Banh Mi: My Kind of Sandwich

My two passions, foreign policy and food, are engaged in a heated battle inside this warm sandwich. A result of French colonialism the banh mi is an example of colonialism bad, culinary influence, good.

The Vietnamese baguette is made with a mixture of wheat and rice flour resulting in a thin crusty exterior with a soft, airy interior. Most of us don’t have a Vietnamese bakery in our neighborhood, so go ahead and grab a baguette from your local Whole Foods or supermarket. Try to buy it when it’s fresh though, as it can be discomfortingly hard if it sits too long.

There are numerous variations of the banh mi, but the basics are: pickled carrots and daikon, cucumbers, cilantro, chilies, and some kind of grilled meat—often chicken, pork or beef. Pâté and fried eggs are also excellent additions. Sometimes I add torn up mint leaves; the cooling quality of mint balances nicely with the fiery chilies. The recipe here uses the same pork belly recipe that I use for ramen and buta kakuni.

This sandwich has luscious fatty goodness from the pork belly, tangy and crisp pickles, herbal cilantro and a little kick from the chilies. What’s not to love?

Ingredients:
1 carrot
½ daikon (Japanese white radish)
½ large cucumber
1 hot pepper (Jalapeno, Serrano), thinly sliced
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
2 tablespoons fish sauce
½ teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons warm water
Pork belly, sliced (see recipe tab)
French baguette
Mayonnaise
Sprigs of fresh cilantro
 

  • Start by making a quick pickle: Peel the carrot, daikon and cucumber. You can  julienne (long thick matchstick shape) all the vegetables or, what I like to do, use your peeler and continue to peel the edible flesh. You’ll end up with long identical strips of carrot, daikon and cucumber (stop when you reach the seeds).
  • Put the sliced chilies, rice vinegar, fish sauce, sugar, salt, and warm water into a large bowl. Stir to dissolve salt and sugar.
  • Add the carrots, daikon, and cucumbers. Mix. Cover and refrigerate.
  • Slice the pork belly to desired thickness. Heat skillet. Add the belly and reheat, caramelizing both sides.
  • Portion the baguette to desired sandwich size and then slice each piece horizontally. Warm up the bread slightly in the oven (the goal is just to warm through not toast it).
  • Spread mayonnaise on one side of each sandwich (I’m a big fan of Japanese Kewpie mayo). Layer each sandwich with the pickles, chilies and pork belly. Finish with fresh cilantro sprigs.
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