Friday, May 2, 2008


Another item on Saveur's top 100 list is the Rueben sandwich. This was one of several All-American sandwiches listed by Saveur. I couldn't agree more with this choice. The Rueben is very worthy of being named one of the best American sammy's and here's why.

The perfect Reuben consists of four simple ingredients. Lightly toasted rye bread, swiss cheese, Russian dressing, and the meat. The meat can be either pastrami or corned beef, or a combination. I've had Reubens from all over the country. San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, Miami, Dallas. Yet the best Reuben I've had in my life was from the Midwest, where the sandwich was born. On a trip to Chicago my uncle took me to Manny's Deli. This old fashioned Jewish deli churns out plate after plate of mountainous Reubens each day. They are so popular because of the high quality of the ingredients used at Manny's.

There are two main things that make up a good Reuben.

It all starts with the meat. Whether you prefer pastrami or corned beef, the best Reuben consists of a plentiful pile of light, thinly sliced meat. The meat should not be chewy or have any large chunks of fat. While both corned beef and pastrami are fatty meats, it isn't pleasant to bite into pure fat and have it drag the rest of the meat out from between the two pieces of bread. The perfect Reuben is made with meat that has been cooked without too many added flavors. It is simply roasted in its own juices until it is soft, easy to chew, and retains its natural smoky meat flavor.

The second most important facet of the sandwich is the bread. While rye bread may not be the part of the sandwich that adds the majority of the flavor, it is incredibly important for both its texture, and its ability to keep the contents of the sandwich together. Let's face it, the Reuben is a messy sandwich. If the bread isn't up to the task of keeping the dressing, kraut, meat and cheese together then the combination of flavors is lost. Fresh, well baked rye bread is crucial to a good sandwich. The grainy crunch characteristic of fresh rye makes it so that the sandwich would be too mushy and soft when chewed. The main reason why the bread is so important however, is because it is the first taste of the sandwich. If poor quality rye is used, the texture and that initial grainy, almost sourdough flavor is lost. This makes the Reuben much less pleasant to eat.

The additions of the gooey, bitter swiss, the sour, vinegary sauerkraut, and the thick creamy Russian dressing mix to combine into a sandwich that has flavors that satisfy every taste bud on the tongue. Though there are really only four simple ingredients, they have many distinct flavors of their own. The mixture of so many different flavors and texture leads to one of my all-time favorite deli treats.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Kecap Manis

As I read Saveur magazine's top 100 list I came across a foreign ingredient that I had never heard of before. Ranked number 11 on the list, Kecap Manis is an Indonesian condiment made of soy sauce that has been sweetened with palm sugar. The article raved about this sauce's unique and "haunting" flavor. They mentioned that it has become the choice condiment for a range of foods. From French Fries to satay to eggs, and even vinaigrettes. The people at Saveur were clearly impressed with this sweet substance.

As I was reading this article I immediately knew I needed to try a sample of Kecap Manis. I needed to see for myself if it was really all that it was described to be. Upon a giant stroke of luck, I found a store selling a multitude of different sauces in Los Angeles this past weekend. The store sold small bottles of Kecap Manis, so I grabbed two and took them home.

I forced myself to wait to open a bottle until the following morning. I woke up, quickly fried up two eggs, and began pouring the dark, rich sauce over the eggs. I was surprised at first by the texture. The author of the Saveur article had written that it had a honey-like consistency, however I found it to be only slightly thicker than your average soy sauce. This misinterpretation of the consistency slightly lowered my expectations. I was worried that if the physical description of the sauce was off, the description of the flavor might be off as well. Upon my first bite however, I was happy to see that the magazine did not let me down.

The essence of soy sauce was there. It was still salty and the tangy soy flavor was still very present. The sweetness of the palm sugar was the perfect adaptation to the average soy sauce. Normally I use very small amounts of Tamari or Kikoman. While the complex flavor of these sauces can add to a dish, the intense sodium content can often overpower the entire dish. The sugary component of Kecap Manis changes this completely. It subdues the saltiness, and allows the soy to stand out on its own. The savory garlic flavor lingers in the background, and sweet, but slightly bitter, anise is present in the aftertaste. It can be added to foods like French Fries because the sauce affects so many different parts of the tongue. There is saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, and umami, four of the five major tastes the tongue recognizes. The starch absorbs these many different flavors, and takes something with very little intricacy, like French Fries, to a whole new level. Kecap Manis is a good addition to vinaigrettes because the acidity and sharpness of the vinegar is made more bearable.

While I wouldn't necessarily say that the flavor is haunting, it is one that I would happily welcome as a condiment to balance salty, savory side dishes, as well as an ingredient in many different types of food. Its complexity and richness is nearly unparalleled, and its ability to satisfy nearly every sense the tongue can throw at it makes it an intriguing and unique sauce. Saveur was right to speak so highly of this Indonesian treat.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Better than a Quesadilla

Thick, mealy corn tortillas that have been lightly fried to a crunch on the outside, but left soft and chewy the rest of the way through. Easily a half of an inch thick, almost tomale-like in texture, and then the teeth pierce the inner pocket of hot, gooey monterey jack cheese and small cubes of al dente zucchini. The zucchini's crisp exterior complimented the silky, smoothness of the cheese. The many different crunches and chews, as well as the mixtures of the creamy cheese with the salty corn tortilla and the watery zucchini combined into a classic Salvadoran pupusa.


After reading the featured article in the Chronicle about tripe, I felt that I must try it for my first time. As someone who will try just about anything, and often enjoys some of the stranger parts of animals, I figured that tripe should be added to the array of delicacies that I have tasted. I went to one of the great Mexican places on 24th Street in the Mission and bought a bowl of menudo. The broth was a deep, blood red with an abundant amount of glossy bubbles of rendered fat. It had a rich, almost gamey tomato flavor, and was livened up with spicy and aromatic flavors of chili peppers. As I fished through the depths of the murky broth I found long but thin chunks of honeycomb tripe. This was it...

As I began chewing I was not surprised to find the texture to be similar to that of tongue or very fatty pieces of beef. It was chewy with a slight resistance to the teeth that allowed for the flavor of the menudo to be fully appreciated by the tongue. It was a unique flavor. Its roots were definitely in the realm of steak, but it had the gamey flavor similar to lamb, with an almost sour aftertaste. It was also possible to detect the remnants of the bleach used to clean the tripe. This may have been some of the sour flavor, or else the slightly bitter taste of the meat.

I can't say that the menudo was my favorite of the exotic meats I have tried, it seems to be an acquired taste, and maybe it will come some day.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Forgotten Favorite

It had been a very long time since I had last tasted this flavor combination. It starts with the crisp but doughy, toasted herb focaccia. The chewiness of this bread, together with the rosemary complimented the creamy, saltiness of the tuna fish. The sliced mozzarella had been melted so that the gooey cheese enveloped the entire sandwich, yet it the subtle cheese didn't overpower the flavor of the tuna. Its main purpose was for texture more than flavor. The final touch was sliced avocado that added the smooth texture that balanced out the chunky bits of tuna. My first tuna melt in almost a year.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Maybe it was the sunny, warm early March afternoon, maybe it was the Bob Marley playing in the background. Whatever is was, the soft, chewy, spicy chorizo melted in my mouth along with the tangy sour cream and acidic guacamole. The rice was soft and the beans were robust and earthy without being oily or heavy. The finishing touch was a spicy, not-too-wet salsa that didn't overpower the other flavors. It simply added spice and a slight crunch to the overall flavor. The copious amounts of these ingredients were wrapped in a warm, steamed, slightly grilled flour tortilla. This burrito was perfect for a beautiful day.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Jewish Deli Done Right

The dill pickles were crunchy on the outside, but slightly soft on the inside. They had that salty, vinegar flavor associated with pickles. The catch was that they were also soaked with hot red peppers, and therefore they had a subtle spice to them that added a different dimension to pickles.

The real treat was the mountain of thin, soft slices of warm, salty pastrami and smokey corned beef. Neither of the meats were tough or chewy, and they were well marbled with fat; not at all stringy. The soft, savory meat was somehow squished between two pieces of herbed rye that were slightly toasted so that just the edges were crisp. This sandwich needed only just a touch of spicy dijon mustard to be perfect.

Too bad we don't have a Canter's in San Francisco.