Shrimp Banh Mi
I'm having lunch at Doyers Restaurant tomorrow and am growing increasingly all a-slobber at the thought of their Shrimp Paste Grilled on Sugar Cane. This is one of those dishes that I can't even envision making at home, but then again, I never thought I'd see Greg Kotis with a dish towel on his head, rolling up eels and avocados in a bamboo mat...and look what happened! It's all over the goddamn Internet!
Another delicacy I never dreamed could be prepared by a Hoosier-bred home-chef with a puny-ass home-kitchen is Banh Mi, the French bread sandwiches that fattened me up like a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig when I was 'in country'. (Proximity to Chicago's Argyle Street and later, NYC's Chinatown, made it easy to maintain my banh mi physique) ... but then I stopped eating meat (again) - which, while allowing me to make all sorts of high-handed proclamations in regard to the evils of factory farming, had the unfortunate effect of barring me from traditionalBanh Mi, the kind you can get wrapped up with a rubber band for a few bucks at Ba Le Bakery or Viet Nam Banh Mi So 1. For years, I went without, then I read about this place Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches that had just opened up in the East Village and allegedly had a vegetarian version made with Portabello mushrooms. They do and it's great, except it tastes rather overwhelmingly of Portabello mushrooms. I have nothing against Portabellos, except the way their distinctive flavor can only but remind us vegetarians of the delicious original versions we could be eating if we'd only get down off our high horse. And when I say vegetarian, I mean "vegetarian" because I'm one of those who fudges it a bit by classifying fish in the same category as eggplants.
All this to say, not only do I now make my own "vegetarian" version at home, using shrimp, I put the recipe in my forthcoming book, Dirty Sugar Cookies. It doesn't hit the shelves until June, though, and it wouldn't be right to put the moves on your tastebuds if all you get out of the encounter is culinary blue balls, so here, in all its soon-to-be published glory is the recipe.
Shrimp Banh Mi
Grate a fat carrot. Sprinkle it with 2 tablespoons of seasoned sushi vinegar and then give it some privacy.
Slice half a cucumber movie star thin.
Whittle a couple of scallions into non-uniform lengthwise shards.
Crack open a bag of frozen cooked large shrimp, put them in a bowl, and put the bowl under the tap under a steady trickle of cold water. After five minutes, you can pat them dry. Don’t forget to pull their tails off, because, to quote Lisa Hickey, you don’t want to be crunching through that shit. If you crave warmth or fear bacteria, feel free to squirt them with some citrus and chase them around a frying pan for a minute or two.
Chop a bunch of cilantro (no need to separate out the stems, Dopey) and mix it up with:
2 1/2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
2 1/2 tablespoons of nonfat yogurt (which will absolve you of any Hellman’s you might have felt the need to sample)
3/4 teaspoon of fish sauce
1 tablespoon of fresh squeezed lime juice
and either 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne or a squirt of hot sauce
Bicycle through traffic clutching a couple of whole-grain baguettes. Saw them in half lengthwise, then cut each baguette into thirds, unless it’s just you, pounding down a day’s worth of calories, Dagwood style. (If you heated the shrimp, be consistent and heat the baguettes too.)
Slather the baguette bottoms with a generous spoonful of sauce from the preceding paragraph.
Pour the sushi vinegar down the drain, then divide the grated carrot between the baguettes.
Chuck the shrimp in the remaining sauce, toss to coat, and then, in the interest of fairness, eat enough to ensure that no diner will receive more than any other. If you’re worried that there won’t be enough left to go around, it’s time to start dealing them out (possibly after cutting them in half, to make it look like there’s more).
Festoon with cucumber and scallions, put the lid on, and eat in the company of those who don’t mind if you make a spectacle of yourself. (Serves six, which, in my book, translates to three.)
Speaking of my book, don't those colorful little sprinkles put you in mind of James Frey?