cold weather comfort food, comfort food, curing what ails you, ME, Pho, Saigon Restuarant Portland, Vietnamese

Seeking Saigon

From the West End to the Eastern Prom and from Commerical Street to Park Avenue, the best of Portland’s dining scene can be found in a condensed space. But, there are some hidden gems that you actually have venture out a bit for, mostly to Forrest Ave. I’m talking Po’ Boys and Pickles, Susan’s Fish and Chips and Saigon Restaurant. They’re all their own representation of comfort food and are all restaurants that The Missus and I love not only for their charm, but for their delicious, and ridiculously inexpensive food.

A recent trip to Saigon was purely for the comfort factor. After an exceedingly stressful ending to the day, I wanted nothing more than to hunker over one of their sizable bowls of Pho (make no mistake, they are serving up the best in Portland) and be soothed by the warming blends of spices in their broth.

I can only make a guess as to what it contains: cinnamon? Star anise? clove? Black pepper? Unicorn Tears? It honestly doesn’t matter–you don’t always need to look behind the curtain to see how the magic is made–all I know is that it did it’s trick. My dish was ‘E7,’ a combination of rare beef and beef meatball, while The Missus, who is always a bit more adventurous when it comes to Pho consumption, ordered the ‘E8’ or Pho Special with tripe, nape, rare beef and well done beef. Her only sadness was that there was no meatball. Not that there was much room, even at a medium sized ordering, we were both struggling to finish the majority of the bowl.

Both were served with the traditional accompaniments of Thai basil, sawtooth herb, bean sprouts, sliced chiles hot chili paste and limes.

Surely, that would have been plenty for anyone, but this actually proceeded three other dishes like
the tofu soup that seems to be complimentary with every order.  We’ve been to Saigon three time and neither one of us has any idea what it actually is (aside from being a wonderfully sweet tofu soup that always only seems to have one pea in it).

The Missus always has to have her prerequisite Crab Rangoon. I wouldn’t say that there’s a whole lot of crab happening in these, but at least they don’t taste like the artificial crab that fills many a rangoon in town. To me, they came off more like extremely crunchy cream cheese dumplings.

But, the surprise of the meal, though was an appetizer special of steamed rice pancake, ground pork, pork skin, onions, pickled daikon and carrot, basil, lettuce, cucumber and fish sauce. It looked like a deconstructed Banh Mi, minus the baguette and mayonnaise. The hardest part was figuring exactly out how to eat it, but much of that didn’t matter once I took a bite of the pork. I didn’t care how messy this affair was going to get, everything on the plate, particularly the pate-esque hunk of pork, was delicious and I was going to clear it all. So, we finagled a few overstuffed rolls, that fell apart with every bite.

By the time we left, I had managed to drown a craptastic day in a giant bowl of Pho and fish sauce. Mai and her staff at Saigon are definitely serving up the cures to what may ail you and it’s more than worth the trip out Forest Ave. to pay them a visit. 

cold weather comfort food, lots of pork, pork, pork pie, savory pie crust, whole foods market recipes

Pork Pie

Chicken pot pie. Caramel apple pie. Blueberry cream pie. Lobster pie. Chocolate cream pie. I think it’s safe to say that this gal loves her pie. But, before a few weeks ago, I had never had a pork pie. Introductions were made during Whole Foods Market’s ‘Pie Smackdown,” a store wide sampling of various pies to celebrate ‘National Pie Day.’

Each department sampled out their own pies, from pizza in the Grocery department to apple pie in the bakery. But, it was the Meat department’s pork pie that won my vote and had me going back for seconds. The rich gravy and tender chunks of pork loin were a departure from the more traditional English pork pies, which tend to call for ground pork and other porky bits mashed together. This was a decadent, but much less dense, version.

I loved it so much that I snatched up one of their recipe cards and decided to make it at home.

Now, I did make some adjustments to the recipe:

  • I used chicken stock instead of pork. Deglazing the pan with the stock, working up those lovely brown bits from the bottom of the pan, darkened the stock and made the light stock fuller in flavor. 
  • For the mushrooms, I used a combination of sliced chanterelles, cremini and white button.
  • I also used bacon ends, which were less expensive. I threw the bacon and mushrooms in the pan at the same time and browned them up pretty well, until all of the moisture was out of the pan. 
  • I would recommend reducing the broth down a bit as this yielded a bit more than would fit in the pie crust. 
  • I also let it slightly cool before pouring it into the pie crust. 

And, well, a good filling isn’t worth anything without an equally good crust. So, I turned to the New York Times Savory Pie Crust recipe, doubling it to make a bottom and top crust.

2 cup plus 4 tablespoons (about 10 ounces) all-purpose flour, more for rolling
1 teaspoon salt
16 tablespoons (2sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into about 16 pieces*
5 tablespoons ice water, more if necessary.
*I used Kerrygold unsalted butter because of it’s high fat content. I think that was the key to making such an unbelievably flaky, golden crust.

1. Combine flour and salt in a food processor and pulse once or twice. Add butter and turn on machine; process until butter and flour are blended and mixture looks like cornmeal, about 10 seconds.

2. Put mixture in a bowl and add 5 tablespoons ice water; mix with your hands until you can form dough into a ball, adding another tablespoon or two of ice water if necessary; if you overdo it and mixture becomes sodden, add a little more flour. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic and freeze for 10 minutes or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. (You can refrigerate for up to a couple of days or freeze for up to a couple of weeks.)

3. Sprinkle a clean countertop with flour, put dough on it, and sprinkle top with flour. Use a rolling pin to roll with light pressure, from the center out. If dough is hard, let it rest for a few minutes. If dough is sticky, add a little flour; if it continues to become sticky and it is taking you more than a few minutes to roll it out, refrigerate or freeze again.

4. Roll, adding flour and rotating and turning dough as needed; use ragged edges of dough to repair any tears, adding a drop of water while you press patch into place.
–For rolling out the top crust, I followed #3 and #4 above and rolled the crust around the rolling pin and unraveled it  on top of the pie. I then crimped the two crusts together and vented the top crust with a few quick slashes with a sharp knife. I finished with a slight egg wash and placed it in the over to bake.