Rice Rolls

Food blog April 2015-0598As I revealed last week, my trio of vegetable pickles are just one part of a larger project: a meatball banh mi. These rice rolls are part two. Banh mi, in Vietnamese, really refers not to the wonderful sandwich layered with pate or pork or tofu and stacked with vegetables, pickles, and spice, but to bread itself. Colonization brought the French baguette to Vietnam, and the blending of flavors is a much nicer postcolonial remnant than such occupations frequently bring.

Food blog April 2015-0567Food blog April 2015-0570Though the culinary melding is quite harmonious, banh mi bread brings with it a great deal of internet controversy. Though most shops that sell the popular sandwich buy their baguettes from Vietnamese bakeries rather than making them in-house, crazy people people like me who want to re-craft the “genuine article” share their complaints, secrets, and professed revelations all over forums and comment threads, arguing over proportions and procedure and shape, and at some point, the argument usually involves discussion of flour type, gluten development, and protein content.

Food blog April 2015-0572Food blog April 2015-0574Food blog April 2015-0580The main debate when it comes to banh mi bread is the texture and composition. Though I’ve had these sandwiches on bread ranging from baguette or french roll to essentially a toasted hot dog bun, the ideal is a crisp, thin crust with a soft interior. The phrase “shatteringly crisp” is used with reverence. The internal structure should be light and soft and more delicate than the spongy chew of ciabatta. Rice flour is supposed to be the answer. Because it does not contain gluten, it will not result in the formation of the chewy texture a well-kneaded baguette can produce. However, food writer Andrea Nguyen, who knows a thing or two about Vietnamese food, asserts (assertively, even!) that rice flour is not a necessity, and in fact may even hinder the lightness and delicacy of the bread interior. However, without access to her cookbook or the combination of vital wheat gluten and vitamin C tablets she makes use of, I stuck with my usual method: a combination of promising-looking recipes plus my own instinct. Despite the to-rice-or-not-to-rice controversy, I decided to use a small percentage of rice flour. After all, I had some. Why not give it a shot.

Food blog April 2015-0581I also decided, veering far from tradition, to add some rye flour to the mix. According to Simply a Food Blog, a little bit of rye flour adds a compelling flavor and some additional sugars to the dough for the yeasts to gobble up. I like the gentle toastiness of rye flour, so I incorporated some of that as well.

Food blog April 2015-0586Food blog April 2015-0588In addition to the Simply a Food Blog suggestion, I also used Rice and Wheat and A Bread A Day in my recipe creation, and ended up with an ingredient list and procedure that created something much closer to a sausage roll or a bun than a crisp crusted baguette.

Food blog April 2015-0589Yes, I’ll admit, these are not the banh mi wrappers of your dreams (well, at least not if you are bivouacked in the “shatteringly crisp” camp). Though these rolls have a thin crust, it is just enough for the teeth to play with, not a staggering crunch you can hear across the table. At first I was perturbed by this, but it only took splitting one open, still warm and fluffy from the oven, and slicking the interior with butter to show me that while this might not be a traditional Vietnamese baguette, it is a delicious piece of bread. Though I filled ours with the meatballs I’ll show you next week, it would be more than welcome at any summer grilling event, whether your intended fillings are kielbasa or veggie dogs.

Food blog April 2015-0590As I thought more about this issue of inexactness, I decided I didn’t care. After all, this is my sandwich. A thin crust that shatters upon impact is fine, but my version keeps the roof of your mouth unscraped and your placemat a lot less crumb-scattered. As Joe Pastry pointed out just recently, tender bread is a boon for a sandwich. Mine offers a pleasant depth of flavor from the addition of the rye flour, and its soft, fluffy interior is exactly the kind of squashy that I favor in a sandwich. Besides (I compellingly convinced myself), the crisp crunch of the vegetables stacked up between the halves of the roll provide sufficient textural contrast. Why not, then, surround them with something a bit on the softer side?

Food blog April 2015-0594These rolls are best just cooled from the oven. They are okay on the second day, but I highly recommend toasting them for consumption on any day following the one they were made.
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Banh Mi Rice Rolls
Makes 8
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups (16 ounces) lukewarm water
1 cup rice flour (about 5 ounces)
½ cup rye flour (about 2.5 ounces)
2 teaspoons salt
3-4 cups all-purpose flour (we don’t want the extra chewiness of bread flour)
2 tablespoons soft butter
  • Combine the yeast and sugar with the water and stir, then let sit for 5-10 minutes until it is bubbly and smells like warm bread.
  • In the bowl of your stand mixer, combine the rice flour, rye flour, butter, and water and yeast mixture with the paddle attachment. It will be very, very wet – basically a liquid. Let it sit for 10-20 minutes – rice flour needs extra time to absorb water. It will seem a bit floppier when you return.
  • After 10-20 minutes resting time, add 2½ cups of the all-purpose flour and all of the salt, then mix with the dough hook attachment on medium speed to form a soft but not overly sticky dough. After about 5 minutes, the dough will start to gather into a ball and stretch to slap the sides of the bowl as it whizzes around. If the dough is not coming together after about 5 minutes, add an additional ¼ cup of flour as needed. I ended up with a little more than 3 cups of all-purpose flour in the mix. Knead on medium speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, a total of 7-10 minutes.
  • Oil the bowl and turn the dough ball over to lubricate on all sides, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled; 45-60 minutes. In my warm home office, it only took 45 minutes.
  • Turn the risen dough out onto a board dusted with rice flour and cut into 8 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball, flatten into a disc with the heel of your hand, then let rest 5-10 minutes.
  • Roll each flattened piece of dough into an oval about 8 inches long by 6 inches wide. Working from the long side, roll up each oval into a cylinder of about 8 inches long (the dough will want to stretch – try to keep it at the 8 inch mark). Pinch the exposed edge into the side of the cylinder to create a seam.
  • Place each dough cylinder seam-side down on a parchment lined baking sheet. (If you don’t mind the buns touching, all 8 will fit on the same sheet. If you want them to remain separate, don’t put more than 4 on the same baking sheet). Cover lightly with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise 30-45 minutes until puffy. To determine whether they’ve risen enough, poke gently; the depression made by your finger should recover about halfway – if the depression disappears completely, it has not risen long enough.
  • While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 450F with a baking stone inside for even heating. Prepare a spray bottle full of water to spritz the loaves.
  • When risen, slash the loaves at a 45 degree angle (or angle of your choosing; mine are clearly not 45) with a razor blade or serrated knife, then spray lightly with water and quickly place into the preheated oven. Bake for 2 minutes, then spray loaves again lightly with water. Bake 3 minutes more, then spray lightly again.
  • Reduce the oven temperature to 400F and bake an additional 10-15 minutes, or until loaves register 200-210F inside.
  • Let cool at least 10 minutes before splitting, spreading, or just going in for a big bite.

Smoked Salmon Burgers and Not-Ciabatta

In 2009, as N. and I were working through the Oral Examination phase of our graduate program – one of the most difficult aspects, as far as I’m concerned – a little restaurant opened on the south side of town.  Sharing space with a small bakery called the Humble Bagel, and run by the bagel shop owners’ daughter Anni and her husband Ari, the Humble Beagle quickly became our favorite restaurant in Eugene.  The feel is an intriguing blend: casual neighborhood gastropub, seasonal local food, layered with Israeli influence.  Macaroni and cheese, Caesar salad with amazingly lemony dressing, or penne with fresh pesto share menu space with shakshuka, house made pita, and lamb pizza dolloped with labneh.  In the summer, weekly specials are determined by what is producing best in Ari and Anni’s backyard garden.  In the winter, Ari makes his own pastrami and quick pickled cabbage for their take on a reuben.  The beers on tap are mostly from Oregon, and even the soft drink selection is carefully chosen for its local, natural ingredients.  The check comes with homemade, sugar dusted shortbread cookies.  It’s a pretty good example of the slow food movement in delicious action.  If you want a quick meal, don’t bother.  You’ll be there at least two hours.  If you want a place to bring your sixteen unannounced relatives, don’t show up without reservations.  This is a small, local pub, not a diner or high volume chain.  If you want tasty, thoughtful, belly-warming food at a relaxed pace, get in your car right now.  For a while, as N. and I neared the dates of our respective exams, we were going to the Beagle every Friday evening for dinner.  Almost without exception, I got the Fisherman’s Stew, a lovely collection of shellfish and moist, flaky halibut in a tomato and fennel broth with garlic aioli melting achingly over the top.  We could barely afford the luxury of these weekly visits, but we also couldn’t stay away.

The Beagle entertained us for the next three years.  We went there for birthdays – N.’s 30th, when Ari let me bring a cake I’d made at home, gave me the biggest chef’s knife I’ve ever seen to slice and serve it, and then took a leftover piece back to the kitchen where he shared it with the cooks.  We went there for the yearly day-after-Thanksgiving meal with my family.  One year, fifteen minutes into the meal we were the only patrons, and it was like our own private restaurant.  Ari came out and told us stories about his family’s holiday, and we were suddenly not in a restaurant anymore, but in the home of our friend.  We went there for dinner after my dissertation defense too, and even though we ended up being an annoying group – people arriving late and leaving early, special menu substitutions and requests, perhaps slightly-too-boisterous behavior – our server said it was okay, and that Ari had told him we were royalty.

On their Summer 2010 menu, the Beagle introduced an item I was instantly drawn to and still haven’t gotten enough of: the Smoked Chinook Patty.  This was a salmon burger on fresh ciabatta (made in the bakery next door), but what pulled me in was its blend of fresh and smoked salmon.  It’s immediately richer, deeper, brinier than any other salmon patty I’ve tasted.

This week, needing both a new dough challenge and a taste of that chilly, rain-soaked, allergen-laden city I still think of as home, I decided a recreation was in order.

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The Beagle’s patty comes on freshly made, perfectly crusted, well-toasted ciabatta rolls.  Looking in Ruhlman’s Ratio this week, I noted that the only difference he gives between ciabatta and a standard baguette or boule is the shape and cooking time.  This seemed promising and so, despite my claims last week about fear and being unready, I decided to dive in.  What else is a Thursday morning for?

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I dutifully mixed, then kneaded, bread flour, water, yeast, and salt.  I tore off a chunk to perform the windowpane test, and I cuddled my ball of smooth, elastic dough in an oiled bowl to rest and rise.

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Ruhlman doesn’t give any suggestion of how long to bake individual ciabatta rolls, only a full loaf, so I went to the internet for help.  I quickly discovered that what I was making wasn’t going to be the bread I’d had in mind: the tremendous bubbles that bake into cavernous holes, the flour-dusted, almost gravely crunch of the crust, and the soft, perfectly chewy texture of the interior are achieved through a slightly different ratio of ingredients, and a more involved process, as this article on The Kitchn depicts.  Since I was starting on the day of baking and didn’t have a biga waiting in the wings, I was just going to have to work with my mix.

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Ultimately, though what resulted was more like a super crunchy, slightly flat mini boule, it was crisp and buttery golden delicious and an excellent vehicle for the smoky/briny/rich/tastes-like-home burger it enclosed.

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Not-Ciabatta

10 ounces bread flour (or 2 cups)

6 ounces warm water

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon active dry yeast

Sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water and set it aside for five minutes or so to come back to life.

While you wait, whisk flour and salt in a mixing bowl.  Make a little well in the center and pour in the yeasted water.  If using a stand mixer, beat with the paddle attachment just until things come together, then switch to the dough hook and knead at medium speed for 10 minutes.  I had never executed this switch between tools before, but it worked really well.

After 10 minutes, the dough should be stretchy and lovely and firm, and all traces of unincorporated flour on the sides of the bowl will be gone.  Do the windowpane test to see if the bread is ready.  If it’s not, continue kneading.  If it is, transfer the ball of dough to a lightly oiled bowl and place in a warm, draft-free place to rise.  I like to put it in an oven that’s been warmed for five minutes, then turned off for five minutes.

Let the dough rise until doubled in size – mine took 1 hour and 45 minutes.

Punch down the dough gently and then knead it on a floured board for a minute or two to deflate it a bit.

Let it rest for 15 minutes.

At this point, divide the dough, shape it into the bun shapes you want, and let it rise on an oiled baking sheet for another 1½ – 2 hours.  I ended up with seven mismatched, homely little balls, but I lovingly covered them with a clean kitchen towel and went about my business.  (I think I went about my business a bit too long – 2 hours became almost 3½, and the resulting buns didn’t puff much during baking because they’d expended so much of their rising power as they sat on my counter.)

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When the buns have risen again, drizzle them with olive oil and bake in a preheated 450F oven for 10 minutes, then turn the heat down to 375F and continue baking for another 20 minutes, or until golden brown and done in the center (with a full-size loaf you can thump the bottom and if it sounds hollow it’s done, but I suspect these are too small to yield satisfying results with this method.  Since I had 7, I just tore into one to see if it was done, and when it was, I ate it.  No one else has to know).

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Set aside to cool while you make the salmon patties.

 

Smoked Salmon Burgers

These are robust in flavor but, especially if you are using canned salmon, must be handled with some delicacy to prevent breakage.  They are, I think, a perfect blend: rich, fatty salmon, salty smoky deepness, and the sour zesty bite of capers and lemon.  If you don’t want to bother with the buns, you could certainly encase these in crisp leaves of butter lettuce.

15 oz. canned salmon, picked through and bones removed, or about 1 lb. fresh, finely chopped

4-6 oz. smoked salmon, flaked with a fork

2 cloves garlic, *pasted with salt or grated

3 green onions, finely diced

1 TB capers, minced

1 TB fresh dill, minced

1 tsp each lemon zest and lemon juice

Pepper to taste

1 egg, lightly beaten

If you are using canned salmon, combine all ingredients except the egg and taste for seasoning.  That way your mixture is perfectly seasoned before adding raw egg to the party.  You will likely not need any additional salt, because the smoked salmon and capers are briny already, and if you paste your garlic you will already be adding salt to the mixture.

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If you are using fresh salmon, combine all ingredients, mix well, and then fry about a tablespoon of the mixture until cooked through to taste for seasoning.

*To paste the garlic, mince cloves, then sprinkle with salt.  Using firm pressure, draw the blade of your knife across the garlic on the board several times.  It will begin to lose its integrity as the salt breaks it down, until you are left with a paste that is much easier to incorporate into your salmon mixture.

When it is seasoned to your liking, quarter the mixture and form four equal sized patties of 3-4 inches in diameter.  Pop these in the refrigerator for at least half an hour to let them firm up and meld – they will hold together in the pan much better this way.

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Before cooking, let your refrigerated patties stand at room temperature for about 10 minutes, just to take the chill off.

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Warm olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and gently fry the patties.  They should take 5-8 minutes per side.  Cooking time will depend upon whether you have used canned or fresh salmon and how plump your patties are.

To serve, enclose in buns lovingly with some spring mix and your choice of condiments.  I suggest horseradish or wasabi mayonnaise.  If you had homemade mayonnaise that would be a lovely splurge here.

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We had ours with paprika spiced kale chips, but to really get the Beagle experience you would need to serve with garlic French fries.

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