Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Pho-Spiced Corned Beef Banh Mi With Purple Yam Fries

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)

  1. Two units cinnamon
  2. Two units star anise
  3. Two units fennel seed
  4. Two units coriander seed
  5. One unit clove
  6. One unit Sichuan peppercorn
  7. One unit black peppercorn


  1. 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)

  1. Three units onion
  2. One unit ginger


  1. Char onion and ginger over open flame or under broiler
  2. 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

  1. Pho-spiced corned beef, chilled and thinly sliced
  2. Thai basil, stems removed
  3. Cilantro, stems preferably removed
  4. Green onions, diced
  5. Your favorite pickled vegetable
  6. Mayonnaise, preferably homemade
  7. Sriracha (optional)
  8. Hoisin sauce (optional)
  9. Baguette


  1. Heat baguette in oven
  2. Construct sandwich to taste.  Sometimes structural integrity can be improved by placing garnishes on the bottom beneath the meat.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Dulce De Leche Brownies

Dulce de leche is a rather recent discovery for me.  A couple years ago, I helped organize a few international movie nights at work and had the idea to bring in some food from each movie’s country of origin.  For example, I made samosas for the Bollywood movie night.


When it came time to watch the Argentinian film Nine Queens, one of my favorite movies, I turned to the advice of my friend from Buenos Aires because I had no clue what the cuisine of Argentina was like.  She suggested I make alfajores de dulce de leche: a sandwich cookie with dulce de leche in the middle.  I was hooked on dulce de leche from that point on and frequently found myself eating it straight up by the spoonful.  Simply describing it as “caramel” doesn’t really do it justice.


The first time I made dulce de leche, I used the stovetop method of simmering a can of sweetened condensed milk for a few hours.  This method works fine, but now that I have a sous vide setup, I thought I’d try it that way and hold it in a 185 F water bath for about 14 hours.  As a side note, I would not recommend the microwave method of making dulce de leche unless time is an issue.  It’s too much trouble compared to the simmer-in-a-can method.

Recently, I’ve been making chocolates and chocolate pastries featuring dulce de leche.  The rich and creamy caramel-like flavor of dulce de leche (as I said before, not doing it justice) goes nicely with the bitterness of chocolate.  The brownie recipe I’ve been tinkering with is from Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc at Home and I found the recipe’s method of preparing the butter interesting.  Not only does it call for a artery-clogging 3 sticks of butter, but it calls for melting half the butter and using that to melt the other half.  This results in a very creamy emulsion that I’ve never seen before with butter.


As for the dulce de leche, I portioned out 100 grams of the confection and popped it in the freezer to harden so I could chop it up into small, even chunks and add it to the batter.  This probably wasn’t the best idea as the distribution of the dulce de leche didn’t turn out very well and I ended up just scooping dulce de leche onto the finished brownies.


Instead of using a traditional baking vessel, I decided to use a silicone mold that I originally bought for making chocolates.  Incidentally, the mold is actually marketed as a brownie mold.  The mold worked well enough and helped each square develop a nice texture on the top edge much like the rim on a muffin top.  Brownies with a muffin top rim?  I’ll take it.


Another success was serving the brownies with a side of crispy homemade pancetta.  Alternating between sweet and salty extended the addictiveness of an already crack-like dessert, and I’m a big fan of a little saltiness with my sweets to balance things out.

Dulce De Leche

Mise En Place

  • One 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk, label removed


    1. Submerse the can completely in a pot and simmer (do not boil) for 3-4 hours.  A longer simmering time results in a thicker dulce de leche.  Alternatively, submerse the can in a 185 F water bath for about 14 hours.
    2. Cool for about 15 minutes.  At this point, the dulce de leche will be like a thick sauce and be used as such if desired.
    3. Refrigerate.  It will harden as it cools.


Via Ad Hoc at Home

Tuesday, March 1, 2011



Everyone has fond memories of their favorite comfort foods growing up.  For me, one of those comfort foods is what my family refers to as “rice-butter-Maggi-egg.”  The dish is exactly what it sounds like: rice topped with butter, Maggi, and eggs with a dash of black pepper.  Rice-butter-Maggi-egg was my mom’s go-to dish whenever she needed to whip something up fast.  It has since become one of my emergency meals when I’m feeling too lazy to do any actual cooking or when I have no produce or pantry items to work with.


For anyone not familiar with Maggi, I’d describe it as zingy soy sauce with more depth.  It’s easily found at any Asian grocery store, but the trick is to find a place that sells Maggi that’s made in Europe (Germany if I recall correctly).  The bottles with the yellow tops are made in China and are perfectly fine, but the bottles with the red tops that are made in Europe taste so much better.  The European version has more depth and punchiness than the Chinese version.


When it comes to the butter in rice-butter-Maggi-egg, I tend to use Bretel.  It may seem odd to get butter out of a can, but it’s seriously really good and melts in your mouth.  I first discovered Bretel maybe 10 years ago at my aunt’s house where a petit dejeuner of bread and butter is common for breakfast.  The baguettes come from a Vietnamese-Belgian bakery and the butter from France in the form of Bretel.  Canned butter is so popular in Vietnam that counterfeit brands exist.  My mom and uncle have told me stories of how people in Vietnam unwittingly buy Bertel instead of Bretel.


The egg component of rice-butter-Maggi-egg typically consists of a sunny side up egg.  However, in my ongoing experimentation with sous vide eggs, I decided to sous vide the eggs at 63 C (145.4 F) for an hour.  The yolks turned out creamy and runny like I wanted, but the whites turned out a little too runny for my taste.  Texturally, a custardy and slightly runny egg white doesn’t sit well with me.  To remedy this, I put the eggs in boiling water for about 30 seconds to firm up the egg whites.


Once all the components are on a plate, one of my favorite things to do is to break the yolk and mix it with a little of buttered rice and Maggi.  This humble dish will always be a winner in my book and I can’t see myself ever getting tired of it.