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COOKING

Same-wiches? Not this season

October 01, 2008|Noelle Carter | Times Staff Writer

YOU'VE invited the gang over to watch the game, and the tension rises as the clock winds down to the half. Maybe it's due to the excitement of the game, but the sense of anticipation is just as likely to come from that happy halftime question: What are we eating?

How do you satisfy the ravenous masses? Try sandwiches.

Nowadays, the most intriguingly delicious sandwiches are balanced meals -- entree, salad and bread. Pan-fried cod is topped with radicchio slaw. Edamame hummus gets crunchy with grated carrots and a salad that includes crushed wasabi peas. A Vietnamese-style pork belly banh mi incorporates pickled vegetables.

At its core, the sandwich is comfortingly familiar, but it's also become the current culinary muse of many a chef. Take the pork belly banh mi from Mendocino Farms Sandwiches & Marketplace in downtown Los Angeles. It has gained a loyal following among the hundreds of lunching workers the place serves each weekday.

Chef Judy Han takes a large slab of pork belly and braises it slowly, like Japanese buta kakuni, in a sweetened soy-sake broth spiked with ginger and garlic until it's fork tender. She chills it overnight, then dices and pan-fries the pieces so they're crisp on the outside and meltingly tender within.

At home, you can do the same thing -- roast the pork and make the quick-pickled vegetables over a weeknight or two.

Ready to roll

ON THE day of the game, assemble the sandwiches. Spread chipotle mayonnaise on a ciabatta roll (Han uses these thin, tender rolls instead of the baguettes more often used for banh mi).

Add a generous handful of pork, the pickled daikon and carrots, some cucumber, cilantro and a few slices of jalapeno, then grill. The crisp, fresh herb and tangy pickled vegetables provide a nice contrast to the rich bits of tender pork.

Or put your fish and slaw combo between a couple of slices of bread. Several hours or a day ahead, toss shredded radicchio and red cabbage with capers, olives and a light vinaigrette for an assertively colorful slaw.

Shortly before serving, toast thick pumpernickel slices and slather half with a little Dijon mustard and the rest with some creamy horseradish. Pan-fry lightly floured cod to a crisp golden-brown, and assemble the sandwiches as the fish comes out of the pan.

For an excitingly hot-sweet and hearty vegetarian sandwich, owner Jeffrey Price of Skratch Restaurant in Culver City offers an edamame hummus sandwich.

To make it at home, start with a robust do-ahead edamame spread, vibrant green and nutty (it's a blend of spinach, edamame and garbanzo beans) with notes of garlic and tahini. Make the miso dressing ahead of time too.

Assembly is simple; you could let your guests make their own. Just spread the hummus on a rustic ciabatta roll and top it with sliced cucumber and tomato along with a salad of baby greens tossed with crushed wasabi peas and a tangy miso vinaigrette.

Pile the sandwiches high and serve with a stack of napkins. You may have no control over the game, but you've just scored with the gang.

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noelle.carter@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Pork belly banh mi

Total time: 1 1/2 hours, plus braising and chilling time for the pork.

Servings: 4

Note: Adapted from Chef Judy Han of Mendocino Farms Sandwiches & Marketplace in Los Angeles. The restaurant uses Kurobuta pork belly, also known as Berkshire or black pork; Kurobuta pork is generally available at Asian markets, Vicente Foods in Los Angeles and can be found online at www.berkshiremeats.com. Start this recipe two days before making the sandwiches to allow sufficient time to prepare the pork.

10 cloves garlic, peeled

1 1/2 inch piece of ginger, peeled and thinly sliced

1 1/2 cups sake

1 cup packed brown sugar

1 cup soy sauce

3 pounds skinless pork belly, preferably Kurobuta

1. Heat the oven to 275 degrees. Mix together the garlic, ginger, sake, brown sugar and soy sauce in a large, nonreactive, oven-proof pot or casserole. Add the pork and just enough water to cover the pork completely. Cover the pot with 2 layers of foil (and the casserole lid, if using) and cook for 2 to 3 hours, until the pork is fork-tender.

2. Remove the pork from the braising liquid and place in a nonreactive dish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

3. Cut the pork belly into lardons (1 inch-by- 1/2 inch-by- 1/2 inch). Place them in a large, heavy-bottom saute pan and cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until their edges slightly crisp and the fat is mostly rendered, about 10 minutes. Strain and discard the fat. Set aside the meat; you will have about 4 cups, more than is needed for the sandwiches in the final recipe. If not using immediately, cover and refrigerate; reheat before using. The meat will keep for 5 days refrigerated.

Chipotle aioli

1 tablespoon chipotle puree (blended from canned chipotle peppers in adobo sauce)

1 cup mayonnaise

Salt

Pepper

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