Thursday, July 17, 2008

summer on a plate

You didn't think I was going to tantalize you with all those delicious-sounding dishes from last weekend's picnic and then leave you hanging with two measly bar cookies, did you? Come on, now. You know me better than that.

It really was quite an impressive spread, but two dishes stood out for me. I'm actually craving both of them as I type this. Number one: homemade, individually wrapped bánh mì sandwiches, brought by our hosts. Part French, part Vietnamese, bánh mì is traditionally a baguette filled with all sorts of goodness like pâté, chicken, pork, and a variety of vegetable toppings like pickled carrots, green papaya, and cilantro.

At our picnic, some sandwiches were labeled "Thai" and had pieces of chicken tossed with basil and a tangy lime and fish sauce dressing. Others, labeled "Vietnamese" were filled with liverwurst, slaw, and fiery jalapeños. Seriously clever and seriously tasty–these sandwiches are perfect picnic fare.

Thai-style bánh mì a la Mark Bittman (and Audrey)
This very loose "recipe" from Mark Bittman's recent 101 picnic ideas story makes about 2-3 sandwiches, depending on the size of the baguette and how hungry you are. To feed a crowd, simply double, triple, or multiply by however many people you're feeding, then wrap each sandwich in foil. Trust me, make extra.

To make: Slice open a good baguette and fill it with chopped or shredded cooked chicken tossed with fish sauce, chili, sugar, lime, garlic, scallions, and Thai basil (or, in a dire emergency, regular).

*Note: For two chicken breasts, I would estimate about 2 Tbsp. fish sauce, 1 Tbsp. (each) lime juice and sugar, 1 glove garlic, 1 to 1/2 minced jalapeño, 2 chopped scallions and a handful of basil. But that's just my guess. Use this as a starting point, then taste and make adjustments.

Vietnamese-style bánh mì
David adapted this recipe from Gourmet, substituting premade slaw from Trader Joe's, which he marinated overnight in a rice vinegar and sugar brine. The original recipe calls for the bread to be toasted but David skipped this step because the sandwiches had to endure some travel time. Check out his super-efficient assembly line!

1/2 lb. daikon, peeled
1 carrot, peeled
(*Or 1 cup store-bought mayo-less slaw)
1/2 cup rice vinegar (not seasoned)
1 Tbsp. sugar
1 (24-inch) soft baguette
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. Asian fish sauce
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1/4 lb. liverwurst
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
1/2 onion, cut into 1/4-inch rings
3/4 cup packed cilantro sprigs
2 cooked chicken breasts from a rotisserie chicken, thinly slicedLettuce leaves
2 tablespoons mayonnaise

If using, shred daikon and carrot in a food processor fitted with medium shredding disk. Stir together vinegar, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt and toss with shredded vegetables (or store-bought slaw). Let slaw stand, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes. Cut off and discard round ends of the baguette, then split in half. Mix together oil, fish sauce, and soy sauce and brush on cut sides of bread. Spread liverwurst on bottom layer of bread and top with chiles, onion, and cilantro. Drain slaw in a colander. Arrange chicken, slaw, and lettuce on cilantro. Spread top layer of bread with mayonnaise and cut sandwich crosswise into fourths.

Martha's chicken salad with herbs
The other standout dish of the day was our friend Martha's chicken salad. Chunky and creamy, adorned only with a few handfuls of scallions and herbs this is a chicken salad for purists. If you like celery, or olives, or pineapple chunks, this version might not be for you. I thought it was just right. Sadly, I ate it too quickly to snap a photo but you can see it in the first shot, nestled there in all its herby goodness between a handful of crudite and a spoonful of orzo-feta salad.
(Serves 2-4 people)

1 lb. of chicken with skin on (white meat or a mix of breasts and thighs)
1 handful, each, parsley and dill
1 handful chopped scallions
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (Martha likes fat-free Fage)
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper

Fill a large pot halfway with water to poach the chicken. Martha says, "Sounds fancy, is easy. Less water than if you were boiling, and at a much lower temperature. The French, at least according to Laurie Colwin in her excellent food books, say that the water should just smile. I throw peppercorns, garlic cloves (skin on is fine), carrots, and some wine in, too, if I have it. Or some parsley, whatever. Later, you'll have yummy broth. The thing is to not over-boil or overcook." Cook the chicken for about 30 minutes, until the meat is tender and not pink in the middle. More instructions on poaching chicken can be found here.

As the chicken poaches, make the dressing by combining the herbs, scallions, mayo, and yogurt in a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, and stir until combined.

Once the chicken is cooked and cool enough to handle, discard the skin and shred the meat. Toss the meat with the herbed dressing and add salt and pepper to taste. Martha says you can make it at room temperature or cold, and it can be made a day ahead and refrigerated in an air-tight container.


Anonymous said...

This all looks, or shall I say, reads delicious. I am going to make all of these dishes in alphabetical order and I will post back and give you my thoughts. Lisa, you are wonder and the world is better place for having you in it. ETL

Lisa said...

E, I hope you'll invite me over for this multi-coursed, all night long feast.

Um, that sounds a little dirty.

Daniel said...

It's sometimes overwhelming to count so many culinary geniuses as friends.

David, at the risk of sounding like a food rube, I've got to ask: Why does not toasting the bread make it travel better?

Martha, what the hell does it mean that the water should "smile"?

And E, why post your comment anonymously and then sign your name?

Man, I could go for a banh mi or three right now! With a dollop on chicken salad on the side!

Anonymous said...

Sorry Dan, everyone knows toasted bread doesn't travel. That's why there were no toasted sandwiches in you're lunch box along with the Cornish hens.

Also I think Smiling Water is a perfect description of liquid that's slightly more (or less?) than simmering.

Lisa said...

Judy to the rescue!

Anonymous said...

In response to this daniel person...because I can. Who are you? Who am I? Who knows, but this blog is my new homepage. Deal with that. ETL


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