Saturday, September 25, 2010

Che Bap: Vietnamese Corn Rice Pudding

Although pho and banh mi have both garnered somewhat mainstream success with Western cultures and palates and certain Vietnamese influences can be found in some of the best restaurants in the world (I recently had that chao tom and it was amazing), che has undeservedly gone under the radar.
The variety of che is fairly diverse, but a couple common themes shared by some of the more popular ches are the use of sweet sticky rice and a sweet and salty coconut milk sauce.  With che thai being my all time favorite che, che bap is definitely in my top 5.  As corn season recently drew to an end, I thought I'd take advantage of the sweet corn while it lasted and make some che bap.
Instead of letting the harvested ears go to waste, I simmered them in water and used that water to cook the rice.  This added another layer of corn flavor to the che.  The resulting che pretty much tasted like sweet rice with corn and coconut milk: clean and straightforward. Corn and coconut seem to have a natural affinity for each other, and I'm not sure if any other cuisines utilize this combination.  Chef Curtis Duffy of Avenues recently created a dish of sweet corn soup with coconut, and I can't help but wonder if che bap served as an inspiration for it.
Corn and coconut's affinity for each other lead me to experiment with making uchepos topped with Vietnamese coconut milk sauce.  Aside from the lack of sweet rice, they turned out tasting a lot like che bap.  The next time I make uchepos, I’ll stuff them with young coconut meat rather than topping them with coconut milk sauce as I found the sauce to be a little too rich and heavy for the delicate uchepos.
Coconut milk sauce:
  1. 1 cup coconut milk + 1 Tbps sugar + salt to taste + medium heat => low simmer
  2. 1 Tbsp water + 1 Tbsp cornstarch (slurry) => stir until sauce thickens
Che bap:
  1. 3 cups corn-infused water + high heat => boil
  2. 1/4 cup rinsed sweet rice
  3. 5 minutes => stir occasionally
  4. 1/3 cup coconut milk + 5 Tbsp sugar + 1/2 tsp salt => lower to simmer
  5. 450 grams corn kernels (3-5 ears)
  6. 5 minutes
  7. 1/2 tsp vanilla extract => serve warm or cold topped with coconut milk sauce

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lamb Heart/Tongue Biryani


I absolutely love South Asian food.  The bold and diverse flavors of Desi cuisine make it arguably my favorite cuisine.  My love for South Asian food probably stems from the chicken curry my mom used to always make in my youth.  It's one of my favorite things to eat in her repertoire and although it's more of a Vietnamese/Malaysian hybrid curry, those heavily spiced bowls of goodness did well to prime my taste buds for South Asian flavors.


One of my favorite things to eat of all time is biryani.  I'd eaten a few times growing up, but it wasn't until college that I really got addicted to biryani: specifically the lamb biryani from Blue Nile.  Their balance of the spices, texture of the rice, and tenderness of the lamb was spot on and pretty much set the standard for which I judge all biryanis against.

Also, because Blue Nile was a Middle Eastern place, each order of biryani came with a side of tahini sauce which gave the dish an extra dimension of flavor with its slight acidity and helped cut some of the meat’s fat.  Slathering biryani in tahini sauce has become my preferred method of eating biryani over the years, and I honestly could drink an entire pitcher of tahini sauce because it’s so good.


After a few years of cultivating my taste for biryani, the time finally came for me to try making some myself.  Lamb tends to be my preferred meat of choice for biryani, so I decided to go with a combination of lamb heart and lamb tongue for the protein.  The heart and tongue both had a nice level of lambiness/gaminess, which is why I like lamb so much.


Recipes for biryani can be highly variable due to regional differences, but they’re plentiful and can be easily found online.  I opted to adapt a recipe that called for heating whole spices and ginger in ghee to awaken them.  I then combined the spices with the meat that was slowly braised overnight in homemade beef stock and biryani spices.



The braising liquid was then used to par-boil the rice, and the meat and spices were folded into the rice.  After a good sprinkling of freshly ground saffron to the top of the rice, the biryani was left to bake in the oven.



As I said before, I love to eat biryani with tahini sauce and made some myself by combining tahini, olive oil, salt, and lemon juice.  I opted not to use garlic in my tahini sauce as I didn’t want it to compete with the numerous spices already in the biryani.  The acidity from the tahini was pretty much a required condiment in order to cut the natural fattiness of the tongue.  Overall, I found my first stab at biryani to be quite a success.  The next time I make biryani, I’ll probably opt for some type of game bird as the main protein.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Alinea: 10-09-09


Shortly after my first meal at Alinea, in which I was very ill, I had the fortunate opportunity to dine there again.  With my sense of smell and taste firing on all cylinders, this meal was undoubtedly better than my previous experience.  Here you’ll find courses not found in my previous meal at Alinea.


CENTERPIECE – rosemary

I embarrassingly forgot to turn off my flash and was promptly and kindly told that flashes were not allowed by the articulate server with the bow tie.  He served us several courses during my first meal and his delivery and style were unforgettable.



PEAR – eucalyptus, olive oil, black pepper

I honestly can’t remember much about this bite, but I do remember enjoying it more than the oxalis from the first meal.



BROOK TROUT– monseigneur

This by far was the best dish of the night for me.  The fish was cooked perfectly and literally melted in my mouth.  I’d also never had roe that was so vibrant before.  Sadly, the table next to us took one bite of the fish and didn’t care for it.  They perceived their fish to be vastly undercooked, but I find that a bit hard to believe.



PHEASANT – apple, shallot, burning leaves

The preparation and presentation was not unlike the sweet potato from my first meal.  In place of a smoldering cinnamon stick was a twig with burning leaves to give the sense of autumn.



DUCK – chestnut, mace, orange

The lilac kudzu pillows that I had in the lilac/shellfish dish from my first meal at Alinea made their return in the  form of chestnut kudzu pillows.  Unsurprisingly, they were smooth and pillowy.  The duck in the dish consisted of foie gras and duck breast.



THAI BANANA – beer, mustard, pecans

Another bite in which I can’t remember what it tasted like in detail, but I do remember enjoying this more than the mustard bite, which came in the same preparation, from my first meal.  This time around, I made sure to eat this quickly since it was a “time sensitive” bite.



PEANUT BUTTER – dried and spicy

Of all the terse descriptions, this one was probably the most accurate and justified.  It tasted like really good peanut butter with a little bit of heat.



SEA URCHIN – aloe, yuzu, chili

This dish definitely challenged me.  It’s not that I didn’t enjoy it, but the flavor combinations perplexed me as I’d never tasted anything like this before.  When it was presented as sea urchin, I was expecting a huge briny punch to my taste buds, but I don’t recall one.



LAMB – pumpkin, eggplant, rosemary aroma

The centerpiece came into play for this course.  Three pieces of lamb, all with different garnishes and flavor profiles, were served on hot piece of metal that seared the outside of the meat.  The rosemary was placed on the end of the hot metal which released the aroma and oils from the rosemary.



BLACKBERRY – goat milk, onion, lavender

This bite was suspended on the end of an antenna and was very similar to the rhubarb/goat milk/onion/lavender air dish from my first meal in flavor: essentially an onion cheesecake from what I recall.

IMG_4003 IMG_4004


HAY – burnt sugar, coffee, huckleberry

This dish was presented as “hay brulee,” and Chef de Cuisine Dave Beran noted that it was the first night of putting out this dish.  I can’t imagine what it eventually evolved to after several iterations because what we had was simply incredible.  Hands down, this was the best sweet dish or bite of the night.  The aroma of hay instantly reminded me of autumn just as the burning leaves on the pheasant did.