Yakitori, Japan’s Answer to the Kebab

If it seems as if you’re seeing a trend in my posts lately, you are. I just finished rereading Mark Kurlansky’s, Salt – A World History, and find myself inspired. It’s a great read, and you should give it a spin. Like John McPhee, Kurlansky has the ability to write volumes on a seemingly mundane topic and come out with a page turner. When I first read it years ago, I wasn’t writing about food as much as I do now, so this go ’round lead to a fascinating bout of exploration. Recent posts on salt potatoes, ketchup, and fish sauce were all inspired therefrom, and this week, I bring you Yakitori, Japan’s answer to the kabab.

Hey, if they serve it at the ballpark, it's gotta be great, right?
Hey, if they serve it at the ballpark, it’s gotta be great, right?

Casual observers are often surprised by how much meat is involved in Japanese cooking. Certainly Japan did have a rather protracted period of fundamental vegetarianism. The broad adoption of Chinese Buddhism in the 7th century sealed the deal – in the late 670s, the Emporer Tenmu proclaimed a prohibition on eating animal flesh, fowl, fish, and shellfish, and Shojin Ryori was born – Japanese vegetarian cuisine as cultural touchstone. Not all of that motivation was spiritual, though – The powers that be realized that eating draft animals seriously impaired the country’s ability to adequately feed its people. Nonetheless, the edict more or less persisted for some 1200 years. Clearly, the increasing presence of westerners on Japanese shores had a bearing on the resurgence of meat eating, a process that began with Portuguese traders in the middle of the 16th century, and continues to this day.

While eating food cooked on a stick undoubtedly goes back to the harnessing of fire, the Japanese have a pretty clear recollection of when yakitori first appeared. It was in the Edo period, around the middle 1600s, and initially it was game birds roasted on sticks – quail, pheasant, pigeons and the like. As European influence increased, chickens became more common, eventually making it on to a stick as well. Beef and pork followed over time. As is oft the case, how good your yakitori was back when depended on your income and social status – While the rich ate the best stuff, the poor folks were grilling offal, and all the other little weird bits the beautiful people didn’t want. In any event, those sweet, smoky flavors, basted in soy, sake, and spices, was and remains hugely popular, and the regional variety is as rich as the country that spawned it.

Season lightly with salt and pepper before grilling
Season lightly with salt and pepper before grilling

Just covering the chicken versions of yakitori can be a bit dizzying – Our preference is for the ever popular chicken thigh version, called momo, along with negima- chicken and spring onion, and kawa – Chicken skin, (seriously, it’s amazing done up with bacon, spring onion, and water chestnuts). There’re many more, from chicken and leeks (hasami), to breast meat (sasami), chicken meatball (tsukune) and chicken wings (tebasaki). Then there’s all those former peasant versions, which are still quite popular – Kawa is skin, bonjiri is tail, shiro is guts, nankotsu is cartilage, hāto is heart, rebā is liver, and sunagimo is gizzards – nummy.

Then there’s that seasoning and/or sauce – Yakitori is typically done salty, or salty-sweet. The salty version is, more often than not, just sprinkled with sea salt and grilled, end of story. The salty-sweet, called tare, is a whole ‘nuther ballgame. In Japan, you can bet that dang near every yakitori stand and joint has their own version, and they’re all top secret. Fortunately, we can suss out the basics – soy sauce, mirin, dry sake, and some form of sweetener are added to freshly made bone stock, and that more than gets the job done. Of course there are variants – Everything from spring onion and garlic, to ginger, hot chiles, pepper, and even wasabi might be found in there. That’s good news for us, because making a very nice basic sauce is easy, and more to the point, poetic license is fully authorized.

Protein or veggies, anything you've got will make fine Yakitori
Protein or veggies, anything you’ve got will make fine Yakitori

The real beauty of yakitori is that it makes a great last minute dinner, or a perfect vehicle for fridge cleaning – You can and should use whatever you like, in whatever combinations please you. Sure, a lot of ‘real’ yakitori is either just one thing, or maybe a couple skewered together, but there’s nothing at all wrong with doing them up like little shish kebab. The bottom line is that the cooking method and saucing has as much or more to do with the overall taste as the things you decide to grill, so go wild. By that same rule, if you’re pressed for time, there’s nothing wrong at all with using straight soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, or bottle yakitori sauce, (and the former is now quite easily found in the Asian food section of your local market.

Yakitori does not require any marinating prior to cooking. You need to merely slice stuff up into bite sized pieces and shove them onto sticks. Couldn’t be easier. One note on cutting stuff – the preferred method is known as sogigiri, AKA cutting on a roughly 30° angle with the food lying flat in a cutting board. Cut toward yourself, starting at the upper left of your intended slice and working down and across. What that does is maximize surface area on relatively small chunks of food, giving more space to add sauce and heats from the grill to.

The Sogigiri cut maximizes surface area
The Sogigiri cut maximizes surface area

Speaking of grilling, while traditional yakitori is done on a brazier or charcoal grill, the desired technique employs no smoke and moderate heat, which means you folks who only have a gas grill, or a broiler in your oven, are gonna be just fine.

When skewering your goodies, do take the time to make sure every piece is snuggled right up tight against the next one – With small, relatively thin cuts of flesh and veggies, dried out food is a real possibility – Keeping them tight helps retain the baste better, and keeps things moist and juicy as well. Give whatever your skewering a light dusting of good salt and fresh ground pepper after you’ve got them done up. If you’re wanting to go all out, take a trip to the market and find fresh, seasonal veggies, meats, and poultry. Like the Vietnamese, Japanese cooks pay special attention to color and season – Spring is green, summer dark green, fall is orange and red, winter is white. Have some fun with it, and let your plates reflect your findings.

Place skewers close together to help keep things moist and juicy
Place skewers close together to help keep things moist and juicy

Brush on your basting sauce after you’ve placed the skewers on the grill. With chicken, pork, or beef, you’re going to want in the neighborhood of 5 minutes or so cooking per side, with another baste application at the turn. Again, don’t run your grill flat out – You want to cook these on medium-low heat, allowing time for things to cook through and absorb all the goodness from your baste. If you’re using a charcoal grill, set up a two zone configuration, start the skewers on the cooler side, and finish with a couple quick flips on the hot side. If you’re using wooden skewers, soak them for about half an hour prior to loading them up. Lightly oil your grill surface prior to placing skewers, to help keep them from sticking – Use a neutral vegetable oil so you don’t adulterate your taste profiles.

House made Yakitori Sauce - Black gold.
House made Yakitori Sauce – Black gold.

That sauce, that amazing sauce. We’ll start here, because this stuff really is magical. I made the batch done for this post on the same day I slow cooked a big ol’ pork roast. In the last week, that sauce went on the pork twice, into fried rice, was added to a teriyaki joint style salad dressing, and even made its way into tacos – Its that good, and that versatile. Many, many folks say that, over in Japan, cooks add to a big pot of their signature sauce every day, so that it effectively never runs out. We won’t likely go that far at home, but my oh my, do you want this in your fridge at all times. While the real deal is made with the bones from the chicken thighs you’re about to skewer, you can sub chicken stock for the water and bones if you’re in a hurry – But DO make the bone stock version just once, and you’ll be hooked – It’s super easy, incredibly delicious, and very rewarding for home cooks.

House made Yakitori
House made Yakitori

You can certainly use one sauce for all things, and well might – But we’re including some variants, to give you some ideas for future explorations.

 

Urban’s Go To Yakitori Sauce
(Makes enough for several meals, or one hell of a party)

Bones from 4 fresh Chicken Thighs or Legs
1 Cup Mirin
1 Cup Tamari
1/2 Cup Dry Sake
1/2 Cup Water (Chicken Stock, if not using bones)
6 Scallions
3 cloves fresh Garlic
1/2″ chunk fresh Ginger
2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1 Tablespoon Sesame Oil
1 teaspoon ground Szechuan Pepper (or anything hotter if you prefer)

Peel, trim and mince garlic.

Trim scallions and cut into roughly 1/2″ rings.

Dice ginger, (you don’t need to peel it)

On a baking pan lined with foil, under a high broiler, scatter bones and broil for about 10 minutes, turning with tongs so they brown evenly.

Transfer roasted bones to a heavy sauce pan over medium high heat.

Add all additional ingredients, stir well to incorporate, and heat through until a low boil is achieved.

Reduce heat to just maintain a steady simmer and cook until the volume of the sauce is reduced by 50% – You’ll note when you get there that the sauce coats a spoon with an even, viscous layer. The cook should take around 45 minutes to an hour, but keep an eye on things and give it an occasional stir.

Remove pan from heat and pour the sauce through a single mesh strainer into a non-reactive bowl.

Allow to cool to room temperature, then transfer to a clean glass jar. Will store refrigerated for 2 to 3 weeks.

Urban’s Pork Yakitori Sauce

1 Cup Mirin
1 Cup Tamari
1 Cup Dry Sake
2 Tablespoons Hot Chile Paste (Gochujang, wangzhihe, harissa, or Sriracha will do just fine)
2 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
3 cloves fresh Garlic

Peel, trim and mince garlic.

In a heavy saucepan over medium high heat, add all ingredients and stir to incorporate.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to maintain a simmer.

Allow sauce to reduce by 50%, remove from heat, run through a single mesh strainer, cool to room temp.

Store refrigerated for up to 2 weeks.

 

Urban’s Beef Yakitori Sauce
This is quite close to a typical sauce used for that deep fried wonder, Kushiage.

1/2 Cup Ketchup
2 Tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
2 Tablespoons Tamari
1 Tablespoon Mirin
1 Tablespoon Honey
1 Tablespoon Dijon Mustard
1/2 teaspoon granulated Garlic

Mix all ingredients together and allow at least 30 minutes for the flavors to marry before brushing onto your skewers.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for storage.

 

Just in case you’re like us, and want a little something green with your skewers, here’s my swing on that great savory salad dressing you get from your local teriyaki joint.

 

Urban’s Teriyaki Joint Salad Dressing

1 Cup Mayonnaise
1/3 Cup Rice Vinegar
4 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
4 Tablespoons Sesame Oil
2 Tablespoons Yakitori Sauce
1 teaspoon granulated Garlic

Whisk all together in a non-reactive bowl, and allow flavors to marry for at least 30 minutes prior to use.

Store refrigerated for up to a week in an airtight, non-reactive container.

Salt Potatoes

I have a favorite kitchen mantra that goes like this – Simple is always good, but not always easy. The implications are rife in that phrase – Simple is always good, but our inclinations sometimes work against it. And then as stated, simple just isn’t always easy, in fact sometimes it’s deceptively hard. Yet when we bow to the sublime, amazing things can happen. Salt potatoes are such a thing. Chances are you’ve never had them, and if you have, you’ve been given an origin story for the dish. It’s safe bet they’re far older than you were lead to believe, and more widely travelled to boot.

There are over 5000 potato varieties world wide
There are over 5000 potato varieties world wide

The potato, (most often Solanum tuberosum), is another gift from the Andes, specifically southern Peru and northwest Bolivia, where it was first domesticated somewhere around 8000 to 5000 BC – Yes, that means roughly 7000 to 10,000 years ago. Brought to Europe in the mid 1500s by, (yup, you guessed it), those marauding Spaniards, the spud is now cultivated worldwide, though of the roughly 5,000 varieties known around the globe, over 3,000 are still found in the Andes – Think about that the next time you’re picking between russet, gold, or reds at the store. If ever there was a crop begging to be expanded in your garden, this is it.

Initially, Europe wasn’t crazy about the potato, especially, and maybe most strangely, in the northern climes where potatoes do quite well. Part of the reticence may lie in their Solanaceae family roots, which includes some pretty dangerous plants, (and the leaves and green skins of potatoes exposed to light.) Over time, the nutritional punch made its way through the naysayers, and by the 1800s, potatoes were in heavy cultivation throughout most of Europe. A raw potato is 80% water, followed by 16% carbs, and about 4% protein, and are rich in vitamin B and C. While cooking degrades some of the nutrient value, they’re still a relatively good bang for the buck, which is why they’re the worlds forth largest food crop – And over 68% of those grown are eaten directly by humans, to the tune of an average of 72 pounds annually. These days, over 37% of world production happens in China and India.

And of all the myriad ways to cook a potato, who’d have thought to just boil them in brine? Turns out, pretty much everybody, although some lay heavier claims than others. Look up salt potatoes, and in this country, most of what you’ll find will claim that they were invented in Syracuse, New York. Now, that’s simply not true, but there is a reason that one of these far flung claims resides there – Syracuse was a major salt production and shipping center in the 19th century.

Syracuse New York, the American Venice.
Syracuse New York, the American Venice.

In the fall of 1825, the last section of the Erie Canal was completed. Running east to west, the Erie connected to the north-south running Oswego canal at a little town called Syracuse. With canals running right through town, Syracuse picked up the moniker as the American Venice. The Erie Canal had been built to move Onondaga Salt to New York City and the world, and for a while, it worked really well. As fate would have it, bunch of those old Salt workers were Irish, and they truly loved their potatoes, and regularly cooked those and corn in brine, but they didn’t invent the dish.

Papas Saladas - Andean Magic
Papas Saladas – Andean Magic

Who did remains shrouded in mystery, but it’s a good guess it started down in South America. There, among many local versions, you’ll find papas saladas, that hail from, of course, another salt mining town. In the Canary Islands, they’re papas arrugadas, (which we mentioned in our Mojo post), and in the Guérande salt producing region of France, they’re patate cuit au sel. And of course there’s many more – Chances are very good you’ll find a version in every country, and many will claim origination – imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?

Papas Arrugadas - Canary Island Magic
Papas Arrugadas – Canary Island Magic

If you’ve never tried salt potatoes, trust me when I tell you it’s time. They’re a perfect summer accompaniment to grilled meats and veggies, and they’re delicious enough to stand alone. While the method and ingredients couldn’t be simpler, there is a bit of slightly complex chemistry going on under the hood of this one.

Right off hand, it’s not outrageous to question how good a potato boiled in brine will taste. The assumption is that way too much salt will get into that spud, making for an unpleasant, out of balance experience. Fortunately, that’s not what happens. Here’s the magic – One, cooking in a brine solution raises the boiling point higher than plain old water, (just as it lowers the freezing point when making ice cream), and two, the thin salt crust that forms on the spuds acts as a barrier, keep excess salt and water out. As a result, the potatoes effectively steam in their own skins, and you only end up with that thin layer of crystallized salt on the outside of the skins. That leads to an amazingly fluffy spud with a super tasty skin, just right for dipping in melted butter, gribiche, mojo, sauce diable, or chimichurri. As I mentioned, they’re stunningly good, good enough to eat as a meal, with little bowls of this and that to add as you please.

There are slightly different cooking methods around the globe – Some boil in brine and drain, (The Syracuse method), others boil the brine completely away with the spuds still in the pan, (I prefer the latter method.) They’re all worth trying, but this one will set you well for your first endeavor. As with all simple dishes, quality and freshness count – Freshly dug, local spuds from a farmers market deserve this dish – Old, soft, mealy, bulk spuds do not. Same goes for salt – This is the time to use something good – Sel de mere, Bolivian Sunrise, Himalayan pink, or Maldon – Whatever the unique signature the salt bears will play out beautifully. All salts do not have equal volume so you’ll be best served by weighing it out.

Perfect Salt Potatoes
Perfect Salt Potatoes

Salt Crusted Potatoes

1 Pound fresh new or fingerling potatoes, (You want something in the 1″ to 2″ range, and pretty uniform in size)
1 Ounce really good Salt.

In a heavy sauce pan over high heat, add potatoes, salt, and just enough water to cover the spuds.

Once you reach a boil, reduce heat to maintain a steady simmer. Cook potatoes until fork tender, about 20 minutes.

Pour off all but about a half inch of water. Put the pot back on the burner and turn heat to high.

Use a wooden spoon to roll spuds through the remaining brine as it begins to boil off. You’ll see the salt crystalizing on your spuds as this occurs – It’ll take a few minutes for the brine to disappear.

Continue gently rolling the spuds in the dry pan for another couple of minutes, until the salt crust evenly coats each potato and the skins start to get slinky wrinkly.

Remove from heat to a serving bowl and serve promptly.

So You Think You Know Ketchup?

So, you think you know ketchup, huh? Recently, we posted on Salsa, as well as the most popular derivative thereof, Sriracha, and noted therein that both those condiments actually outsell ketchup in the U.S., which might surprise some of y’all. Yet the ubiquity of American fast food concepts has done much to spread the red stuff worldwide, which then begs the question – How popular is ketchup worldwide? The answer is very.

Ketchup, it's everywhere, and growing by leaps and bounds
Ketchup, it’s everywhere, and growing by leaps and bounds

Global market research by respected industry watchers pegged ketchup as a $4.15 billion dollar commodity in 2015. With an expected annual growth rate of 3.8%, sales of ketchup worldwide are expected to hit $5.6 billion by 2022 – Billion with a B – That’s a lotta ketchup, gang. And what are the biggest trends in that friggin’ huge market? So called ‘exotic ingredient’ ketchups, and organic offerings. Interesting, no? The Big Four primary derivatives of the ketchup trade are as follows – Tomato, mushroom, fruit and nut, and ‘other.’ The latter leaves quite a bit to the imagination. Ironically, these popular trends lead us in a perhaps unexpected direction – Backwards, to the origin of the stuff.

It should come as no surprise that tomato ketchup, far and away the most popular version today, was not the first one to be so named. In England of the 1700s, sauces called catsup, ketchup, or katchup were anchovy based things, seasoned with vinegar, shallot, ginger, clove, nutmeg, lemon, pepper, and wine. The results were more like Worcestershire sauce than the stuff we know today as ketchup. The name for these lovely things comes from, of all places, Indonesia, where kecap, (pronounced ketchup), means a dark, thick, soy based sauce, (And remains immensely popular there to this day). The leap from the East back to England occurred because that’s where the Brits got a lot of those exotic spices they threw in with them salty little fish. And not surprisingly, derivations of the stuff came out featuring, you guessed it, mushrooms, fruit, and nuts.

Tomato ketchup, on the other hand, took a while longer to circulate, as the ‘love apple’ was a native to Central and South America, and as such didn’t appear in Europe until (probably) the Spaniards brought them back over the big pond in the 16th century. Tomatoes were readily embraced by most countries around the Mediterranean, which it took somewhere around 150 years or so to spread and become accepted. That acceptance was not so forthcoming from the Northern Europeans, including the British, (who initially though the fruit to be poisonous). The first acknowledged tomato ketchup recipe came from the American colonies, during the revolutionary war, and the first published version came out while Lewis and Clark were traipsing west, in 1804, by physician/horticulturist James Mease. His version salted sliced tomatoes and let them sit for a day, then added mace, allspice, shallot, and brandy, and cooked it all down. Meade claimed the French loved the stuff, which is patently bullshit – More likely, given the spicing he employed, he’d been handed something from the Caribbean, because it sounds a lot like Sauce Creole. In any event, the stuff caught on in a big way, and the rest is history.

Ketchup, especially the tomato variety, came about as one way to preserve things through the cold months, and frankly, that’s why I’m writing about it here and now. A whole bunch of us have gardens, and what is almost guaranteed to be one of those crops you sew and then some time later are offering to any friend, neighbor, or willing perfect stranger you can find, due to relative overabundance? Yep, love apples. As such, it’s a great time to visit some recipes for the stuff. Sure, there are ‘natural’ and organic versions out there in the stores, as well as those exotics styles – But frankly, while the natural stuff is far better for you than the old standard, they’re not exactly using fresh, home grown tomatoes that could and should be several varieties – And that means you can make better at home. And as for the exotics, take a look at the prices, and you quickly discover that in this regard, you can make better at home for a hell of a lot less dough. So let’s do that.

First off, let’s address the elephant in the room – There are two, when it comes to ketchup making at home.
1. Making ketchup takes an incredible amount of tomatoes – True and not true – If you’re wanting to can a whole bunch in order to enjoy house made through the cold months, then yes, it will take a lot of tomatoes. If you’ve got them, and you’re of a mind to preserve, then you should definitely throw ketchup into the mix, along with whole and sauced. That said, what you’ll see below are small batch recipes that don’t take a whole lot of tomatoes – And frankly, making a batch to last a week or two is well worth the effort, especially if you’re growing your own.
2. Making ketchup at home takes forever – Well, not forever, but all day, yeah – As mentioned, the recipes we’ve got for you here are small batch stuff, and can easily be done in under an hour or twos worth of actual work, but some of the prep and cooking does take a long time – We’re radically changing the stuff we start with, and that just can’t be rushed – So, you’d best be planning for a whole day, but it’ll be a great day, guaranteed, (and you can do other stuff, or even take off while things are cooking, if you use a slow cooker, as noted). And finally, if you’re canning, it’s gonna be an all day thing, guaranteed – And always review proper method and cooking times when doing so.

House made tomato ketchup - All other bow before it.
House made tomato ketchup – All other bow before it.

Classic Tomato Ketchup
2 28 oz cans Peeled Tomatoes, (Any version is fine so long as they’re peeled)
3/4 Cup Distilled White Vinegar
1/2 Cup Bakers Sugar
1/2 Cup Water
1 1/2 teaspoons Pickling Salt
1 teaspoon Onion Powder
1/2 teaspoon granulated Garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground White Pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground Mustard
1/8 teaspoon Celery Salt
1 whole Clove

In a slow cooker set to high, add the tomatoes. If you found ground, peeled tomatoes, you’re good to go. If you have whole, or crushed, you need to process them first. Pulse with an immersion blender to achieve a nice, rough sauce consistency.

Rinse each can with a quarter cup of water and add that to the cooker, along with all other ingredients.

Cook uncovered for 8 to 10 hours, giving the sauce a good stir roughly every hour.

When the sauce is reduced in volume by roughly 50%, and is quite thick, turn off the heat and process the sauce again with the stick blender until very smooth.

Run the sauce through a single mesh strainer, into a nonreactive mixing bowl, removing any bits of skin, seeds, and the clove.

Allow to cool to room temperature.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper balance as needed.

Transfer to a clean glass jar and refrigerate. It’ll last a good week, (if it survives that long.)

Mushroom ketchup hardens back to Medieval English sauces
Mushroom ketchup hardens back to Medieval English sauces

Mushroom Ketchup (NOTE: This recipe requires advanced prep for the shrooms, so plan accordingly)

1 Pound fresh Mushrooms, (Portobello, Shiitake, button, or wild, of course)
2 Cups Water
1 1/3 Cups Champagne Vinegar
2 medium Shallots
1/2 Ounce dried Mushrooms
2 Tablespoons Dry Sherry
1 Tablespoon Pickling Salt
1 small clove Garlic
6 Tasmanian Pepperberries
2 whole Cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground Ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground Nutmeg
1 Bay Leaf (California or Turkish as you prefer)

The day before you plan to cook the sauce, carefully wipe shrooms clean with a damp cloth, and trim away any bruised bits.

Slice mushrooms to roughly 1/4″ thick. Toss shrooms into a nonreactive mixing bowl, add the tablespoon of Pickling Salt and toss gently to incorporate.

Cover the bowl with a clean, dry cloth and allow shrooms to sit for 24 hours. Stir gently 3 or 4 times through the rest. Note that the shrooms will become quite dark during this process, and that A-OK.

An hour or two before the end of the 24 hour rest, heat 2 cups of water to about 110° F. Pour that into a mixing bowl and add the dried mushrooms. Stir to incorporate and let them steep until their nice and soft.

Trim, peel and mince garlic and shallots.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the reconstituted dried shrooms to a blender vessel or food processor. Carefully pour the soaking liquid into the blender, leaving any pooled gritty stuff out of your pour. Process the blend into a smooth mix, and transfer that to a large sauce pan.

Dump the salted, fresh shrooms into the blender, (don’t rinse it first), and process that to a smooth mix, then add them to the sauce pan.

Add 1/3 cup vinegar, the garlic, and shallots to the un-rinsed blender vessel and process to a smooth purée. Add this to the sauce pan, along with the rest of the ingredients, except the sherry, and stir to incorporate.

Bring the mix to a simmer over medium high heat, then lower heat to barely maintain the simmer. Cook for 1 to 1/12 hours, until the Mushrooms are very soft and the sauce has thickened notably.

Now’s the time to test for proper consistency – remove sauce from heat and take a spoonful of the sauce and place it on a clean saucer. Let that sit for 10 minutes – If at that point the sauce has remained homogeneous, it’s thickened enough. If a notable amount of liquid leaches out of the sauce, more cooking is needed. Continue cooking for another 15 minutes and retest until you reach proper thickness.

Run the sauce through a single mesh strainer to remove the whole spices, then process in a blender or with a stick blender to a nice, smooth consistency.

Return the sauce to a clean sauce pan over medium high heat and heat through, stirring constantly. When the sauce simmers again, add the sherry. Cook on a low simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Transfer sauce to clean, sanitized half pint jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes, (Again, consult CFHFP for more specifics and altitude adjustments).

Allow sauce to marry for at least 8 weeks before use. The well sealed jars will last all winter, (but probably not!)

Green walnuts are a summer crop that make a wonderful earthy kethcup
Green walnuts are a summer crop that make a wonderful earthy kethcup

Walnut Ketchup
This one goes way back to ketchup’s English roots, right down to those salty little fish. It’s admittedly a lot of work, but the reward is huge. Canned in half pint jars, they’re an amazing house warming gift – The taste of the 17th century brought to life. Green walnuts are a summer crop, usually available only from June through August, and maybe into September some years, so plan ahead.

45-50 Green Walnuts
3 1/2 Cups Cider Vinegar
1 1/2 Cups Malt Vinegar
1 Cup Dry Sherry
1 large Sweet Onion
1/4 Cup grated Horseradish, (straight – not mixed ‘sauce’)
2 ounces Anchovies (in oil or salt)
2 teaspoons ground Black Pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground Chile (hot or mild as you like)
1″ fresh Ginger root

The tough stuff goes first! Opening walnuts, especially green ones, isn’t easy, and it’s messy – Keep in mind that wood stains are made with these guys, so dress and guard your kitchen surfaces accordingly – They WILL stain hands, counters, etc, and it will NOT come off your skin! Some folks use a knife, others a hammer – Choose your weapon and cut, crack, or crush those things.

Place nuts in a nonreactive container, (a 1/2 gallon mason jar is perfect), and cover completely with the vinegars. Tightly cover your container and let them steep for a week – 7 full days.

On Day 8, transfer nuts and liquor to a large stock pot over medium high heat. Add all remaining ingredients and stir to incorporate. When the mix starts to boil reduce heat to maintain a vigorous simmer and cook for 45 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Process the sauce with a stick blender to a nice, smooth consistency.

Run the sauce through a single mesh blender to remove any solids.

Carefully pour into clean, sanitized bottles or jars with air tight lids and seal.

Will last a good 6 months stored in a cool, dry, dark place.

Cranberry ketchup is amazing on pork, chicken, or roasted Brussels sprouts
Cranberry ketchup is amazing on pork, chicken, or roasted Brussels sprouts

Cranberry Ketchup
2 Cups Canberries, (fresh or frozen)
11/2 Cups Raw Cider Vinegar
1/4 Cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 large Navel Orange
1 small Sweet Onion
2 Tablespoons Agave Nectar
1/4 teaspoon Allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground Black Pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground Black Cardamom
1/8 teaspoon Sea Salt

Peel, trim and fine dice onion.

Zest and juice orange.

In a large sauce pan over medium high heat, add cranberries, onion, and cider vinegar, stir to incorporate. Reduce heat to maintain a bare simmer and cook until cranberries are popped and soft, about 4-6 minutes.

Remove sauce from heat and process with a stick blender to a smooth consistency.

Return sauce to heat and add balsamic, orange juice and zest, allspice, cardamom, pepper, and salt. Stir to incorporate. Cook on a low simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until sauce is notably thickened.

Remove from heat and process again to smooth the sauce out. You can run it through a single mesh strainer if you prefer a liquid, smooth sauce, or leave it rustic – It’s incredible on chicken, or pork, or roasted Brussels sprouts.

Store in a clean, nonreactive container, refrigerated. Will last a couple weeks, easy.

I better write about fish sauce

When I was researching for last week’s salsa post, I came across references to one of the earliest known forms of salsa, namely Garum, the pungent roman fish sauce. Then a friend posted a note about discovering that some kimchi she ate had shrimp in it, which she’s allergic to, (traditionally, it usually does include shrimp). That prompted a question about using fish sauce instead of shrimp in a kimchi recipe, (perfectly fine), and the fact that not all fish sauces are created equally. Then, a bit later, M and I were discussing that, when she noted that “proper use of fish sauce dictates that you shouldn’t taste it, (pretty much true, that), and, well – After all that I figured I’d better write about fish sauce.

While it’s enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence in recent years, fish sauce is still not all that common in most kitchens, especially here in the U.S. Why that is becomes immediately evident when you open a bottle and take a deep whiff – Fish sauce is definitely funky – Yet the undeniable fact is this – If you’re looking for that certain je ne sais quoi to add salty and umami to a dish, fish sauce is the thing to reach for. And if that’s so, why did it die for so long? The answers are twofold – One, because of the fall of the Roman Empire, and two, fact is, it didn’t – It’s been alive and thriving in Asian cuisine, especially Vietnamese, for thousands of years.

Get yours here - Floor mosaic from a Garum shop
Get yours here – Floor mosaic from a Garum shop

It’s a reasonable assumption that humans have been saucing things since well into prehistory. Once we hit some form of civilization, that tendency multiplied in spades. Arguably no society has been more attuned to that trend than the Romans were. Roman chefs and diners seemed to disdain any food in its natural form – Everything had to be tweaked, poked and prodded into something else, and all of it was heavily sauced.

While the Roman Empire afforded its wealthy the chance to enjoy food, herbs, and spices from around the known world, the one thing that fueled everything was salt. It’s arguable that salt was in fact a tap root of their economy, as well as the key to their culinary hearts. In almost every place the Romans conquered, they looked for salt – in mines, evaporation projects, and boilers. Often enough, what they conquered was taken because of salt, because while the Romans traded in damn near everything, salt was simply a thing they couldn’t do without. First and foremost, it was a critical part of feeding and supplying the Roman Legions. Men and animals needed it to survive, let alone fight. It was also a huge part of what kept the lowly masses at bay – As long as they had salt and olives, and maybe a little bread, they were more or less quiescent, and that was critical for the ruling class to be able to remain thus.

Wherever the Romans went, fish sauce was made
Wherever the Romans went, fish sauce was made

Back to those sauces – What ruled back then, hands down, was fish sauce. It was in almost everything they ate, from Senator to plebeian. Now, that’s not to say that all fish sauce was created equally – Just as today some drink Veuve Clicquot and others Cooks, there was a wide variety of quality and price when it came to fish sauces. At the top of the heap was Garum, a relatively clear sauce made from the guts and gills of mackerel. This stuff was used at table, and could be fabulously expensive – The creme de la creme was called Garum Sociorum – It was made in Spain, and cost as much as an average Roman Legionnaire got paid in a year, so it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out who got it and who didn’t. Next down the chain was Liquamen, basically, a sauce made in a manner quite close to the way it’s still done throughout Asia – The whole fish was salted and fermented, and a sauce was pressed from that after sufficient processing time. That was used by the cooks, and replaced salt in the vast majority of Roman dishes. Further down the chain came Muria, which as far as we could tell, would be the mixed dregs of the various higher cost fish sauces, pressed – and finally came Alec, which was literally a paste made from the sludge gleaned from cleaning a garum or liquamen making facility – Obviously, the plebeians got those last two products at their tables.

Fish sauces were so key to Roman life that production facilities were made anywhere and everywhere they could be. On the Italian peninsula, in Spain, North Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe and Great Britain, fish were set out in the sun, (basically, to almost get on toward rotting somewhat), and then fermented into the various sauces. It must have been a distinctly pungent experience, to say the least. There was even a certified Kosher version made in occupied Israel.

As fate would have it, in the late 5th Century, the German conqueror Odoacer became the first barbarian ruler of Rome, and the empire was a thing of the past. Along with the fall of the rulers came the fall of all that fish sauce processing – Turns out the Germans didn’t care for the stuff – So a huge network of cottage industries surrounding the production of fish sauce vanished in a relative heartbeat – Except that it didn’t.

It’s not a stone cold fact that the Romans made it to Vietnam, but they probably did. Ptolemy mentioned the garrison of Cattigara, which is likely Óc Eo, in modern day Vietnam. Roman artifacts have been found there, as well as throughout Southeast Asia – No surprise, given the depth and breadth of Roman conquest and trading practices. And it’s there, in Vietnam, and eventually throughout Asia, that fish sauce was firmly established and has remained in steady production. Whether it’s Núoc Mám in Vietnam, (among other variants, they make it out of everything else too – crab, squid, shrimp, you name it), Nam Pla in Thailand, (there’s over 200 different makers there), or Bagoong in the Philippines, it’s a sauce made by fermenting little fish, (usually something from the Herring or Sardine family), and letting them sit for months – The result is as popular as it was to the Romans, and they’ve been making it continuously for thousands of years.

Colatura di Alici di Cetara - Roman Liquamen royalty
Colatura di Alici di Cetara – Roman Liquamen royalty

And now to throw another wrench into the works – It turns out that the process and the sauce never completely left Italy after all – and the differences between what’s found there now and what’s found throughout Southeast Asia are profound and illuminating. In my pantry is a little round bottle labeled Colatura di Alici di Cetara. The contents are gorgeous, a rich amber liquid, obviously quite viscous. Open the stopper and wham! It is seriously fishy, funky and potent as the day is long. It’s not an acquired taste – You either dig this stuff or you don’t. Cetara is a little fishing village tucked into the coast of Campania, between Amalfi and Salerno. There, back in the Middle Ages, a bunch of local monks somehow rediscovered the recipe and process for liquamen and started producing it again, and the town has been doing so more or less every since. It’s made from anchovies caught between March and July, then barrel brined and aged until the late fall, when the precious stuff is pressed and bottled. This is as close to the real deal as you’ll ever get today – This is the stuff Roman cooks used to add salt and umami, (whether they knew it or not), to so many ancient dishes – And that’s the best way to use Colatura as well.

Red Boat 40° N, the King of Núoc Mám
Red Boat 40° N, the King of Núoc Mám

Back in Vietnam, what they produce is a far cry from Colatura. There, I’ll boldly call the pinnacle of the art the sauce produced by Red Boat Fish Sauce. Find yourself a bottle of Red Boat 40° N, and you’ll be good to go. This is made from black anchovies from the Phu Quoc archipelago, and salt – That’s it. They’ve been making it the same way for hundreds of years, and it shows. Open that bottle and you get a much more nuanced presentation than Colatura – A gentle caress of your cheek, as opposed to an open handed slap. The fish and funk are still there, but much subtler, and there are other overtones as well, hints of Asia and the smell of Vietnamese cooking. To me, Red Boat is the Garum of our time – I’ll happily sprinkle a little out of the bottle onto whatever I’m having, and it’s awesomely good.

Get yourself a bottle of each of the above, and you’re good to go for all your fish sauce needs. But, before we talk about what to do with them, let me say this about the general state of the fish sauce nation – Having made a resurgence in the culinary world, there are a boatload of products out there. Just like badly prepared calimari, folks who say they hate fish sauce have, nine times out of ten, had crappy fish sauce – God knows there’s enough of that for sale. Let me save you much strife – Most of what you find in the average grocery store is crap. You have no idea what fish they’re talking about, and they sure ain’t tellin’ – At worst, this stuff is truly nasty, and at best, it’s insipid – Avoid it all like the plague and go with my recommendations.

As for what to do? Well, that’s easy – Replace salt with a drop or two of Colatura in damn near anything, and you’ll get not only the Salt note you’re looking for, but a hint of something deeper. Same goes for Red Boat. Used properly, aka very sparingly, you’ll get wonderful, subtle notes without any fishiness whatsoever. An on that note, I refer back to M, who’s comments came following a visit to Vietnamese joint in Seattle that overdid the fish sauce on whatever it was she ordered – The rule is hard, fast, and simple – If it tastes like fish sauce, you used too much. Chances are real good, you won’t make that mistake twice.

Arroz de Carreteiro – Coachmen’s Rice

My friend Ken Bonfield posted about making humble black beans and rice on a Monday – This Monday – and that prompted this re-do of a big time fave of mine –

Ever since humans have been a thing, we’ve taken steps to make our sustenance portable. Being natural omnivore, it’s a safe bet that we’ve always been grabbing a handful of berries here, a hunk of grain there, maybe a little hunk of meat, and stuffing it all into a leaf so that we could take it with us.

Some of the most iconic snacks and meals that remain to this very day are perfect examples of this – Pemmican comes to mind – a high calorie mix of meat, fat and fruit designed to be portable and supply a serious dose of power on the road. Go farther back and you get the Mongols, who depended on meat and dairy from their animals to power their travels – And from there came yoghurt, and meat for soups and stews.

Virtually anywhere you look, our ancestors were drying, (or salting), and then combining the stuff they liked to eat so that it would be easier to take it out on the road – Doing so significantly reduced the consequences of not being lucky on a forage or hunt far from home, a situation that could be quite dire, indeed. From that legacy comes a world of one pot meals designed to efficiently use what’s available, and make it good. From jambalaya and gumbo, to paella and bouillabaisse, the manifestations are as broad as our appetites.

In the southwestern United States of the 19th Century, that history manifested in chili, a one pot meal of dried meat and chiles reconstituted with water and heated through. It packed calories, spiritual heat, and kept many a cowboy content during cold nights on the range.

Farther south, all the way down to southern Brazil, there’s an analogous food history. There, men driving ox carts across what is now known as the State of Rio Grande do Sul, were known as Carreteiros, or coachmen. They too had a signature, portable staple – Arroz de Carreteiro – Coachmen’s Rice.

Where Tex-Mex chili in its pure form simply blends meat with heat, arroz de carreteiro was initially just jerked beef, rice, and water, heated in an iron pot over an open fire. It was fast, easy, and filling, everything a gaúcho needed. The dried meat was known as Charque, a local specialty from the coastal part of the region.

Today, a Gaúcho is what folks from Rio Grande do Sul are known as, and their signature dish has, like chili, grown to something more than its humble origins. Arroz de Carreteiro is made with other cuts of beef, even leftovers, for which the dish is ideal. It’s still a hearty, savory, delicious meal, even way up here in Los Estados Unidos. This is, in fact, a fabulous dish to make camping, over coals from a real fire – that combination of cast iron and wood-fired heat is pretty unbeatable. If you go that road, you’ll want 75% of your coals under the ditch oven, and 25% on top. Finally, this can also be made with wild rice, and that makes things a whole ‘nuther level of amazing – The complex, smoky nature of really good wild rice makes an unforgettable meal.

Arroz de Carreteiro – Coachmen’s Rice
Serves 4 to 6

8 ounces Beef, (trimmed Chuck is my choice)
8 Ounces Long Grain Rice (or wild rice)
2 Roma Tomatoes
1 each Green, Red, and Yellow Bell Peppers
1 small, sweet Onion
2 Spring Onions
2 cloves Garlic
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil, (Peanut oil works well, too)
2 Tablespoons fresh chopped Parsley
1 Tablespoon Black Pepper Corns, (fresh ground is fine)
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1 teaspoon Sweet Smoked Paprika
Optional:
1 teaspoon dried, hot chile flakes or powder

Smash the garlic cloves under the flat side of a chef’s knife. Remove the peels and nibs.
In a molcajete, (or mortar and pestle), grind together the garlic, salt, and pepper, then set aside for flavors to marry.

Garlic, salt, and pepper

Garlic, salt, and pepper

Trim excess fat from the beef, and dice it into larger bite sized pieces, about 1/2″ square.

Rinse all produce. Stem and seed the peppers, peel the onion.
Dice the peppers, onion, and tomatoes, (about 1/3″ pieces).
Peel and trim the spring onions, then cut them into thin wheels.
Chiffonade the parsley.

Veggies

Garnish

In a cast iron Dutch oven, (or sauté pan with a tight fitting lid), over medium high heat, heat the oil until very hot.

Add the onions and sauté for about one to two minutes, until they begin to brown.
Add the seasoned garlic paste and stir to incorporate.

Gorgeous local beef

Add the beef and paprika; continue to sauté over high heat for two to three minutes more, stirring steadily, until the meat is evenly browned.

Add the peppers and tomatoes and stir to incorporate.

Arroz de Carreteiro

Now add the dry rice to the mix, and stir well to incorporate.

Arroz de Carreteiro

Add water until all ingredients are coved by about 1″ of water.

Arroz de Carreteiro

Allow to mixture to come to a boil, stirring sparingly.

Cover the oven or pan and and reduce heat to low, just enough to maintain a simmer.

Simmer for about 20 minutes, or until almost all the water has been absorbed. If the dish seems dry, or the rice a bit too chewy, add more water.

Arroz de Carreteiro

Once the rice is nice and tender, serve piping hot, garnished with parsley and spring onions.

image

Berbere and Berber Stew

Say the words, ‘Berber food,’ here in the States, and you’ll get many a blank stare. That unfamiliarity isn’t entirely unwarranted. The Amazigh, AKA Berber, people are an ethnic group from North Africa, who today live predominantly in the countries that encompass the top of that continent, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt. There are robust Berber expat communities in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands,and Canada, which means their influence and food has spread, but here in the U.S.A., not so much. It’s time, therefore, for Berbere and Berber Stew.

Berber cuisine is ancient, in the truest sense of the word. Layered, complex, spicy, and delightfully sophisticated, it has changed very little over thousands of years. That said, it’s difficult to pin down, because it is so closely tied to the terroir of each Berber population. To the Zayanes, who live around the Atlas Mountains of central Morocco, it’s game, sheep’s milk, goat cheese, butter, corn, barley, honey, and butter. To a Tunisian or Algerian Berber, its more likely tajine, couscous, mergeuz, Harrisa, or labladi. In any iteration, it’s amazing food, rich, cultured, and redolent of its past. While we might not be familiar with the Berbers, history is – They’ve inhabited the Maghreb since 10,000 BC, and they’ve been cooking stunningly good food ever since.

Certainly there are Berber dishes we know – Those Tunisian and Algerian goodies I mentioned above are fairly ubiquitous – Couscous, Mergeuz, and Tajines can be found much more often than they would have even a decade ago. There’s far more that is common to us, we’ve just not associated the root cuisine until recently. For instance, it’s arguable that specialized ovens designed for roasting whole critters originated with the Berbers – Mechoui, whole lamb barbecue, has branched out here in techniques from the Cuban cana china, to pit barbecue. Even the meat pie or pastie has ancient Berber roots in the sublime pastilla. Our only foray here at UrbanMonique into Berber cuisine came with the post on Moghrabia, which was sublimely delicious, and a ball to discover. Yet that dish didn’t quite hit the mark for what I feel should have been done for a first Berber post – It didn’t include the amazing namesake spice blend, Berbere. I aim to rectify that herein.

Berbere - North African rocket fuel
Berbere – North African rocket fuel

Berbere is a word shared by Amharic and Tigrinya speakers, both of which are Semitic languages common to Ethiopia, Eritrea, and parts of the African Horn. Like so many signature blends, it’s hard to pin a definitive version – Everybody makes one, and theirs is best. Generally, the blend will include heat from chiles, with some combination of ginger, cardamom, fenugreek, and nutmeg/clove/cinnamon. Keep in mind that, back in the days of the silk and spice roads, this is where many of these rare delights came from, and they are still grown and used heavily, along with some very localized specialties. My favorite local spice is Long Pepper, which you can get quite easily these days – It has notable more depth and heat than Black Pepper, with hints of nutmeg and cinnamon. Perhaps the most elusive of those local spices is Korarima, AKA Ethiopian, or false cardamom. That ethereal stuff is ubiquitous in Ethiopian and Eritrean cuisines, and locals will tell you that if you really want to cook authentic Berber food, no other cardamom will do.

Ethiopian Cardamom pods
Ethiopian Cardamom pods

The cardamoms hail from the ginger family, most from either the elettaria or amomum genera. The elettaria branch are the green, or true cardamoms, and the amomum the black, brown, white and red varieties. Korarima, Aframomum corrorima, is neither, hence the slight as ‘false’ cardamom. Korarima is a ginger family member as well, used not only in food, but as herbal remedy and tonic, and even blended with coffee. That’s as it should be, for the plants large brown pods grow well in coffee country. They’re harvested and then dried over open fires, which imparts a hint of sweet smoke to the grains. Locals say that any other cardamom just doesn’t quite cut it for Berbere. While I’ll say that, if you’re a spice nut like I am, you should try this stuff, be prepared – An ounce and a half will set you back about $15 plus postage for the good stuff. I’ll not disagree with the experts, although it’s hard to say exactly what makes Korarima different from other cardamoms – to me, it’s much more subtle and complex a flavor profile than any other version I’ve tried, less medicinal and warmer – Much like Long Pepper is a whole ‘nuther beast from Tellicherry. All that said, you certainly can make Berbere with any cardamom you have or like, and it’ll come out fine – Just don’t serve it to your Berber pals…

So, here’s our take on Berbere. It’s a heady mix of heat, warm, smoky, and herbal notes that goes great with dang near anything – Seriously, from scrambled eggs, to chicken, fish, beef, pork, tofu, and dang near any veggie you can name, it’s amazing stuff. And of course it’ll power the stew we’ll do next as well. This recipe will make about 1/3 Cup of spice blend, which will go quite a long way. You should know that true Berber spice blends are often pretty fiery, and this is no exception, (If you’ve ever tried or made genuine Harissa, you know I ain’t kiddin’). As such, you can reduce the chile volume accordingly, or use milder chiles if you prefer things a bit tamer. There are a myriad of versions of this blend, wet and dry, and they’re all fabulous – Take some time to poke around online and find some more to try, or even better, use this as a springboard to forge your own.

It takes a village - The guts for our Berbere
It takes a village – The guts for our Berbere

Berbere a la UrbanMonique

2-3 Tablespoons ground hot Chile Powder, (note – Not chili powder, just straight hot chiles!)
1 1/2 Tablespoons Smoked Sweet Paprika
1 Tablespoon Long Pepper
1 Tablespoon fine ground Sea Salt
1 teaspoon whole Coriander seed
1/2 teaspoon ground Ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground Garlic
1/2 teaspoon whole Ethiopian Cardamom, (Sub Black Cardamom if you wish)
1/2 teaspoon whole Fenugreek seed
1/4 teaspoon True Cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon Allspice
1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
This recipe really wants you using whole spices, (which you aughta be doing whenever possible, anyway,) If you don’t have whole, forego the roasting step.

Dry roast whole spices until they're fragrant
Dry roast whole spices until they’re fragrant

In a sauté pan over medium heat, add cardamom, coriander, fenugreek, and long pepper. Dry roast, stirring gently, until fragrant, about 2 or 3 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, then transfer to a spice grinder and process to a uniform powder.

Combine all ingredients in a small mixing bowl and combine thorough. Run the blend through a single mesh strainer if you like it uniform, thee wise, you can leave it rustic.

All herbs and spices get a clean, airtight glass jar with a dated label.
All herbs and spices get a clean, airtight glass jar with a dated label.

Store in an airtight glass jar, away from heat and sunlight. Will last for a couple of months if so stored.
Berber stew is a perfect intro to the joy that is North African cuisine. Simple on the surface, but with a finished taste that displays amazing depth and complexity, it’s a joy to make and eat. While you wouldn’t necessarily require the long cooking time with a protein switch, this would go equally well with chicken, pork, or even firm tofu. That said, the low and slow cooking of this dish will drive you nuts – Incredible smells for hours on end – Guaranteed you’ll be hungry when it’s done!

The truest form of this dish requires ghee, clarified butter, which I didn’t have when I decided to make it. Use ghee if you’ve got it, but if not, you’ll be hard pressed to do better than the rich, buttery notes avocado oil imparts. This recipe will feed four quite well.

Berber Beef Stew

1 Pound Stew Beef
2 Cups Stock, (Chicken, Beef, or Veggie)
1 small Sweet Onion
1 14 oz can crushed Tomatoes
2 cloves fresh Garlic
1-2 Tablespoons Berbere Spice Blend
2-3 Tablespoons Ghee or Avocado Oil
1-2 Tablespoons Wondra Flour
Trim stew meat to 1/2″ cubes.

Peel and trim onion, cut in half, then slice into very thin half rounds.

Peel, trim and mince garlic.

Always, always have your mise together
Always, always have your mise together

If you use crushed tomatoes, you’re good to go. If you got whole, process them to a rough Sauce with a stick blender.

Add beef and flour to a mixing bowl and evenly coat the beef.

Beef lightly but evenly coated with Wondra
Beef lightly but evenly coated with Wondra

In a Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat, add a tablespoon of ghee or oil and allow to heat through.

Add beef and brown thoroughly, about 2-3 minutes a side. Allow caramelization to occur, look for that nice dark crust before you turn it. Remove beef to the mixing bowl when it’s nicely browned.

Nice, even caramelization on the beef
Nice, even caramelization on the beef

Add 2 tablespoons of oil or ghee to pan and allow to heat through.

Add the onions and sauté until golden brown, about 7-9 minutes.

Onions properly cooked down
Onions properly cooked down

Add garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 2 minutes.

Add Berbere to the veggies and stir to incorporate.

Adding Berbere to the aromatics
Adding Berbere to the aromatics

Add the stock and tomatoes, stir to incorporate, and allow to come to a simmer.

Add the beef and stir to incorporate.

Stew ready to go low and slow
Stew ready to go low and slow

Cover the pan and turn the heat as low as you can go – Go below the ‘Low’ mark, and keep going until your oven on light turns off, then backtrack just enough to light the light – That’s where you want to be for this dish. Cook low and slow, stirring occasionally, until beef is notably tender, about 3 hours.

Remove the lid and turn heat up to the low mark. Continue cooking until beef is fork tender, about 45 – 60 minutes.

Remove from heat and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes.

Berber Stew
Berber Stew

Serve with more Berbere spice, or Harissa, and freshly made flat bread. Although it’s not exactly authentic, this stuff is delicious over wild rice.
Ethiopian flatbread, Injera, is a delicious traditional staple, and a very cool take on sourdough. It takes a few days to prepare correctly, just as traditional sourdough needs an active starter to be ready to use. Again, I didn’t know I was gonna make this, so I didn’t do Injera. I therefore included the recipe for a nice Lebanese Man’ooshe flatbread you can make in about a hour. Injera is made with Teff, a very, very old species of annual Lovegrass that is an amazing source of nourishment, high in protein, carbohydrates, and fiber. It’s so prized in North Africa that most countries that grow it ban the export of the grain – It’s needed at home more than it is over here. That said, teff is now grown here in the states, and you can get excellent teff flour readily in most stores, or online. Locals say the lighter colored varieties are better than the dark, FYI.

Ethiopian Injera

1 1/2 Cups Teff Flour
2 Cups Water
Pinch of Sea Salt
2-3 Tablespoons Ghee or Avocado Oil for frying

In a clean, non-reactive mixing bowl, combine teff flour and water thoroughly to a smooth consistency, about like a thin pancake or crepe batter.

Cover the bowl with a clean dish towel and allow to stand for 1 to as long as three days, until the mixture shows frothy bubbles on top and smells notably sour. If you keep a warm house, or have a proofing box, you can easily achieve overnight fermentation, but don’t be surprised if it takes a while.

With a whisk, add a pinch of salt and stir to incorporate. Repeat this until you can just barely taste the salt, then stop. Sourdough needs salt to properly control bacterial protein eating enzymes, and protect fragile gluten.

To a cast iron skillet over medium heat, add a tablespoon of ghee or oil and allow to heat through.

Pour in a ladle of batter to just cover the bottom of the skillet. You’ll employ the same technique as you would for crepes, but injera should be a bit thicker when you’re portioning.

When holes start to form on the bread and the edges lift free of the skillet, remove the bread from the pan and let it cool – They only get cooked on one side. Parchment between each will help them keep from sticking.

Serve right away.

Lebanese Flatbread – Man’ooshe

3 Cups All Purpose Flour
1 Cup Water at about 75° F
2 teaspoons Sea Salt
1 teaspoon Honey
1 packet Dry Yeast
Extra Virgin Olive Oil for cooking
Combine water, yeast, and sugar in a mixing bowl and whisk to incorporate. Allow them to sit in a warm place until the yeast begins to work.

Add flour and salt and mix to incorporate – If the dough is too dry, add a little more water a Tablespoon at a time until you get to a moist but not sticky consistency.

Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise, about 30 – 45 minutes.

Remove the dough to a floured surface and cut it into 8 equal pieces with a pastry blade.

Use a floured rolling pin to roll each piece out to about 6″ or 7″ – About the size of a medium tortilla.

Lightly brush one side of each piece with olive oil

Set a flatbread into a cast iron skillet over medium high heat. Brush the exposed side with a little oil while the other cooks.

When the bread browns and gets puffy, it’s time to flip. When both sides are nicely browned, remove to cool and repeat the cooking process.

Eat right away, (as if you wouldn’t…)

Carne Polaca – A Polish Swing on Mexican

T’is the football playoff season here in the States, and as such, the occasion calls for appropriate eats. It’s traditional to cook stuff that’ll feed a bunch of folks, and that’ll fill them up right as well. In many parts of Mexico, there’s such a dish, and it might even be made for a football match, although they mean what most of the world means when they say football, (and that’s soccer, of course). Doesn’t matter which game you’re glued to, ’cause Carne Polaca is guaranteed to please. Here’s the scoop on a very popular dish south of the border that you’ve likely never heard of – Carne Polaca – a Polish swing on Mexican.

How did a polish influenced dish make it to Mexico? The answer is broader than that, because versions of this dish reside all through South and Central America, as well as Mexico. That shouldn’t be a surprise, frankly. At something over 22 million souls, the Polish diaspora is one of the largest in the world, and that very much includes points south of the border. Most of this emigration occurred because of long term and repeated persecution by more powerful neighbors, though it has continued into the 21st Century, when Poland’s inclusion in the E.U. lead to a large scale migration of young folk headed elsewhere for work. Poles arrived en mass in Mexico during the mid 19th century, and again post WWII, settling mostly in the states of Chihuahua, in central northern Mexico, and Nuevo León in the northeast. The mid 19th century bunch also settled in Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Naturally, they brought their cooking with them, but believe me when I tell you that they also loved what they found to work with in their new homes.

Many assume ‘Polish food,’ to be a backhanded homage, as if it were describing something inordinately simple or dull – Neither could be farther from the truth. Because the country often changed hands over the millennia, Polish cuisine is incredibly diverse. Influences run from neighbors like Czech, German, Austrian, Hungarian, Slovak, and Ukrainian, to more widespread roots in French, Turkey, and Italy. There is, internally, rich variety among the regions of the country, and the influences there naturally dovetail with their respective neighbors and traditions. Bagels originated in Poland, as did donuts, as did Kolacz, AKA kolaches. Polish food has always been centered on meats, from a wide variety of game, to beef, pork, poultry, and fish. Side dishes are hearty, focused on local crops and traditional favorites. Spice is everywhere, and used liberally – Paprika and other chiles, dill, cloves, garlic, marjoram, caraway, beetroot, and pepper all get liberal use. Sauerkraut is widely popular, as are a cornucopia of traditional sausages and cheeses. Kielbasa, golabki (stuffed cabbage rolls), and pierogis have all made their way across the globe from their homeland. So, a dish called Polish meat in Mexico isn’t so farfetched after all.

Recipes in English for carne Polaca are few and far between – In fact, I found exactly one, (sort of), so I stuck with the ones in Spanish. While quite a few recipes I checked out did indeed come from the northern border states where Mexican Poles are more concentrated, there were versions from as far afield as Tabasco on the Yucatán peninsula, to Colima on the Pacific coast. Carne Polaca is hugely popular as a party and family gathering dish, and there is significant uniformity as to ingredients and the process of making it. That said, what you won’t find, or at least I couldn’t find, was much of anything about the roots or history of this dish, as popular as it may be. As such, I shifted my sleuthing to traditional polish food, and found what I believe to be the answer – Bigos – Polish Hunters Stew.

Bigos is huge in Poland, a national dish and a tradition pretty much everywhere. It is an ancient dish, full of all things prized by hunter-gatherer societies. Like Burgoo here in the states, almost every polish cook has a version, (and theirs is best, just ask ’em). In essence, Bigos is a meat stew featuring cabbage as a main ingredient, heavily sauced and spiced, just as is carne Polaca. What goes into Bigos is what’s available. It’s often touted as a great thing to make when you need to clear out your freezer, smokehouse, or pantry. As such, there really isn’t a standard recipe, although there are some commonalities. The cabbage used may be fresh or fermented, (sauerkraut). Onions are common, sautéed until lightly browned. Spices include salt, pepper, juniper, and bay. Cloves, garlic, mustard seed, nutmeg, paprika and thyme are also mentioned quite often. This is particularly of interest given that almost every Mexican carne Polaca recipe includes quite a bit of ketchup, and many of those latter ingredients are common therein. There is often a sweet note to Bigos, as well, and that is also most definitely present in ketchup. All things considered, it’s a solid bet that Bigos is the root of carne Polaca, and that’s good news for us.

So here is our swing at a very tasty dish, indeed. You can do this with any protein you like, served over chips as a kind of dip, or with fresh tortillas taco style. It gets better the next day, so lends itself well to making burritos or chimis. What we came up with uses no ketchup, and that’s much for the better, truth be told. The tomato element we provide has the spice notes of good ketchup, with less sugar, and other stuff you may not want, and is truer to the roots of the dish.

Carne Polaca de UrbanMonique

2 Pounds Chicken Thighs
2 12-14 Ounce cans Whole Peeled Tomatoes
16-24 Ounces Chicken Stock
1 small Onion
1 head Green Cabbage
1 bunch Cilantro
1/4 Cup Avocado Oil
2 Tablespoons Cider Vinegar
2 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
1 Tablespoon Agave Nectar
1 teaspoon yellow Mustard
2 cloves Garlic
2-5 Chipotle Chiles
1 small Lemon
2 whole Cloves
1/2 teaspoon Allspice
1/2 teaspoon Celery Salt
2 California Bay Leaves
Sea Salt
Ground Black Pepper
If you’re using dried chipotles, reconstitute them in a small bowl of warm water. If you’re using canned or crushed, you’re good to go.

Peel and trim garlic.

Preheat oven to 250° F.

In a Dutch oven or heavy sauce pan over medium heat, add a couple tablespoons of oil and allow to heat through.

Braise 2-3 minutes a side
Braise 2-3 minutes a side

Add chicken thighs to hot oil, season with sea salt and pepper, and braise them, about 2 minutes per side.

Ready for a low and slow oven
Ready for a low and slow oven

Add chicken stock to the Dutch oven, to almost cover the chicken. Add bay leaves, garlic, and cloves, allow the stock to simmer.

When you’ve reached a low simmer, cover the Dutch oven and slide it into a middle rack in the oven.

Zest lemon and cut in half.

Open tomatoes and carefully pour the liquid into a small mixing bowl. Pour the tomatoes into an oven-proof dish, (not too large, you want the liquid concentrated.)

 

To the bowl of tomato juices, squeeze half the lemon, then add a tablespoon of oil, the vinegar, agave nectar, mustard, allspice, and celery salt. Whisk with a fork to incorporate.

Add the blended liquid to the tomatoes, and slide them into the middle rack beside the chicken.

Tomatoes ready for a slow roast
Tomatoes ready for a slow roast

Allow chicken and tomatoes to stew for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the chicken is fork tender. Remove from oven and allow to cool enough to handle.

Slow roasted and savory
Slow roasted and savory

Hand shred chicken and set aside. Reserve the jus and freeze for future projects.

Hand shredded chicken
Hand shredded chicken

Add chipotles and juice from remaining half lemon to the tomato blend and process with a stick or regular blender to a smooth consistency.

The sauce, processed
The sauce, processed

Peel, trim and rough chop onion, cabbage, and cilantro.

The veggie mise en place
The veggie mise en place

In the Dutch oven over medium high heat, add two Tablespoons oil and allow to heat through.

Add cabbage, onion, cilantro, and lemon zest to the Dutch oven. Sauté for 2-3 minutes, until onions are lightly browned.

Sauté the veggie blend until the onions are lightly browned
Sauté the veggie blend until the onions are lightly browned

Add chicken to the Dutch oven and stir to incorporate.

Add tomato blend and stir to incorporate.

Carne Polaca de UrbanMonique
Carne Polaca de UrbanMonique

Allow the mix to cook on a low simmer for about 10 minutes.

Tacos de Carne Polaca
Tacos de Carne Polaca

Serve over warm tortillas, taco style, or with tortilla chips, or whatever way floats your boat.

We’re here to tell you that this stuff is bloody amazing, and even better the next day – We went with taco salads on day two.

Beef Bourguignon – France’s legendary beef stew

The National Weather Service announced back in the fall of last year that winter here in the Pacific Northwet would be colder and wetter than normal, and they’d be right. We’ve had snow on the ground, in places, for weeks here already. Just north of us, ponds around Vancouver, B. C. have frozen hard enough to skate on for the first time in decades. This cold snap has, in fact, hit a lot of North America. I’m sure this is why I’m so obsessed with hearty, rich comfort foods right now – Stuff like Beef Bourguignon, France’s legendary beef stew.

Bourgogne - Where the magic starts
Bourgogne – Where the magic starts

Just reading the name Beef Bourguignon is enough to know it’s French, but more to the point, it’s from Bourgogne – Burgundy – And that’s what Bourguignon means, d’accord? About 100 km southeast of Paris and stretching for some 350 km toward Switzerland, Burgundy is crossed by a series of working canals, and rightfully famous for deep, complex red wines that bear the regions name, (as well as Pinot, Chardonnay, Chablis, and Beaujolais.) There are also stunningly lovely chateaus, legendary mustard from the regional capitol of Dijon, and Charolais cattle – Some of the finest beef in the world.

Late in the sultry month of August, the commune of Saulieu holds the Fête du Charolais, a paean to meat lovers, a celebration of Charolais beef featuring, naturellement, Boeuf Bourguignon. With a distinct taste reflecting its stunning terroir, Charolais beef has perfect tenderness that yields great beef bourguignon. All that said, most of us probably won’t have Charolais Beef available, (Although there are American Charolais cattle raisers out there, FYI.) Regardless of the beef you’ll use, when you combine it with wine, spirits, fresh veggies and herbs, you’ll be hard pressed to go wrong.

While the roots of beef bourguignon go far back in time, it was Auguste Escoffier who made it famous. Of course, dishes that would bear the Maestro’s stamp couldn’t be rustic, (perish the thought!), so his 1903 recipe upgraded the dish to haute cuisine, utilizing a rather large chunk of beef. It took Julia Child, some seventy years later, to return things back toward the rustic again, advocating the use of cubed stew beef.

Like so many iconic regional dishes, there really is no definitive beef bourguignon recipe, regardless of what anyone tells you – Including bourguignon chefs. Why? Because like spaghetti, or mac and cheese, everybody does it a bit differently – What goes into the mix is, as often as not, what’s good that day – And this is exactly as it should be. What is set in stone is the cooking process, and that’s what I’ll share with y’all today. I’ll also note that there are things assumed to be seminal to the recipe that just really aren’t – Mushrooms for one, and pearl onions for another – Sure, those can and should go in the pot if you like them and they’re readily at hand, but if they’re not, it doesn’t mean that what you’re making isn’t authentic.

The techniques employed to make beef bourguignon correctly are braising and stewing, and that requires a bit of clarification to separate those techniques from searing and roasting, their higher heat first cousins. Searing beef, to get a nice caramelized crust on it, is done in a dry pan over high heat. Braising, from the French verb braiser, is a semi-wet, medium heat cooking method, designed to brown meat and infuse it with the flavors of the wet adjuncts that share the pan. Stewing, when done in the oven or on the stove top, is a relatively low temperature, wet cooking process, while roasting is a high heat, dry method. The high heat techniques work best for lean cuts, (like a roast, of course). Tougher, fattier cuts benefit most from braising and stewing – The lower, slower methods that provide the time needed to break down connective tissue, making things nice and tender.

Here’s our take on this iconic dish. Feel free to make it yours. Pay attention to the techniques and the order of operation – That’ll get you where you want to go – And again, everything else is free reign. Take note of our choice for the spirit employed – We don’t have cognac in the house, and I ain’t buying it just for a recipe – You could use brandy, Armagnac, or frankly, any spirit that floats your boat – Bourbon would go great, too. Another case in point – We served ours over rice, while tradition holds that you use thick slices of good country bread rubbed with garlic – If I’d had good bread on hand, I’d have done that, but I didn’t, so – get the picture? Innovate, whenever you want to or must – A recipe is a template, not gospel, so tweak it to your liking. If parsnips or turnips or some other great winter root veggie floats your boat, throw it in there – It’ll still be tres bien when you’re done.

Beef Bourguignon a la UrbanMonique

1 Pound Stew Beef
4 slices thick cut Bacon
3-4 Carrots
1 medium Sweet or Yellow Onion
2 cloves Garlic
1/2 Bottle Pinot Noir, (Yes, that’s what red Burgundy is, in fact)
2 Cups Beef Broth
1 1/2 Ounces Reposado Tequila
1 Tablespoon Tomato Paste
1 teaspoon Thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black Pepper
1/2 teaspoon Sea Salt
2 Tablespoons Avocado Oil, (Olive is just fine too.)
2 California Bay Leaves
1 Tablespoon Unsalted Butter
1 Tablespoon Wondra Flour

Always start with your mise en place
Always start with your mise en place

Rinse and peel carrots and onions.

Place the flat side of a chef’s knife on top of the garlic cloves and smack the blade with the palm of your hand to smash the garlic – It doesn’t need to be pulverized – you just want to get the skin loose. Peel and trim garlic.

Cut the onion in half, then cut each half into quarters. Carefully cut the carrots in half lengthwise, then into half rounds about 1/2″ thick. Mince the garlic.

Preheat oven to 250° F.

Place a Dutch oven, (or heavy stock pot with a tight fitting lid), over medium heat and add the oil – Allow to heat through.

Cut the bacon into lardons – Chunks about 1/2″ square.

Rendering the lardons
Rendering the lardons

Sauté the bacon in the oil until the lardons start to crisp, about 3-5 minutes. Transfer the bacon onto a paper towel with a slotted spoon.

Beef goes in after bacon
Beef goes in after bacon

Add the beef to the hot fat and braise until the beef is lightly browned on all sides, about 3-5 minutes. Use the slotted spoon to transfer the meat onto the towel with the bacon.

The beef, nicely browned, ready to set aside
The beef, nicely browned, ready to set aside

If you’re left with a fair amount of beef juice and fat, as we were, carefully pour that into a small bowl and set aside.

Save that beef juice and fat to reincorporate
Save that beef juice and fat to reincorporate

Add another Tablespoon of oil to the Dutch oven and allow to heat through.

Veggies into oil for a quick sauté
Veggies into oil for a quick sauté

Add the carrots and onions to the hot oil and sauté until the onions are slightly browned, about 3-5 minutes.

Veggies sautéed until the onions are slightly browned
Veggies sautéed until the onions are slightly browned

Add the garlic and sauté until the raw garlic smell dissipates, about 1 minute.

Add the tequila to the veggies and flambé (light it) to burn off the alcohol – Be careful – Don’t get your face or hands close to the Dutch oven when you do this!

With a wooden spoon, scrape all the dark stuff from the bottom of the Dutch oven.

Add enough beef broth to almost cover the stew
Add enough beef broth to almost cover the stew

Add the wine, beef, reserved beef juice and fat, and bacon back into the Dutch oven and stir.

Add enough beef stock to almost cover the mix.

Add the tomato paste, thyme, salt, pepper, and bay leaves. Stir to incorporate.

Seasoning added, ready for oven stewing
Seasoning added, ready for oven stewing

Cover the Dutch oven and place on a middle rack in your oven. Stew the bourguignon at 250° F for 75 to 90 minutes, until the meat and veggies are fork tender.

Remove from the oven and uncover. Combine butter and flour in a measuring cup, then add a cup or so of broth. Mix with a fork until the blend thickens. Pour back into the bourguignon and stir in thoroughly to incorporate.

Monter au beurre - Adding cold Butter to a Sauce or stew at the end of cooking
Monter au beurre – Adding cold Butter to a Sauce or stew at the end of cooking

Serve over crusty toasted bread rubbed with garlic, or rice, or egg noodles. Garnish with fresh parsley if you like.

Beef Bourguignon - Heaven in a bowl
Beef Bourguignon – Heaven in a bowl

Goes great with a glass of that red, and it’ll be spectacular the next day.

bon apetit.

A NOTE ON THAT LAST PIC –

i posted this on social media, and a friend of a friend wrote this in responses – “I can tell you’re an accomplished chef, so why would you post such a poor picture of your work?”

It’s a fair question, so here’s the fair answer. This site is, as it’s subtitled, about real food in real kitchens. For a time, to get something accepted at the most swanky food porn sites required professional level photography – I for one think that’s total bullshit. I posted this because it’s the bowl I ate that night. Expecting all of my images to be professional, or all your meals to turn out incredibly photogenic, has nothing to do with cooking – certainly not at home. It sets up an impossible level of expectation that gets in the way of learning to cook. If and when presentation is important at home, we do it,  but we do so because we like to, not because it must be done. This site is about real cooking, and real cooking isn’t always perfect. And besides, I’ll bet you’d bloody swoon over that bowl if I’d handed it to ya – that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Banh Mi

Asked for reflective advice shortly before he died, the venerable rocker Warren Zevon thought for a moment, and then replied, “enjoy every sandwich.” There’s sage advice in that simple thought. Few things tell more about a chef than what kind of sandwich they offer, and the same goes for the choice a diner makes. Given the incredible depth and breadth of options out there, I’ll just come straight out and say that you’d be absolutely hard pressed to do better than an authentic, house made Banh Mi sandwich.

When we dive into sandwich history, invariably we come to the old saw regarding John Montagu, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who lived in the seventeen hundreds, and reportedly ‘invented’ his namesake treat. Montagu, during an epic poker game in the winter of 1762, called for cold meat in between two slices of bread so that he wouldn’t have to break away from the game to eat. His culinary trick caught on, and subsequently, the thing began to be referred to as a sandwich – Now, all that said, there’s no doubt the dish has roots far deeper and broader than one game of five card draw.

Whether it’s a Reuben in Omaha, a torta in Mexico, smoked meat in Canada, vada pav in India, katsu sando in Japan, medianoche in Cuba, chacarero in Chile, or doner kebabs in Turkey, they’re all variations on the sandwich theme, and they’re all delicious – And none more so than a perfectly constructed banh mi.

Banh Mi is, of course, Vietnamese, with some foreign influence integral to the sandwich. The foreign would be French, who, like so many other empire builders, (Us Merkans, for instance), were eventually drummed out of Vietnam, but if they left some good behind, their influence on Vietnamese cuisine was undoubtedly it. Bread was non-existent in Vietnam before the French – Now baguette shops are ubiquitous throughout the country, (In Vietnam, baguettes are made from rice flour, by the way, so a real Vietnamese baguette has a delightfully light taste and crumb). Onions, potatoes, asparagus, and meat broth were adopted heartily, the latter leading to arguable the most famous Vietnamese culinary export, the joy that is Pho.

That said, don’t by any means assume that Vietnam was a culinary backwater prior to colonization – Nothing could be farther from the truth. The Vietnamese have always excelled at not only surviving, but thriving in good times and bad – A key part of that adaptability is the willingness to try and adopt new things – especially true when it comes to food. Vietnam and their largest neighbor, China, have cross pollinated culinarily for thousands of years. Everything from noodles and won tons, to chiles and corn made their way south from China and were adopted heartily by the Vietnamese.

That said, there are key aspects of Vietnamese culinary philosophy that color everything there, including the banh mi. At the core of this cooking is the balance of distinct, strong flavor profiles – spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet. Per the Vietnamese culinary tradition, each flavor corresponds with an organ in our bodies – gall bladder, small intestines, large intestines, stomach, and bladder, accordingly. The mantra of five continues further – Vietnamese cooks strive to include five essential nutrients in each meal – Powder (spice), water, minerals, protein, and fat. The visual element of cooking is also carefully considered; white, green, yellow, red, and black are presented in a well balanced Vietnamese dish. Finally, a balance between what is thought of as the heating or cooling properties of various ingredients is considered – The juxtaposition of jalapeño and mayonnaise in a classic banh mi, for example.

That classic banh mi is far simpler than what you probably have tasted. Banh mi thit nguoi, sometimes called the special, (Dac biet), is a baguette, sliced in two and given a hearty schmear of house made liver pate – That’s how it was for many decades and still is, in many Vietnamese deli’s. Banh mi has evolved, however, to our great fortune. Nowadays, you’ll find subtly complex sauces, pickled and fresh vegetables, and proteins from tofu, to char siu pork, roast chicken, or grilled pork, and of course, beef here in the states. Almost any protein you dig will work, which makes banh mi the perfect vehicle for leftovers. The veggies vary as well, but almost always include chiles, cilantro, cucumber, and a tart-sweet pickled daikon, carrot, or onion. That fancier, loaded version became popular in south Vietnam, especially in Saigon, and it’s that version that has spread around the globe more than any other.

Two of the things needed for a classic banh mi are things that you probably don’t have laying around your kitchens – One you’ll have to make, and the other buy, or sub for. They are the daikon or radish pickle, and Maggi seasoning. The pickle is easy as all get out to make, and we’ve got a recipe for you below. That’ll need at least an hour before you use them, and a couple to a few are even better, so consider making that ahead of meal time. The Maggi seasoning is, frankly, pretty much pure MSG and sodium, although the recipe varies depending on where it’s made, (Maggi is ubiquitous in Asian cooking, but it actually originated in Switzerland back in the 1800s). If you have an Asian grocery, you’ll find it there, and of course it can be bought from Amazon as well. It comes in various sizes, from around 5 ounces on up to 28 and 32 ounce bottles – If you decide to try it, get a small bottle – A little goes a long way. I’m going to assume you don’t have Maggi, and as such, I’ll offer a sub that’ll work just fine and taste delicious to boot. Finally, we like a light cabbage slaw on our banh mi, so I’ll shoot you a recipe for that as well.

Pickled daikon or radish is key to Banh mi
Pickled daikon or radish is key to Banh mi

For the Pickled Daikon.
You may sub regular radishes if your grocery doesn’t have decent daikon, as ours did not when I wrote this post.
5-6 Radishes
1/2 Cup White Vinegar
1/2 Cup cold Water
1/2 teaspoon Bakers Sugar
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/4 teaspoon Lemon Thyme

Rinse and stem radishes, then slice into 1/8″ thick rounds. If you use daikon, slice those into matchstick size, and the same goes for carrots if you decide to go that route – Use the same brine on all three options.

Combine all remaining ingredients and stir briskly to dissolve salt and sugar.

Place radishes in a non-reactive container, cover with the brine and allow to sit for 1 to 4 hours prior to use.

For the Slaw
2-3 1/4″ thick slices Green and Red Cabbage
1 small Carrot
1-2 slices Sweet Onion
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
Pinch of Sea Salt

Slice the carrot and onion – Onion into thin slivers, and carrot into match stick size.

Rough chop the Cabbage slices.

Transfer all to a mixing bowl, add the vinegar and salt and toss to coat.

For the Sauce
1 Cup Mayonnaise
2 teaspoons Dark Soy Sauce
1 teaspoon Cider Vinegar
3-5 drops Fish Sauce
1-2 drops Worcestershire

Combine and thoroughly whisk all ingredients together in a small bowl.

Cover and refrigerate for at least 20 minutes prior to use.

For the Banh Mi
1/2 Pound Protein of choice
Fresh Baguette
3-4 Jalapeño chiles
1 Cuccumber
5-6 sprig Cilantro
Banh Mi Sauce
slaw
Pickled Radishes

Banh mi - a study of balance and flavor
Banh mi – a study of balance and flavor

For whatever protein you decide on, (we used beef for ours), slice very thin.

Cut baguette into roughly 6-8″ long chunks, then slice in half. It’s customary to take the soft gut of the bread out, leaving more room for goodies.

Stem and seed Jalapeños, then slice into very thin rings.

Slice cucumber into very thin rings.

Rough chop cilantro.

Arrange all the goodies so that each person can load their own banh mi.

Put a generous amount of the sauce on both sides of the baguette, then layer up, starting with your protein and ending with the slaw.

Banh mi, final assembly
Banh mi, final assembly

Now, you’ve got your balance of flavors and colors, (The Soy in your Sauce handles the black, btw), and you’ll make all your organs happy!

Banh mi
Banh mi

Fold ’em up and dig in.

Goes great with a local lager or pilsner.