I really enjoy foods that are briny and pickle-y, so I was ecstatic when I read that this month’s CharcutePalooza challenge would be corned beef. Simply making corned beef hash or straight up corned beef with braised vegetables would’ve been perfectly enjoyable for me, and although a Reuben is one of my favorite sandwiches of all time, those options all felt a little uninspired.
During a recent conversation with my mom, we got on the topic of pho as I told her about the mighty fine bowl I had at Pho Kimmy. With the aromatic scent of star anise, cinnamon, fresh herbs, and beef broth permeating her childhood memories, she recounted the times she spent at the pho place her grandpa owned and operated in Vietnam. However, her fondest memory of the eatery was not of a succulent bowl of pho but of a comforting impromptu sandwich her grandpa would make for her whenever she visited.
The sandwich consisted of only four ingredients: tender brisket straight from a cauldron of simmering pho broth, Maggi, pepper, and a baguette. Simplicity was the key to keeping his grandkids happy and satiated. This story gave me the idea to make some sort of sandwich using pho-spiced corned beef as opposed to traditionally-spiced corned beef. Rather than brisket, though, I decided to use beef tongue because I appreciate the amount of fat and flavor it has.
Despite the fact that I’ve worked with tongue many times in the past, I opted to try my hand at skinning it raw rather than cooked after seeing a video of someone doing it masterfully. This probably wasn’t the best idea. It took quite a while to do because I failed to skin the top part off in one fell swoop. My enthusiasm for trying out a new butchering technique threw a wrench in what was otherwise a no-brainer recipe.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned so far from doing these CharcutePalooza challenges, it’s that basic charcuterie is really easy. The amount of active time spent in the kitchen is very minimal, and the tasks required are not complicated. Corned beef is no different: make the brine, stick the meat in the brine, wait a few days, cook.
When it came to making the brine, I used charred onion and charred ginger for the aromatics and yellow rock candy instead of sugar. These ingredients are essential to any pho broth and help give it its distinct flavor. After the brine worked its magic for a few days, I turned to Thomas Keller’s Under Pressure and put my sous vide setup to work.
After 24 hours in the water bath, the meat was super tender and moist. The flavor was distinctly that of a cured meat, but the aroma and undertones were undoubtedly that of pho. In its chilled state, the amount of visible fat marbling found in the beef tongue was enough to make my mouth drool and my arteries cry. Now that I had easy part done, I had to think of what I wanted on my sandwich.
When conceptualizing the sandwich, I tried to work in as many pho components as I could. Thai basil, cilantro, green onion, and Sriracha were all shoo-ins, but without any hot pho broth, I needed something to cut the fattiness of the tongue. Luckily, I still had plenty of pickled radish and carrot from when I made pancetta. The acidity and crunchiness of the pickled vegetables also served as a substitute for the squeeze of fresh lime and bean sprouts that are commonly added at the table to a bowl of pho.
As for the hoisin sauce, I decided to force myself to find a way to incorporate its flavors into a side dish. Setting constraints like this can lead to some great ideas that may have otherwise gone untapped. However, I first had to figure out exactly what hoisin sauce was made of. To my surprise, the main ingredient in hoisin sauce is sweet potato. At first, I considered a sweet potato puree, but thought sweet potato fries would be a more appropriate accompaniment for a sandwich. Furthermore, I opted for purple yams because I was curious to work with them; I’d only worked with the powdered form of purple yam in the past.
The sandwich as a whole came out well. With each passing bite, I couldn’t help but think of it as a pho banh mi, hence I’m labeling it as one. Although the purple yam fries didn’t taste exactly like hoisin sauce, the flavor was familiar enough and did a decent job of adding sweetness to the plate just like hoisin sauce does.
When it comes down to it, my pho banh mi simply can’t compete with my great-grandpa’s ad hoc sandwich due to the sentimentality surrounding his, but if it can evoke just a single cherished memory in my mom’s mind (or anyone for that matter) then I’d consider it a success. The ultimate success would be if new memories are formed and those thoughts percolate into yet another inspired creation.
Spice Ratio For Brine
Mise En Place (By Weight)
- Two units cinnamon
- Two units star anise
- Two units fennel seed
- Two units coriander seed
- One unit clove
- One unit Sichuan peppercorn
- One unit black peppercorn
- 40 g (1.41 oz) of spice for a 1.27 kg (2.8 lbs) beef tongue in 2.4 L (2.54 qts) of 5% brine
Aromatics Ratio For Brine
Mise En Place (By Weight)
- Three units onion
- One unit ginger
- Char onion and ginger over open flame or under broiler
- 500 g (1.1 lbs) of onion and 167 g (0.37 lbs) ginger for a 1.27 kg (2.8 lbs) beef tongue in 2.4 L (2.54 qts) of 5% brine
Pho Banh Mi
Mise En Place
- Pho-spiced corned beef, chilled and thinly sliced
- Thai basil, stems removed
- Cilantro, stems preferably removed
- Green onions, diced
- Your favorite pickled vegetable
- Mayonnaise, preferably homemade
- Sriracha (optional)
- Hoisin sauce (optional)
- Heat baguette in oven
- Construct sandwich to taste. Sometimes structural integrity can be improved by placing garnishes on the bottom beneath the meat.