, 2009

The Last Word on Bánh Mì

Filed under: Food — Chris @ 1:43 pm

It has come to pass that bánh mì are passé—featured on the front page of the New York Times Dining section; available outside of Chinatown, in Midtown, the West Village, and Park Slope; dismissed by Tom Colicchio (who gives no evidence of having ever actually eaten one; he’s tired of hearing about them). Well, we’ve been covering bánh mì from the very beginning on this blog, since before the dawn of bánh mì history, and we think there are still a few questions that remain to be answered.

Question #1: There’s a new bánh mì shop right down the street. Do I really need to make a special trip to Lower Manhattan or Sunset Park for the “authentic experience”? A bánh mì is a practically fool-proof sandwich. With one exception (see below), I have never had a bánh mì in New York that was not at least tasty. Hanco’s in Boerum Hill and Park Slope makes a damn good sandwich, one that I’m happy to eat on a regular basis (not least because they will deliver it to my door).

That said, the best bánh mì I’ve had by a fair margin—and I’ve tried nearly all the top contenders here and here—is at Ba Xuyên in Sunset Park. The difference is in the construction and in the careful balance of ingredients: you need just the right snap and vinegar from the pickled vegetables; the tangy sweetness of the aioli; a few shadings of peppery, meaty flavors (preferably a combination of grilled, marinated meat and pâté); the crunch of the bread, with a bit of heft and chewiness; fresh hot peppers and cilantro, of course; and, finally, you need all of these components to be layered so that the reach your mouth in roughly the correct proportions in every bite.

Most bánh mì go wrong in at least one of these categories. Hanco’s has a nice combination of flavors undone by lop-sided construction, so that one’s choices are to alternate bites of vegetables and meat or to reconstruct the sandwich from first principles. Baoguette has nice ingredients (and an interesting variation on the traditional meats, presented in chopped, cubed form, rather than as slices), but falls short with bread that lacks snap and flavor. Saigon Vietnamese Sandwich inexplicably omits the aioli (or maybe I got a reject?), throwing the balance of flavors off.

Ba Xuyên gets everything right, and their sandwiches cost about half of what you’ll pay at the shop in your neighborhood (the sandwich is probably about 50% bigger too). If you have enjoyed bánh mì elsewhere, you owe it to yourself to give it a try. Take the R train to 43 Street and walk through Sunset Park. The shop is one block past the park on Eighth Ave at 43rd St. I recommend the grilled pork (#7) and a milk tea with pearls. Walk back to the park and sit on a bench while you eat, taking in a beautiful view of New York Harbor.

Question #2: Is there a “fancy” bánh mì worth eating? I first posed this question back in December, after having been disappointed (twice!) by the bánh mì simulation on offer at Sidecar Lounge. I’ve since tried the bánh mì at Momofuku Ssäm Bar and can report it is a damn fine sandwich that fails the balance test, as sketched above. It relies very heavily on the dark, peppery flavor of nicely grilled pork and generous slathering of pâté, and gives less emphasis to the fresh, vinegary bite of pickled vegetables or the chewy crunch of the bread. I wouldn’t warn anyone off it (as I would the Sidecar version), but it’s not my favorite dish on their menu (which would be pork buns, duh, or the spicy rice cakes). Nor is it my favorite bánh mì in town (not by a longshot).

Arguably, what Num Pang and An Choi are doing is also an attempt to “elevate” the bánh mì (although I suppose lumping Num Pang in with bánh mì is a bit imperialist). I haven’t tried the latter. The former are very, very good, totally worth a try, but quite expensive by bánh mì standards (the sandwiches are only $7 or 8, in general, but they’re also not quite a meal in themselves).

December 14, 2008

Bacon-Wrapped Bacon

Filed under: Food, Not Tech — Chris @ 8:27 pm

This is either the best kitchen tip ever or proof that H and I are certifiably insane… You know how bacon is delicious and you want to have it on hand? And you know how you don’t want to eat a pound of bacon every week? And you know how bacon generally comes in one pound packages with overlapping slices that freeze up into a giant block that cannot be quickly and easily thawed?

A Pound of Bacon

I think we may have solved this problem.

Take a baking sheet (or you may need two (or you may need to eat some of the bacon before you freeze it)) and lay a sheet of plastic wrap over it. Lay your slices of bacon side by side (not overlapping!) on the plastic wrap. Lay another sheet of plastic wrap over the bacon, smoothing it out so there’s no exposed meat. Put the baking sheet in the freezer.

Plastic wrapOf course, you don’t want a giant baking sheet of bacon in your freezer indefinitely. Once the bacon is frozen (overnight, probably), remove it from the freezer. Horizontally roll up the bacon, one strip at a time to form a cylinder of delicious frozen bacon (this may require some repositioning of the bacon in order to introduce adequate slack in the plastic. Or else you can take this into account pre-freezing, if you’ve got extra baking sheets and room in the freezer). Put the wrapped-up bacon in a gallon freezer bag.

Bacon Roll

Now, any quantity of bacon from one strip up to a full pound can be extracted from the freezer and ready to cook in less than a minute. Enjoy.

[UPDATE] Welcome Diggers. A few notes:

  1. I have not filed for a patent on this technique. No doubt it has been done before.
  2. Wax paper is a good idea. With wax paper, you could probably roll up the bacon before you freeze it, and it wouldn’t glump together.
  3. My camera is broken (damn modern world). The drawings are better anyway.

Thanks to H for her precise rendering of rolled-up plastic wrap.

Free Clip Art Provided by Copyright 2007. All Rights Reserved.

December 7, 2008

“Banh D”? More Like “Banh F”

Filed under: Food — Chris @ 1:10 pm

Having now made the same mistake twice, I need to get this down in Google to protect my future self: the “Banh D” sandwich at Sidecar is not only a bad value compared to a $3.50 Ba Xuyen banh mi, it is not even a particularly tasty sandwich, poorly conceived from top to bottom.

Every attempt I’ve encountered to “class up” a banh mi has been a failure. This is perplexing. The banh mi is a very simple sandwich, which offers very simple—though profound—pleasures. It stands to reason a clever cook could “elevate” (to use an obnoxious Top Chef cliché) the banh mi into something both delicious and worth $11. But… no.

I mean, tell me: why ciabatta? Vietnamese baguettes are absolutely delicious: crispy, fluffy, and chewy all at the same time. Ciabatta is not an improvement. Is there any such thing as a good sandwich made better by ciabatta?

In fairness, I will point out that Sidecar’s fried chicken is delicious (though they charge an extra dollar or two for dark meat, which is bullshit). I also hear good things about the burger.

December 2, 2008

Argh, Pot Pie

Filed under: Food — Chris @ 4:37 pm

I feel duty-bound to report that I have made this pot pie recipe twice since my first post on it, in both cases unsuccessfully.

The first time I made it, I made a drop biscuit topping. The biscuits didn’t really rise, but they tasted fine. The filling was, if anything, too thick.

The second time I made it, I used a sheet of puff pastry on top (I did not make a cheesy stick lattice, because that is crazy) and used chicken and chicken stock instead of turkey (it wasn’t Thanksgiving). The puff pastry cooked perfectly, but the filling didn’t thicken properly.

This last time, I used a sheet of puff pastry on top, but I cut vents in it (on the theory that the thickening problem was due to insufficient evaporation), I left out the chipotles, and I added a fistful of extra frozen veggies. The filling bubbled up through the vents and prevented the pastry from cooking. After some time, seeing that things were not going well, I removed the puff pastry and threw it away. Luckily I had another sheet of pastry, which I cut into squares and put into the oven on a baking sheet. The filling wasn’t thickening, so I stirred in several tablespoons of corn starch and put it back in the oven.

The filling didn’t thicken.

Maybe I’m an idiot and I’m doing something that’s really obviously stupid (e.g., failing to adjust the flour/corn starch ratio to the water content of the milk/cream/veggies as I nip and tuck the recipe). Just be warned: the recipe is not foolproof (I’m the fool that proves it).

It was delicious that one time, though.

November 24, 2008

Peanut Butter Panic*

Filed under: Food — Chris @ 7:01 pm

Peanut butter is a problem. No right-thinking person would condescend to eat Skippy, but “natural-style” peanut butters are annoying: they separate, usually coming with a puddle of oil on top; no matter how well you mix them, they get hard and nigh-unspreadable by the time you’ve reached the bottom. The way I see it, you’ve got three options:

  1. Remove all of the peanut butter from the jar, mix it using a hand or stand mixer, and then put it back into the jar. The resulting mixture will be more stable than anything you can accomplish with a butter knife from atop the jar. This is, needless to say, a bit of a pain in the ass.
  2. Purchase a special-purpose peanut-butter stirrer. But that’s crazy. Anybody you might buy such a thing for would be liable to fail to appreciate it, and you’d be frustrated.
  3. Make your own peanut butter! This is surprisingly easy.

Even if you prefer Options 1 and 2 for your everyday, average peanut butter, making your own peanut butter affords you the opportunity to add things like honey, maple syrup, garam masala, and so on and so forth. I.e., just generally dress that shit up. Here is my very own, extremely easy recipe for honey roasted peanut butter, which is, IMHO, the very best kind of peanut butter and, served atop a toasted English muffin, makes, IMHO, the very best quick breakfast a man could ask for.

Honey roasted peanut butter
1 c. roasted peanuts, unsalted
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 Tbsp. honey
1 Tbsp. peanut, canola, or other vegetable oil

Put the peanuts, salt, and honey in a food processor. Press Go (or Start or Yes or whatever). The peanuts will go through a few stages: chopped nuts, finely chopped nuts, nut meal, nut paste. At the paste stage, the mixture will form a ball. At this point, start drizzling oil into the food processor. The ball will gradually de-form in something recognizable as peanut butter. The whole process will take 2-3 minutes. Adjust the amount of oil to get the desired consistency. Adjust the salt and honey to taste. Keeps in the fridge for several weeks, at least.

* There are about three people in the world who would know where I got the title of this post. And none of them read this blog.

November 27, 2007

Mm, Pot Pie

Filed under: Food — Chris @ 2:46 am

The NY Times recipe for Turkey pot pie with chipotle and cheese is awesome, although I did make a few modifications. Instead of the “cheesy stick” lattice top, I made a biscuit topping from this Gourmet magazine recipe (I forgot to add the cheese and they didn’t really rise, but whatever). I used homemade Thanksgiving-turkey-carcass stock. I used 1 cup of heavy cream and 1 cup of whole milk (because I didn’t have enough cream). I added about a 1.5 cups of sliced shitake mushrooms and 1.5 cups of mixed grated Cheddar/Monterey Jack/Colby along with the turkey and veggies. I sprinkled about 1/2 cup of the cheese on top of the biscuits.

I don’t think any of these modifications made a huge amount of difference, although I can testify that it turned out plenty creamy without 2 cups of cream. I would not recommend attempting the cheesy stick lattice.

[UPDATE 12/2/1008] This recipe has frustrated me of late.

November 10, 2007

Problems, I’ve Had A Few (Fresh Pasta Edition)

Filed under: Food, Not Tech — Chris @ 10:45 pm

The problem with making fresh pasta dough by the well method is that, if your eggs should overtop their flour walls, they will move quite rapidly towards the edge of the counter and, from there, to the floor. In my case, I actually managed to let a significant quantity of egg matter seep into the dishwasher.*

The problem with making fresh ravioli is that it’s actually quite tricky and you’re bound to screw it up the first time, especially if you’d like to stuff them with a mash of fresh pumpkins that is unexpectedly wet. (You’ve got to walk before you run, kids.)

The problem with Mario Batali is he doesn’t say any of this in his recipes.

* Bonus tip: there’s no way to save a pasta dough once you’ve incorporated too much flour (e.g., because you started desperately flinging it at a rapidly advancing torrent of eggs). The dough quite decidely “locks” and won’t react to additional liquid/eggs in any useful way.

July 25, 2007

Hill Country, NYC

Filed under: Food, Not Tech — Chris @ 2:51 am

The New York Times review on Hill Country—the new Texas-style barbecue joint in Chelsea—is correct in every particular. I would add that I found the fatty brisket too fatty (I’m not one to complain about fattiness in general) though still absolutely delicious, and that H and Stephen were terribly offended by the number of lines involved.

July 8, 2007

Lessons in Vegetarian Cooking

Filed under: Food, Not Tech — Chris @ 12:05 am

Sautéing tofu dogs is a bad idea.

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