THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Alternate sandwiches

Way back in the 18th century, John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, supposedly had his valet place slices of salted beef between two slices of bread so his meal didn’t interrupt his regular marathon card games, thus creating the sandwich. Since then, many iconic variations of that Early (pun intended) sandwich have been created, including Philly’s cheesesteak and roast pork sammies, the ubiquitous banh mi, the Big Easy’s muffaletta and the all-American cheeseburger.

From the Old Country
In the heart of the Russian Republic, there’s a stuffed sandwich known as a piroshki, that’s filled with beef, pork or chicken, sometimes with mushrooms, cabbage or cheese, then either fried or baked. I first sampled this stuffed version not in the country of origin, as my passport is still blank, but right here in the 50th. I sampled it way back in the 1960s at Ala Moana Shopping Center at Rada’s Piroscki. Because Rada primarily fried her piroscki (her spelling) back then, Mom was the main force behind the purchases, as Mom enjoyed anything deep fried. So every trip to Ala Moana always meant that we would bring at least a dozen piroscki back to Kane’ohe.

Fast forward to the present. Rada’s moved from Ala Moana to Downtown Honolulu, likely due to the increased lease rent for any tenant at Ala Moana, where she continued producing these fried sandwiches. At some point, Rada decided to retire and sold the business to a neighboring take-out establishment, Vicky’s Filipino Foods. The piroscki are still as I remember them back when they were fried at Ala Moana, but I don’t consume them regularly anymore since I “save” my fried foods for French fries or calamari. But recently, a friend asked if I could at least recreate the filling in my own kitchen.

My Rendition
As a base point, my friend dropped off two of the beef, mushroom and cheese piroscki from Rada’s. After microwaving them to warm the sandwich, I proceeded to dissect the piroscki. It has nicely crumbled ground beef, though there was a distinct pork flavor and pronounced black pepper. I could see the usual classic Russian herb, dill, in the mixture but couldn’t detect any mushrooms. (I remember from my childhood, that the mushrooms were diced, canned mushrooms.)

Furthermore, I couldn’t see or taste any cheese. There was also no detectable minced onion or garlic in the filling and there was a binder, though it wasn’t egg or bread crumbs. I assumed that the binder was potato starch or the dry potato powder used for instant mashed potatoes.
So I created my own version of filling, as well as the dough that would be wrapped around the filling, but made one major change. I decided to bake the piroscki instead of deep frying it. Why? Deep frying is too mendokusai (humbug). For starters, once the oil is heated to 350 degrees, its shelf life starts ticking. When I used to deep fry turkey for Thanksgiving, I filtered and then bottled the oil just until New Year’s in case I also fried a turkey for Christmas or New Year’s, but would dispose of the oil after that. My sister knew someone with a biofuel car, so they would take the leftover oil off our hands. Deep frying is also a lot messier than other types of cooking and lastly, unlike the older Mrs. Tatsumoto (Mom), the younger Mrs. Tatsumoto (my wife) doesn’t consume a lot of fried foods. So I baked my version. I informed my friend that the real fried version couldn’t be replicated at home because fat equals flavor and it’s likely that Vicky’s Filipino Foods also fried lechon (roasted then fried pork) in their fryer, which added extra flavors to the piroscki that you wouldn’t get in your own home fryer. I also informed my friend that frying any type of filled dough required precise wrapping of the dough, otherwise it would simply fall apart in the oil, creating an even bigger mess. Baking is gentler heating, so imperfect wrapping of dough usually doesn’t lead to disasters, just a little oozing of the contents.

Ryan’s Beef piroshki photo by Ryan Tatsumoto

Ryan’s Piroshki
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork
1 1/4 tsp salt
1 1/4 tsp coarse ground black pepper
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 tbsp minced, fresh dill

Mix all the ingredients and refrigerate overnight if possible. If not, the mixture can be cooked over medium heat breaking up the ground meats into very small pieces until browned about seven to 10 minutes. Set aside to let cool or refrigerate overnight before assembling the piroshki.

1 1/2 cups 2 ½ percent milk
1 packet yeast
1/2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp olive oil
1 egg, beaten
3 1/2 cups bread flour, plus extra for rolling/shaping
1 egg, beaten for glazing

Heat the milk until warm to touch (~115 degrees), then pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar and sprinkle the yeast evenly over the milk. Allow the yeast to proof for five minutes. After five minutes, whisk in the olive oil, salt and egg. Gradually add the flour, whisking the mixture until it thickens into a thick batter. Continue adding flour until soft dough forms.

Turn dough out onto a well-floured work surface; use additional flour as needed. Knead the dough for four to five minutes until smooth and elastic. Return the dough to a greased mixing bowl, cover the bowl with Saran wrap and allow the dough to proof until doubled in size; about 45 to 60 minutes.

Punch down the dough then flatten 3 1/2 ounce dough balls on a floured surface to about large grapefruit size then top the middle with ~two to three heaping tablespoons of the cooled meat mixture and crimp the sides to form a fully enclosed oblong. Place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and let rise for ~30 to 40 minutes (they need about 1 1/2 inches of space or they will “kiss” while baking). Brush with the beaten egg and bake at 350 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes until GBD. Cool for at least 15 to 20 minutes unless you want burnt mouth syndrome.

The 3 1/2 ounce dough balls make about 10 piroshki.

Of course, you have no Rada’s Piroscki in the Bay Area for comparison but Ms. S thought it was a pretty good rendition, and of course, she preferred the baked version anyway. This then got me thinking about trying to replicate another standard in the 50th, the manapua (char siu bao) filling from either Libby Manapua Shop (closed in April 2019) or Char Hung Sut (permanently closed during the pandemic) both of which had a drier, shredded char siu filling as opposed to the chunkier, glazed filling more commonly found in the 50th. But that would be another column…

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i and UC San Francisco. He is a recently retired clinical pharmacist and a budding chef/ recipe developer/wine taster. He writes from Kane’ohe, HI and can be reached at gochisogourmet@gmail.com. The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei News.

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