Fried Tilapia Banh Mi/Torta

10 04 2010

Sandwiches really are a beautiful thing… and when they’re done right they really are perfect in so many ways. I’ve realized that try as I may, I just can’t deny the fact that I love bread – it’s really not possible to make a good sandwich with bad bread… it just isn’t. And similarly, good bread makes a sandwich.

Recently I discovered that the market by my house which carries a large amount of Vietnamese ingredients, happens to sell amazing French rolls that are perfect for banh mi. I’ve always just walked right past them but lately I’ve started taking them up on the too-good-to-be-true seeming 3 for a dollar price.

They also carry lots of fresh fish that usually doesn’t look particularly fresh but on the day I made this sandwich there must have been a good haul because the whole fish were looking particularly clear-eyed. So I grabbed a tilapia – I was making a quick lunch so I didn’t have time to go catch it myself, you know… sorry, Alice!

This sandwich was really more like a banh mi meets torta. Imagine the first interlude on Ms Pacman but with two sandwiches bouncing toward each other… “they meet! <3". Two of my favorite sandwiches, squeezed into one roll. The thing that distinguishes the banh mi from other sandwiches though, is the pickled carrot, daikon and fresh cilantro. Vietnamese and Mexican flavors play really well together… lots of cilantro, lime and heavy heat in both. So I figured I might as well throw some avocado, mayo and lime in there, as if I was making a torta. And I smashed and toasted the bread a little bit too.

But I digress – back to those pickles… the pickled carrots and daikon are what really sets banh mi apart and they are so quick and easy to make it’s crazy. You can use them for so much more than just sandwiches, too. For these I just used the basic sweet vinegar mix I’ve been using that I adapted from D Chang’s Momofuku book. You just julienne the carrots and daikon and toss them in the vinegar mix before you do anything else. By the time you’re ready to put them on the sandwich they’ll have soaked up plenty of flavor and they’ll only get better the longer they sit (within reason… at least a week or so in the fridge).

So after filleting the fish, dredging the fillets in flour and pan frying them, I assembled my masterpiece…

Good slather of mayo on the bread, smashed and toasted for a few minutes in the oven. Sliced avocado spread across the top half, topped with the pickled carrots and daikon. Tilapia fillet on the bottom half topped with fresh cilantro and then all doused with lime juice. Smash together, slice and eat.

The only thing missing was the sliced fresh jalapenos…

Pho Sho

15 03 2010

As a cold wages war on my body I’m in need of some serious sick food. Chicken noodle soup was the obvious answer. One of my favorite noodle soups, chicken or not, is pho. Pho is the perfect example of Vietnamese food combining some of the best flavors – salty, umami, sour, spicy, sweet… and so many more. Pho traditionally contains rice noodles but I didn’t have any around. I did, however, have soba – Japanese buckwheat noodles – which are a little more healthy anyway so I decided to give em a shot. Good move.

I made fried chicken this weekend and decided to de-bone all the chicken before frying so I had a nice sack of bones in the freezer ready to boil for my soup broth. Ideally you’d simmer it for a lot longer but I’m feeling sick and was hungry so I only simmered it for about an hour. In my opinion, the thing that really makes pho broth distinct is star anise. This stuff is intensely licorice-y and you don’t need much of it. It works amazingly well in this broth. Coriander is also great in chicken pho broth but I didn’t use any this time.


Hot broth
Meat (or not)
Super thin sliced onion

Lime (or lemon if you have to but it’s really not the same)
Fish sauce
Hot sauce

That’s all you really need… the thing though, that makes it great and special, is the broth. I’m too tired to go into it but there are any number of versions… different broth for beef, different one for chicken, etc… this is a simple version that’s easy to throw together any night of the week. My Vietnamese friends will probably not approve…

If you want to make a vegetarian version you can but it really won’t have the depth of a meat broth. If you want to read about why broth made from bones is good, click here.

Bones – you can roast them first if you want a deeper broth, but it’s fine to just toss em straight in the stock pot and get right to it. Like I said, this is a quick version, so just toss em in the pot.

Water – cover the bones. I used about 2 quarts but what’s important isn’t a certain measure of water or bones, but the ratio between the two. Not enough bones and your broth will be weak.

Onion – this broth also depends on some serious onion presence. I peel and quarter an onion and toss the whole thing in. If you have time to spare, char the onion’s skin first over your stove’s flame.

1 whole star anise
1/2 stick cinnamon
1 bay leaf

You can also add ginger, rock sugar (or regular), cloves, cardamom, fish sauce, salt… experiment. I just use what I have around rather than worrying about making sure it’s exactly like it’s supposed to be the way someone else made it.

Boil it for the first few minutes and skim off all the skum that bubbles to the top. Simmer for about an hour, skimming more as necessary. Boil it longer if you have the time, but at very least an hour. I also simmered the chicken meat with the broth to cook it at the same time and flavor the broth even more. You can roast it separately or simmer it in the broth – either is fine.

To eat – load your bowl full of noodles, slice the meat, slice an onion super thin and toss both in with the noodles. Ladle on the hot broth and then top it off with some basil and cilantro. Squeeze in the lime, spice it up with chili sauce and season it with fish sauce.

Now, this is where you have to trust me, if you’ve never had fish sauce… trust me trust me trust me. You’re going to say “well that sounds gross but since I respect your opinion so much I’ll give it a shot.” Then you’ll get home and open that bottle of fish sauce and wonder why you ever listened to me when you smell it. And again you’re going to want to leave it out. But trust me, ignore what you smell and shake it in. You will not regret. For as bad as it smells, it tastes twice as good.

And enjoy.

With my leftovers I chopped everything up and made chicken salad to toss on a baguette for lunch tomorrow. Chopped chicken, lime juice, cilantro, basil, fish sauce, a tiny bit of sriracha… and I’m gonna tie it all up with some mayo.

*Update – the sandwich with the leftovers was almost better than the soup itself! I will definitely be making that again. I tossed what you see in the picture with some mayo, spread it on a split open soft french roll, and toasted it until it was all nice and hot and crusty. Topped it off with some sliced avocado and wow… mmm mmmmmmm.


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