Monthly Archives: December 2008

Stretching a Chicken: do chua and banh mi

banh mi

The economy’s faltering and my doctor just told me to lower my sodium intake–bleah. The two situations sum up to more home cooking: save money, avoid sodium. Very pragmatic. Hrm. Prag.mat.ic. I met the decision with a sigh. No more chip snacks, no more ramen, no more going out to eat on a whim, and no more avoiding cooking dinner by going out to eat…! The point being that I can’t monitor my sodium intake if I eat out regularly.

I don’t know about you, but even though I LOVE to cook, I hate to do it when it becomes a mandate. And here I am, facing a mandate of eating in. I say bleah!

But having no choice in the matter, I decided to find a way to motivate myself. I could…make this a fun culinary adventure. I could…maybe…take a chicken and see how much I can stretch it over meals! Make it a “how to eat more cheaply in the new economy” project. Making this mandate into a challenge has made the experience a bit more fun. And I imagine it will expand my cooking repertoire (and increase the blog posts on Muffin Top to boost).

Earlier this week, I made chicken soup with a whole chicken. In my case, I made a North Korean chicken soup. But you could just as easily make a consomme, your family chicken soup or Jewish chicken soup (one of our household favorites). Whatever involves poaching a chicken. (Phase 1…and I guess you could also roast a chicken just as easily as Phase 1)

When you make the soup, just be sure to set aside some of the chicken to save for later. In the case of the North Korean chicken soup, I only shredded half the chicken, and set aside the other side (not shredded) for future meals.

Enjoy the soup! And eye the saved meat and dream of future meals.

My point here is that you can still eat gourmet and stretch that chicken. An organic whole chicken (3-5 pounds) from Rosie’s is about $14 (cheaper if you’re eating a Foster Farms chicken).

Phase 2–how to use that cooked chicken (whether it’s poached or roasted). You can put it on top of a can make it into a regular sandwich…but my point is that you can still eat adventurously with leftovers…

I was on the brink of making chicken enchiladas with the leftover chicken, but then I saw Tea’s post on do chua, and I became determined to make a banh mi at home.

Banh Mi is an extraordinarily delicious Vietnamese sandwich, made from spiced pork, or liverwurst or chicken. It is the ultimate fusion food (French-Vietnamese) blending the two culinary traditions: French bread and the concept of a sandwich and Vietnamese flavor and spices. But despite what filling you choose to eat (pork, chicken, liverwurst)…every sandwich has some jalapeno peppers, cilantro, and the awesome do chua.

Tea has a great post on do chua–and in short it is a sweet and vinegary pickled mixture that is the signature of banh mi sandwiches.

If you’ve already got chicken, the do chua is the only other thing you’ll have to prepare in order to make this sandwich. Carrot and daikon radish are very inexpensive ingredients and the other sandwich ingredients include cilantro, jalapeno pepper, and mayonaise. Oh, and the bread: a french bread.

I was excited about assembling the sandwich and I couldn’t BELIEVE HOW EASY IT COULD BE. WHO KNEW IT COULD BE SO EASY?! I mean, my banh mi did not beat the magnificence of a banh mi sandwich from Saigon Sandwiches in San Francisco (on Turk and Larkin–and btw, they price the sandwiches super cheap! Way cheaper than Subway $5 sandwiches–the sandwiches at Saigon Sandwiches hover at a cost of about $3.50/each) but I love that I can now make one at home.

Annnd…I found a way to stretch that chicken.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Lunchtime Crunchtime


Mustard Sardines on Toast with Persimmons

Mustard Sardines on Toast with Persimmons

There’s been this strange economizing thing that’s come over me in the past few weeks – since my return from London, I suspect. I actually have found that the mantra my mate Marie used, “Credit crunch – packed lunch!” seems to have gotten stuck into my conciousness and the result is that rather than popping out for something to eat at lunchtime, I’ve been scouring my cupboards in the morning.

Trying to discover what strange and odd bits and pieces I can cobble together into something resembling a meal has become a bit of a daily habit. This particular day, cold yet sunny, I’d just had my organic box delivery with persimmons but I’d not had the opportunity to do much else with the rest of the lot. Leftover heels of bread from my weekly bake (another credit-crunch-worthy endeavour – keeps better and tastes far superior to any regular old plastic bagged loaf) with a tin of bargain-priced sardines in a mustard sauce. Quick toast of the bread, remove the spines from the fish, a quick mash on toast with a sprinkle of salt and pepper and lunch is had.

Quick note on the sardines… I never NEVER in my life suspected that I might be one of those people who actually willingly eat these little guys. I’d hated the thought of eating them – to me they were simply a treat for the cat! Until I moved overseas and my friend showed me the error of my ways. Remove the spines if you must, as I do, and the texture is simply lovely. Light and without any of the suspected fishy smell or overtly sea-like undertones. Its actually quite mild, a bit like tuna in that respect. If you’re a lady, you may decide that crunching the bones is a good source of calcium but I cannot in any good conscience recommend it. Oh, and a good Gourmet magazine to read is always a welcome companion.

Jacques Pepin’s Caramelized Apple Granola Timbale

caramelized apple granola timbale

I love Jacques Pepin. LOVE HIM. Loved him with his daughter Claudine (“Claudine, you are–you are chopping eet wrong…why are you chopping eet so slowww…Bon Appetit!”)…loved him with Julia (their rapport was amazing and made me feel like a totally delighted and privileged eavesdropper)…and love him on “Fast Food My Way.” (quick cooking! but oh so delicious!).  I love him for how he shares his knowledge on technique with his viewers (he doesn’t just take apart a kitchen, he guides us through the steps–and he always shares a tip or two on each of his shows).  I love his accent and his charm!

So anyway–he’s on my TiVO and I watch him when I’m feeling like a bit of comfort.

A few months ago, I saw him make caramelized apple granola timbales on television. Which was really caramelized apples on little toast circles!  And I HAD to make them.

At the time I didn’t realize he had a cookbook out, cataloguing all the recipes on the “Fast Food My Way” show–and so I made the timbales by piecing together the steps shown on the show. They look complicated, but they are easy to make, and so delicious.  I could imagine having these for breakfast.  And impressing a house guest or two in the future.

Because I was making these on spur of the moment, I didn’t have granola on hand.  I used cereal and nuts and currants instead.  Decent substitute (even though the cereal texture wasn’t perfect), but I’m going to make it with granola, go forward.

After making these timbales, I went out and bought the cookbook.

Recipe follows after the jump…

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Gosari Namul

Dried gosari namul (fernbracken)

Half a year ago Awhile back, I decided to cook all the recipes out of a Korean cookbook–a way for me to learn to cook my favorite Korean foods and a way for me to make use of all the Korean cookbooks on my shelf.

I collect Korean cookbooks (ones written in English). I remember the days, only fifteen years ago, when English language Korean cookbooks felt so rare and were impossibly hard to find. The first Korean cookbook I found was the one by Copeland Marks, the one despite its comprehensive list of dishes, was without any illustration and recipes that didn’t necessarily work…but I was so grateful for that cookbook. Years went by before I found another Korean cookbook.  I bought that one. And whenever I saw a Korean cookbook, I’d buy that one too. I buy them in the U.S., I buy them when I go to the Seoul Selection bookstore in Korea, I buy them in London.

Even though cookbooks of cuisines from other parts of the world, such as India or Japan or Thai or Italy, well outnumber those detailing Korean cuisine…the number of Korean cookbooks is steadily on the rise (I should know this). But–they still feel rare to me. And I have amassed a healthy collection. And I have, shamefully, not actually utilized them.  They’re just sitting like trophies on my shelf, only occasionally viewed (by me).

But that is about to change! After six months of procrastination, I’ve embarked on the “start cooking recipes out of my Korean cookbooks” journey!  Sure, I’ve mastered a good handful of recipes already, but I want to learn as many as possible. It’s like a culinary “Roots” project.  Learning to cook the foods of my ancestors and the foods of my childhood.  I don’t want to rely on going to Korean restaurants to get all I need.

First off: Gosari Namul…aka fernbracken. I don’t know what fernbracken is. Okay, I sort of do know: they’re the fiddleheads of ferns. Haha…now what are fiddleheads?! (they’re the unfurled fern leaves).

It is SERIOUSLY like this when it comes to the Korean greens of my youth.

I don’t know what half the Korean greens that I’ve eaten in my mother’s kitchen are. And when I get the Korean words translated into English, all I get is a word so obscure (“fernbracken”) that well, what is the point of it being in English?

All I know is that fernbracken is tasty.

Other Korean greens include “go gu ma” (potato leaves) and “chui namul,” both enigmas to me. I have NO idea what the English word for chui namul is…only that I have chui namul seeds from my father’s garden and it’s TASTY. I’ve seen an English description for “chui-namul” and it is “edible green leaf.” Gee Thank You. So Helpful!

But really, do you need to know what it is in English in order to enjoy the thing? No.

And so I proceeded on my conquest to cook Korean foods. First up: gosari namul. I love all kinds of Korean “namul” (which roughly translated is sauteed greens–various greens–whether they be “fernbracken” or “edible green leaves”). A bowl of rice, some namul, and some kimchi–and I’m a happy camper.

Gosari namul is rarely found fresh. You’ll more likely find it in dried form–either in a factory packaged bag or maybe a little handwrapped package (as pictured above at the top of this post).

dried gosari namul

Rehydrating the fernbracken takes awhile. You’ll want to put them in water and then boil them for at least 40 minutes. And then boil them some MORE. Maybe another 30 minutes, until they’re pliable but not downright mushy (mushy is bad).

Gosari namul, rehydrating

Rinse and rinse them until the water runs clear.

Oh? And guess what? After rehydrating them in the boiling water, soak them in cold water again! For another three hours (or as long as overnight). By this point, 3 ounces of dried fernbracken will weigh about a pound. And be at least three times their original size.

Gosari namul, rehydrated

After the cold water soaking, you’ll want to cut them so the stems are generally about 4 inches long. Wrap them in a paper towel and squeeze dry.

Then heat up some oil, add some chopped garlic (don’t be chintzy! we’re talking at least 6 cloves of garlic here!) and saute. Add the fernbracken, some minced green onion, and about 2 tablespoons of soy sauce and saute some more about 7 minutes. Add a splash of sesame oil. Toss and either put in the fridge to eat later, or serve.

Gosari namul is a side dish, so you serve it at the table along with other side dishes. Orrr…you can mix it into rice with a fried egg and hot sauce and you’ve got bibimbap. 🙂

Gosari Namul