Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Banh Mi: A Vietnamese Sandwich, Not a Gaelic Epithet

Summer supper is a conundrum.  If it were only my husband and me, and we happened to still be living half a block away from Saigon Grill the most superb Vietnamese restaurant in the world (yes, a completely subjective claim inasmuch as I see no need to visit many other Vietnamese restaurants now that I've found one so clearly superior), we'd order in a little bo luc lac and goi du du and call it a night.  Cool, crispy, vegetal, sour, sweet, crunch, savory, slippery, pungent, spicy, the list of descriptive adjectives goes on and on.  Amazing food, amazingly refreshing.  And, not coincidentally, the product of a country deeply familiar with dense, wet, hot weather.

My summertime supper go-to meals include the following:

  • Salade Niçoise, bread, cheese, cold French rosé
  • Fish tacos (fried tilapia with crema on fresh corn tortillas), salad, and cold Negro Modelo beer
  • Cold barbecued chicken drumsticks with cornbread, blue cheese coleslaw, and cold beer
  • Corn-on-the-cob, sliced tomatoes, cold white wine (no meat)

As of tonight, I can add homemade banh mi, the much-vaunted (in New York, anyway) Vietnamese sandwich, served with icy lemonade.

Asian cooking for the uninitiated can be exasperatingly labor-intensive.  As might be expected, the whole construct is different from that of Western cooking. Some recipes require a million ingredients, many of which take a long time to even locate, and these ingredients often require slow and painstaking chopping into microscopic bits.  On the other hand, the actual cooking (i.e. the application of heat) sometimes takes only seconds.  You really do have to get a little bit Zen about it all and embrace the process, especially if you have dull knives.  If you're getting super authentic, you may also find yourself with lopsided amounts of leftover ingredients.  I once gave my husband a private cooking lesson for his birthday, a one-on-one tutorial in Thai cooking.  The chef gave us a list of about 20 ingredients to be found only at an Asian grocery, saying “these are the ones you WILL be able to find”.  The food was spectacular, and not as hard as you'd think, but we were left at the end with enough pickled minced radish and palm sugar to make Thai food daily for a family of seven for a month.  Unlike cilantro or soy sauce, pickled minced radish does not have all that many applications in non-southeast Asian cuisine. 

This recipe for banh mi does indeed require a lot of chopping, but happily, with the exception of the fish sauce and the sesame oil, all the ingredients are available at a regular grocery store.  It should be said, though, that fish sauce and sesame oil really are heart of the recipe, and are not so obscure as to be impossible to locate, so I strongly recommend you make the effort to find them.  A well-stocked Stop & Shop/Wegmans/whatever should have at least one brand. 

By the way, if you're not familiar with fish sauce, I'm not referring to tartar sauce but instead to a clear, amber colored liquid made of fermented fish juices.  It usually comes in a big plastic bottle, and is as common as soy sauce is in Chinese and Japanese cuisine.  It smells very funky in the bottle: it's quite strong and you wouldn't want to take a big gulp of it.   The tiniest bit of it appears in thousands of southeast Asian recipes, and the food simply doesn't taste right without it.  If you find it off-putting in its naked incarnation, remember that there are a lot of highly pungent fish-based products we regularly consume (such as the anchovies pureed into many a caesar salad dressing) without being aware of what makes the flavor, only that the flavor is right.  I'm just saying give it a fair chance.

These sandwiches are all the things Vietnamese food should be... that is, crispy, fresh, meaty, salty, sweet, tangy, pungent, etc.  And most of all, they are just the thing for a boiling hot summer night.

(Vietnamese pork sandwiches on French bread)
Recipe courtesy of Epicurious.com

Hot Chili Mayo:
  • 2/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce [Sriracha brand is good, but I used plain Jamaican hot sauce]
  • the juice of 1/2 lemon

  • 1 pound ground pork [I used "meatball mix", which is equal parts beef, pork, and veal]
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)*
  • 1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

  • 2 cups coarsely grated carrots
  • 2 cups coarsely grated Japanese white radish [you can substitute purple turnip or jicama]
  • 1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
  • 4 10-inch-long individual baguettes or 
  • 4 10-inch-long pieces French-bread baguette (cut from 2 baguettes)
  • Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
  • 16 large fresh cilantro sprigs

Prepare the Hot Chili Mayo:
Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Prepare  the Meatballs:
Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs [NB: I always make my meatballs flat like mini-hamburgers, so they cook quicker and more evenly].  Can also be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Prepare the Sandwiches:
First, assemble the homemade carrot/radish pickles.  Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs. Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. These may be kept warm in a 300 degree oven.

Cut each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Pull out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables [I didn't drain mine, as I like my banh mi kind of juicy/squishy]; place pickles atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops.

Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Pork-Meatball-Banh-Mi-356790#ixzz0rbfreFmp

1 comment:

  1. The bahn mi I've had usually use cold cuts like thinly sliced ham, instead of meatballs. I'll have to try this version. Sounds delicious!