Saturday, August 7, 2010

Banh Appetit

I deeply dislike my Bon Appetit subscription. It was supposed to be my complementary Gourmet subscription, which came with their cookbook. Unfortunately, by the time I sent in my claim, Gourmet had gone under and Conde Nast tried to convert me by substituting Bon Appetit. It's free, and I have few other food magazine choices so I decided to give it a try. Actually, that may be an overstatement. I have resented every issue. I hate it. I hate the pictures. Why is everything so dark and shiny? The food looks greasy, severe, staged, stylized and extremely unappetizing. I loved the pictures in Gourmet, I wanted to try everything. While my old issues of Gourmet are a filled with post it notes marking the recipes I want to make, I have marked only two recipes in all of the Bon Appetit magazines I have received. To be honest, I was only really excited about one of them, a recipe for Pork Meatball Banh Mi.

Banh Mi are French-Vietnamese sandwiches, made with a baguette filled with sweetly pickled shredded carrots and daikon radishes, fresh sprigs of cilantro, crunchy slices of hot jalapeno peppers, a slather of mayonnaise, and some sort of meat (often pork). What's great about these sandwiches is that they are very flavorful and usually very cheap. What's not so great is that the meat inside is, in my experience, often not very good. Which is why I was excited to make banh mi myself. Fortunately, all of the ingredients for these sandwiches were inexpensive but the end result tasted delicious rather than cheap. The meatballs were especially flavorful: spicy and savory. Moist on the inside, browned on the outside.

There were a few little things I changed about this recipe. First of all, the amount of sugar for the daikon and carrots seemed overwhelming. I tried to trust the recipe as it was written, but after I had added the sugar, vinegar and salt to the vegetables I could not imagine the mixture somehow turning into something palatable, so I dumped the mixture into a strainer to remove as much of the sugary slush as possible and then I put the vegetables back in the bowl with a little more vinegar and salt. It ended up tasting perfect. To put the sugar/vinegar amounts into perspective, a recipe for chicken banh mi from Gourmet calls for about half as much of the vegetables mixed with 1/2 cup rice vinegar, and 1 Tbsp sugar. I think something closer to those amounts would be more reasonable then the 1/4 cup each of rice vinegar and sugar called for in the Bon Appetite recipe (I also found that I had much more of the pickled vegetables than I could have possibly used).

Another thing I balked at was the cornstarch in the meatballs, so I substituted flour. Last but not least, I made 1/2 a batch of the sriracha mayonaise, and 1/2 a batch of sriracha yogurt (I substituted plain yogurt for the mayonnaise). I really don't like mayonnaise, and I liked the yogurt mixture better. Kevin, on the other hand, ate the mayonnaise sauce and liked it.
Pork Meatball Banh Mi
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes enough for 4

Sandwich Components
Pickled carrots and Daikon Radishes
Sriracha Mayonaise or Yogurt
Pork Meatballs
Fresh Cilantro leaves
Thinly (or thickly) sliced jalapeno
Baguettes (4 small or two large)

Pickled Carrots and Daikon Radish (I recommend halving this)
2 cups carrots (the recipe says to coarsely grate them but I prefer to cut them by hand into matchsticks)
2 cups diakon radishes (again, coarsely grated or cut into matchsticks)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar (I suggest cutting this down a lot, try a tablespoon and see how it tastes)
1 tsp course kosher salt

Stir these indgredients together an hour or two ahead of time and let it sit at room temperature, stirring occasionally.

Sriracha Mayonaise (or Yogurt)
2/3 cup mayonaise (or plain yogurt)
2 green onions (finely chopped)
1 Tbsp Sriracha (this makes a pretty spicy sauce - you might start by adding a little at a time to taste to tailor its spicy-ness to your liking/tolerance)
Salt to taste

Mix all of the ingredients together. You can make this ahead of time, just cover it and put it in the fridge.

Pork Meatballs
1 lb ground pork
1/4 cup fresh basil (finely chopped)
4 garlic cloves (minced)
3 green onions (minced)
1 Tbsp fish sauce
1 Tbsp sriracha
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp cornstarch (or 4 tsp flour)
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp coarse kosher salt

1-2 Tablespoons sesame oil (to fry the meatballs in)

Gently mix all of the ingredients together, except the sesame oil. With moist hands, roll tablespoon sized balls out of the mixture.

Pre-heat the oven to 300.
Heat a tablespoon of the sesame oil in a skillet over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add half of the meatballs. Be careful of the hot oil, if it is sizzling too much you can turn the heat down a little. Saute the meatballs, turning occasionally, until they are cooked all the way through (slice one in 1/2 to check). They should have a nice brown crust. When the first batch is done, put them in a pie plate and place them in the oven to keep them warm. Add a little more oil to the pan and repeat this process with the rest of the meatballs.

When all the meat has been cooked, assemble your sandwiches however you like. You might taste the different components for spicy-ness first so you can get it just right. One of the cafes where we get banh mi always hides one HUGE slice of jalapeno in its sandwiches, which is always a very unwelcome surprise when you bite into it. (Actually, it is less of a slice than just a full half of a jalapeno.) Personally, I prefer a few slivers of jalapeno, plenty of yogurt sauce and lots of meatballs, cilantro, and pickled vegetables.
Everything keeps well in the fridge, so if you have leftover ingredients save them for later.

So, yes, this Bon Appetit recipe was good. Really good, in fact. But I can't imagine it being so good if I had followed the recipe exactly as printed, and I was especially glad to have the Gourmet version to help me alter it.