Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Jewish Banh Mi

For the past month or so I have been on something of a Banh Mi kick. In the ever-comodifying gravitational field of U.S. culture, a Banh Mi is a French-inspired, Vietnamese sandwich that combines a variety of "meats", vegetables and spreads layered into a warm baguette to create a heavenly experience of taste and texture. Our favorite place to get Banh Mi is Viet-Nam Banh Mi So 1 on Broome Street in what used to be New York's Little Italy, but which can now, by any observable metric, be better described as Chinatown. For less than $5 you can get the Number One House Special, a little "pork belly and pork liver pate" number dolled up with slices of processed luncheon meats and slathered in mayonnaise. I have never had it. I generally don't put mayo on sandwiches, I don't eat processed meats (i.e. Baloney, etc), and I am not a big fan of pork liver. In fact, I mostly would not eat anything on the menu - I am sure that it is all good, its just a bit outside of my culinary comfort zone. With that said, I am a big fan of the curry chicken (#8) and of the grilled minced pork with sweet glaze (#3). However, even these items, while very good, did not quite get me to where I wanted to be gotten.  So... I finally decided to create my own.

Borrowing the flavors of my childhood, a culinary tradition build around Jewish food holidays (Passover & Rosh Hashanah), I present my new take on the classic Vietnamese Bahn Sandwich. An easily Kosher, very Jewish, awesomely "deli-icious" creation.

Note: In my first version of this sandwich, I buttered the bread, and a distant cousin on my mother's side totally called me out on Facebook. It turns out that butter, made from Cow's milk, and therefore dairy, can't be mixed with meat. A big "no-no" in Kashrut law. Mayonaise, made from egg whites, is considered Parve, which means it can be mixed with either meat or dairy and would have been an acceptable substitute, except that, as mentioned, I "answer to a higher authority" (my taste buds), and I am not a fan of mayo on meat. True to the idiosyncratic methods of my rabbinical forefathers, I pondered the question, and was blessed with a solution that not only solved the Kosher issue but also brought the taste to a whole new level... a garlicky basil-pesto. (Now, before the Rabbinical authority declares a death fatwa on me, let me point out that most pesto recipes call for grated romano and parmesan cheese. Adding cheese to a meat dish would make it decidedly un-kosher. So, if that's an issue, leave the cheese out.)

Start with a fresh-baked French baguette. You want it nice an crusty on the outside, and fluffy and chewy on the inside.

Slice it open and spread the Basil-pesto on both insides.

Next, add a schmear of chopped liver to the bottom slice.

Chopped liver is a Eastern-European Jewish delicacy made with chicken livers sautéed in schmaltz (aka rendered chicken fat) and course ground with hard-boiled eggs and fried onions. (Some recipes use Gribenes: crunchy bits of fried chicken skin. For this sandwich, I want the chopped liver to be a bit smoother, so I left them out.)

In my childhood, no holiday meal was complete without Chicken soup. A by-product of chicken soup is a chicken breast that has been poached in stock with onions, carrots, parsnips, turnips and dill. Remove the skin and bone from the breast, shred, and add to the sandwich.

Next comes a sauté of ground beef, with onions, garlic, and apple cider vinegar.

Then, because we still want to remember and respect the sandwich's Vietnamese roots, we dress it with sliced cukes, and a dikon/carrot mix, sliced matchstick style and pickled in sugar and vinegar.

Finish the sandwich with a top layer of sliced jalapenos, parsley, cilantro and a couple of squeezes of Sriracha and you wind up with what just might be the best thing since Jews figured out to eat Chinese food on Christmas eve.