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Vietnamese baguette, week 1, research.

 

Lots of questions, a couple of answers, an observation or two:

 

96 degrees and I am plying the odoriferous streets of Chinatown with a sheaf of printouts in my sweaty hand. The heat changes nothing in Chinatown. Business is as usual and I am nudged and jostled along, dodging every kind of umbrella and parasol, out for shade and giving the street traffic a surprising sort of sensible elegance.

 

First stop, the grocery recommended by banh cuon, a daunting place that makes Kalustyan look like an MBA's dream case study of a user-friendly ethnic emporium. I find the freezer cases, where the first question arises immediately: what is "pork roll"? Is this the stuff referred to as pate? And which one? With anchovy? With fish sauce? With both, or neither? Frozen or refrigerated? Here's a view of the frozen case. Not your average midtown Associated.

 

vietnamesegroceryfrozencase6jz.jpg

 

After pretending that I know what I'm doing for a few minutes, trying to look serious about a bewildering array of utterly unfamiliar ingredients, I locate the rice flour. Glutinous or not? No answers there, but an enjoyable kind of sensory edginess.

 

Next, the Saigon Bakery. This place has moved. In fact, number 59 Division Street no longer exists. I stepped next door to where it should have been, where a middle aged woman and an older woman, her mother, maybe, sat amidst piles and stacks of goods, none of which I recognized. Her English was quite good, but she had no idea what had become of the bakery, except to confirm that it had moved.

 

On, then, to Banh Mi So 1, easily located on Broome Street. On the way, I passed a pair of these rail posts:

 

railpostchinatown4wo.jpg

 

Most of the cast iron rail posts of the late 19th century one sees around town show some stylistic evidence of the aesthetic movement, particularly in their incised or impressed decoration, like the one in the background. These, which I'd never seen before, show the taste for the "exotic" that was also part of that movement.

 

A steady business in sandwiches was going on at Banh Mi So 1. At a break in the action, I approached the counter and ordered the house special. Noting the papers in my hand, the man behind the counter asked what I was looking for. When I said I was looking for Saigon Bakery, he said, "What for? My sandwich is better." Well, i said, I just wanted to taste theirs. "Corner of East Broadway and Forsythe, if you have to," he said. But I was already too far west to go back. Next time.

 

Then the man came to John Thorne's list of ingredients for the carrot and daikon mixture. "John Torn," he said. "Not Vietnamese." Then he looked at Thorne's recipe for the mixture. "No, no, no, no," he said after each ingredient or instruction. "Look at this," he said, pointing at his own mixture of shredded carrot and daikon. He rubbed his thumb and his fingertips together. "You should KNOW how to make it. You should KNOW. You don't need this." He flipped the papers back to me.

 

I took my sandwiches and outside, this is what I saw:

 

outsidebanhmishop7yo.jpg

 

When the lady had gone back into the shop, I asked the driver, "You supply this place?" "Yeah." "You use any rice flour in those?" "Nah. Hero rolls, that's all."

 

At the corner of Mott and Broome, the collision of the old Little Italy with the expanded Asian neighborhoods was emphasized by this scene:

 

chinatownlittleitaly4dr.jpg

 

A little while later, I encountered Di Palo's. I went in, thinking I'd try some of that speck prosciutto. The place was so packed with foodies and tourists, I turned around and left.

 

Back home, the sandwiches were consumed. Here's one, closed and open.

 

banhmiso1closed4zd.jpg

 

banhmiso1open9mp.jpg

 

There were a couple of mystery meats. One looked like a chicken loaf, the other like a typical Italian deli loaf. There was spiced ground pork. The spice was sweet. I know it, but I can't pull up the name. There was cilantro, cucumber, the carrot and daikon mixture, some hot spice mixture. It was a good sandwich. I especially liked the crunchy/cool/spicy/cilantro flavor landscape. The meats were mostly tasteless, with the exception of that sweet spice.

 

From this initial experience, the first thing to say is that a banh mi is a terrific sandwich and a great deal. (These were $3 each.) What initially piqued my curiosity was the Vietnamese baguette, which has gone somewhat by the boards, it would seem. Nevertheless, I'm still intrigued by it, and I intend to make a proper one in my own experiments. After that, the crunchy/cool/spicy/cilantro elements are clearly essential. But, could I use a good pate de campagne? Some roasted pork of my own making, etc? I tend to think so, but I am open to any and all suggestions.

 

As soon as it's cool enough to bake, which means below 90 degrees, I'll move on to the next phase.

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ok, reporting back on the progress in the project of getting more whole wheat into the dough and still have a "sweet" bread:

 

i followed robert's advice on the cool rises, cool ingredients, larger percentage of starter - and it worked beautifully. i'm very grateful for the advice, as it also allows me the temperature control i've never really had before.

 

now, the only thing is that though both crust and crumb texture as well as taste is very fine indeed, the loaves tend to be rather flat (c. 1:2.5). i do use a rather large baker's %, about 70%, and might of course cut down on that, but on the other hand i love the structure that comes with a rather wet dough. i don't have any baskets ot other means of keeping the loaves in shape while they're proofing. any tricks?

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oraklet, this is one of the great ongoing discussions for sourdough bakers. Most bakers want bigger holes. The general approach for getting them involves some combination of weaker flour, wetter dough and less kneading. Together with the holes, you will also get a flatter loaf. Conversely, stronger flour, lower hydration and more development should result in a loaf with greater volume and a tighter structure.

 

To get more volume from a wet dough, try adding some pure vital wheat gluten, and developing the dough more. If you are able to form the loaf by stretching the "skin" of the dough as tightly as possible, this will also help. I have seen people rig up some very complex contraptions for raising the dough and very carefully getting it onto the stone. If you don't go that far, be sure to handle the dough at every stage as gently as possible.

 

In the end, there's no shame in flatter loaves. If you look at the large French loaves of levain, you will see that they are relatively flat. On the other hand, if your'e like me, and always want to do the thing you haven't yet done, hang in there and keep trying. If you have a mechanical mixer, strong development of a wet dough, careful handling, and some extra gluten, may help. Let us know how it goes.

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Next, the Saigon Bakery. This place has moved. In fact, number 59 Division Street no longer exists. I stepped next door to where it should have been, where a middle aged woman and an older woman, her mother, maybe, sat amidst piles and stacks of goods, none of which I recognized. Her English was quite good, but she had no idea what had become of the bakery, except to confirm that it had moved.

 

Thanks for documenting your chinatown banh mi adventures Robert; hats off to you for braving the awful heat and humidity.

 

Saigon Bakery is located now very close to Banh Mi So. 1, around the corner on Mott Street at 138-01 Mott Street (at Grand St. tel 212-941-1541), sharing a space with a jade jewellers.

 

The pale beige/grey mystery meat inside the Banh Mi So. 1 sandwich is not chicken loaf but rather the pork roll known as cha lua. The ones sold either in the refrigerated or frozen section at vietnamese grocers should have this name on the label, and the ones with added fish sauce are the tastiest. They also make a very good fresh rendition of this loaf at Pho Bang restaurant, only the location at 6 Chatham Square (between E Broadway and Mott) , and only on the weekends. They also sell banh mi here, but they are forgettable.

 

That's pretty funny that Banh Mi So. 1 uses plain old hero rolls; although the lack of crispness to their baguette is definitely indication of lack of rice flour in the mix.

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oraklet, this is one of the great ongoing discussions for sourdough bakers. Most bakers want bigger holes. The general approach for getting them involves some combination of weaker flour, wetter dough and less kneading. Together with the holes, you will also get a flatter loaf. Conversely, stronger flour, lower hydration and more development should result in a loaf with greater volume and a tighter structure.

 

To get more volume from a wet dough, try adding some pure vital wheat gluten, and developing the dough more. If you are able to form the loaf by stretching the "skin" of the dough as tightly as possible, this will also help. I have seen people rig up some very complex contraptions for raising the dough and very carefully getting it onto the stone. If you don't go that far, be sure to handle the dough at every stage as gently as possible.

 

In the end, there's no shame in flatter loaves. If you look at the large French loaves of levain, you will see that they are relatively flat. On the other hand, if your'e like me, and always want to do the thing you haven't yet done, hang in there and keep trying. If you have a mechanical mixer, strong development of a wet dough, careful handling, and some extra gluten, may help. Let us know how it goes.

would adding more durum semolina work?

 

at present i use about 20%, and i feel that that's about as far as one can go without getting a too "tight" structure - but i might be wrong.

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Next, the Saigon Bakery. This place has moved. In fact, number 59 Division Street no longer exists. I stepped next door to where it should have been, where a middle aged woman and an older woman, her mother, maybe, sat amidst piles and stacks of goods, none of which I recognized. Her English was quite good, but she  had no idea what had become of the bakery, except to confirm that it had moved.

 

Thanks for documenting your chinatown banh mi adventures Robert; hats off to you for braving the awful heat and humidity.

 

Saigon Bakery is located now very close to Banh Mi So. 1, around the corner on Mott Street at 138-01 Mott Street (at Grand St. tel 212-941-1541), sharing a space with a jade jewellers.

 

The pale beige/grey mystery meat inside the Banh Mi So. 1 sandwich is not chicken loaf but rather the pork roll known as cha lua. The ones sold either in the refrigerated or frozen section at vietnamese grocers should have this name on the label, and the ones with added fish sauce are the tastiest. They also make a very good fresh rendition of this loaf at Pho Bang restaurant, only the location at 6 Chatham Square (between E Broadway and Mott) , and only on the weekends. They also sell banh mi here, but they are forgettable.

 

That's pretty funny that Banh Mi So. 1 uses plain old hero rolls; although the lack of crispness to their baguette is definitely indication of lack of rice flour in the mix.

So, some disinformation from the guy at Banh Mi So 1. I probably walked right past Saigon Bakery.

 

Banh Cuon, thanks for the information about the light colored pork roll. I will look for it by name now, with the fish sauce. If I use this, would it be redundant to make dipping sauce starting with fish sauce as an additional condiment for the sandwich?

 

The other mystery meat resembled a deli head cheese loaf. Can you give me the phonetic Vietnamese for something like this, so I can look for it as well by name?

 

For pate, do you have a specific recommendation?

 

What is the typical composition of a Vietnnamese chile paste?

 

Do you have any idea or suggestion for spicing ground pork, Vietnamese style? I still can't put my finger on the sweet spice I tasted, but I know it from Indian restaurants.

 

I may get a first shot at this on Saturday, so I'd like to assemble some ingredients.

 

Thanks for all your input.

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Robert, I use duck liver pate (not fois gras pate, just duck liver) and sliced roast pork in banh mi.

 

Really, you can do whatever you want as long as there's a good mix of stuff and coriander and FISH SAUCE.

 

Oh, and I turn Chinese carrots (the thick red ones) on a Benriner Green Machine to make carrot noodles.

 

Great post and photos, Robert.

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