Autobahn Mi

Inspiration can come from anywhere, including a recent trip to the Vietnamese sandwich shop near by to have a fairly lackluster Special Banh Mi. Banh Mi simply translates as “bread”, but has come to mean the sandwich served on a specific type of crispy, French-inspired, demi-baguette. The classic is known as the “special” and comes with liver pâté, cold cuts of Vietnamese pork sausage and barbecued pork, daikon and carrot pickles, and house made mayo. A pretty rockin’ combo, but the one I got…not so good.

But it got the creative juices flowing. Liver pâté, pork sausage, barbecued pork – perhaps a world away geographically, but culinarily not that far from traditional German. Why not smoked liverwurst in place of pâté? How about slow roasted bratwurst as the pork sausage and a six-hour, applewood-smoked pork shoulder? Quick-pickled radishes and carrots and a seasoned mayo finish it off. The roll is a Mexican bolillo-style available from a local bakery – thin, light crust with a airy interior.

Autobahn mi

The roll was buttered and then tossed on the grill to get the shattering crispiness characteristic of great Banh Mi. The smoked liver sausage adds a deep meaty richness to the layers of porcine delight. The brat was a house-made variety from a local grocer, roasted over hardwood grill at about 400 degrees, off to the side slightly from the main coals in order to slow-cook it without splitting and losing all those incredible pork fat juices. The pulled pork was a pork shoulder seasoned with salt, garlic, oregano, and paprika then slow smoked with apple wood at 275 degrees for over six hours. Not quite roast suckling pig, but it’ll do in a pinch.

So all the ingredients were firmly in the tradition of German-American cuisine from the Great Lakes region. How they came together was an entirely modern inspiration, born of our ever-broadening exposure to cuisines and traditions from around the world.Even a not-so-good sandwich can send us off in new and exciting directions. A little bit like racing through the German country-side where “Limits no longer apply”.

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Lake Trout with Almond Browned Butter

Trout Almandine, coated in almonds and served with a brown butter sauce, is traditionally French but has been transplanted and rooted for generations now into New Orleans creole cuisine. This would not be a representative dish of Great Lakes cuisine, but I love the flavor and texture of fresh trout and prepared almandine (also spelled almondine) is a personal favorite. Luckily, lake trout is plentiful in the area because populations are rapidly increasing in the Great Lakes basin. Lake trout is actually a freshwater char, related to a salmon but distinct. Unlike salmon, it is actually native to the Great Lakes basin, though since exported to many other areas, it was once the alpha predator in the largest freshwater lakes in the world. The texture and flavor of the large lake trout is somewhere between the flake and texture of salmon with the slightly milder flavor of trout. Adapting the traditionally French approach to a local ingredient and then pairing it with a more local ethnic tradition brings us back to our Great Lakes roots and we share the fruits of that process here.

We wanted to prepare on the grill and adapted the traditional almond/brown butter approach. Our sides are grilled roasted cabbage, radicchio, with shallots and baked, cheese-filled potatoes. Combining the whipped potato filling with the cabbage creates a dish not unlike Irish colcannon but with greater complexity and richness, a lovely complement to our grilled trout.

Lake Trout with Almond Browned Butter

1 lb. fillet of Lake Superior Lake Trout
½ cup salted butter (1 stick)
½ cup thin sliced almonds
salt

Place butter in a saucepan over medium heat to melt and continue to cook, stirring regularly, until it just begins to brown. Add almonds, stirring continuously and remove from heat immediately upon slight browning of the almonds. Strain almonds from butter and place on a paper towel to drain, reserve butter. This can be done several hours or a day in advance. Prepare a grill with hardwood charcoal. Using aluminum foil, create a “pan” large enough to hold the fillet. Spread half the reserved butter on the fish and sprinkle lightly with salt. When coals are ready and grill is approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit, place fish on grill, cover grill and allow to cook until fish just begins to flake, 6 to 10 minutes. Cut into servings and serve topped with remaining butter and sprinkled with almonds.

Grilled Cabbage and Radicchio

1 head Savoy cabbage
1 head radicchio
½ cup olive oil
1 Tbs. Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning (see note)
Salt and pepper

Dressing
½ cup olive oil
1 Tbs. stone ground mustard
1Tbs. malt vinegar
1 tsp. Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning

Note: Penzey’s Bavarian Seasoning is a hand-mixed blend of crushed brown mustard, rosemary, garlic, thyme, bay leaf and sage. You can get it here or approximate the blend at home.

Prepare grill. Slice the cabbage into eights through the core, leaving leaves attached. Quarter the radicchio in the same manner, sprinkle with olive oil and seasonings. In a glass bowl large enough to accommodate all the greens, combine all dressing ingredients, whisk to combine and set aside. When coals are ready and grill is approximately 450 degrees Fahrenheit, place greens on grill and cover. The radicchio will cook in about 4 minutes, flip once half way through cooking. The cabbage will take 8 minutes, again flip half way through. Being careful not to overly char the greens, here is what it should look like coming off the grill.

Cabbage Roasted

Place finished greens into glass bowl with dressing, toss to coat. Serve immediately, or if you are cooking the cabbage before the fish, re-heat at time of service.

Baked Whipped Potatoes
12 small red potatoes (or similar style)
1 cup grated cheese (see discussion below)
1 cup mayonnaise

In a large pot, half-filled with water over medium high heat, boil potatoes until just soft, approximately 20 minutes, then remove from water and allow to cool. Can be done several hours or a day ahead of time. When cool, cut in half along the longest dimension, and use a melon baller or small spoon to hollow out potatoes. Leave about ¼ inch of potato in the skins and place the removed potato in a large bowl. Add cheese and mayonnaise to potato and whip until smooth. Refill the shells and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 20 minutes. A minute under the broiler will help brown the tops nicely.

Cheese: We used Carr Valley’s Menage, a blend of cow, sheep, and goat milk, which has a vibrant, rich flavor with a hint of the goat cheese tang. Consider using a semi-hard European-style cheese with enough punch to cut through the potato. Some options would include a well-aged white cheddar, a rind-washed Gruyere, or an aged Asiago.

Mayonnaise: We prefer a house-made mayonnaise which is simple to make if you have a blender, an egg, and some olive oil. But to simplify the recipe, store bought is a easy substitution.

We used purple potatoes for our preparation just to add a bit of additional color, but we’ve had these most often with red potatoes. The smaller potatoes lend themselves to creative plating options.

Laketrout

We enjoyed this meal with a Winds of Change from O’so Brewing which is a vibrant, hoppy, tart explosion of a beer. This is an IPA fermented with brettanomyces, it hits the tongue like a champagne crossed with a tart cider ale with hops coming along in the after-taste. Funky is a term often used for sour beers, and I’d use that term here, but not in the skunky-sense, but more the way it plays a surprising acidic counter-point to the rich foods we enjoyed.

Lake trout is surprisingly versatile and future endeavors will include grilling it on an applewood plank as well as smoking it and using as a topping for smørrebrød. A wonderful baseline ingredient for Great Lakes Cuisine.