Indochina History Lesson on a Plate: Banh Mi

May 17, 2009

Though banh mi has simple and accessible flavors, it is not easy to recreate. It's because people just cannot mentally commit to the entire process. They feel as if they can make substitutions where they cannot: Circumventing the generous lathering of mayonnaise and pate, acceptance of fish sauce as a household condiment, and extra time it takes to pickle vegetables lead to a tepid reception. They will carry that “homemade” flavor, which we commonly smile at, but never fully indulge in.

Good banh mi is about knowing how to respect the cultural and historical components. The sandwich is the French colonization of Vietnam – of Indochina(late 1800’s to mid 1900’s). It’s about Parisian enjoying aperitifs on the balmy porch, while Vietnamese cooks prepare dinner in sweaty kitchens. The bread should be the best French roll you can find, crusty on the outside, but pillowy on the inside. The mayonnaise is French. The pate should be fresh and fragrant, and ideally homemade. The meats are a mix of the two cultures. The vegetables are Asian in origin. As is the cilantro and the hot peppers.

75 years of history sold street side in a crunchy little roll.

I have made the sandwich with success. Please allow me explain me success.

BANH MI (Serves 4) Total Time - Anywhere between 6 hours-2 days (brining is a classy bitch), Total Active Time-1 hour

SUMMARY You will brine the pork for anywhere between 3 hours and 2 whole days. The longer you brine, the more succulent and consistent the meat. I strongly encourage brining - as with the duck breast I made earlier.

- 1 lb pork butt, thinly butterflied
- 1 t peppercorns
- 3 T salt
- 6 T sugar
- 6 cups water
- 2 T fish sauce
- 1 T sugar
- 1/2 t sesame oil
Pickled Vegetables
- 1 small carrot, julienned
- 4" of daikon, julienned
- 1 c water
- 1.5T rice vinegar
- 1 T sugar
Accompaniments: 4 french rolls, pate ( I make my own), mayonnaise, siracha, maggis, black pepper, cilantro, thinly sliced cucumber

1. Days beforehand, brine the pork by bringing 1 c water, 3 T salt, 6 T sugar to boil, and peppercorns to boil. Once the solids have dissolve allow to cool to room temperature. Combine with 5 cups cold water in a large bowl with the pork. Cover and refrigerated for up to 2 days.

2. 1 hour before grilling, drain the pork and combine with 2 T fish sauce, 1 T sugar, and sesame oil. Let sit.

3. Prepare the pickled vegetables by combining the jalapenos, carrots, and daikon in a bowl with 1 c water, 1.5 T rice vinegar, and 1 T sugar. Allow to sit.

4. 10 minute before eating, heat a grill or stovetop pan on medium high. Grill the slices of pork until cooked through.

(Toast the rolls in the oven until crusty an warm.)

5. To assemble, split your french roll lengthwise (but not all the way through). Generously lather the bread with mayonnaise and pate. Cover with drained pickled vegetables, thinly sliced cucumbers, jalepenos, and fresh cilantro. Crack some fresh black pepper on top and maggi sauce if desired. Enjoy quickly!


Elra said...

I don't eat sandwich that often and not liking it that much either, BUT I love Vietnamese sandwich very much. Interesting eh? I'll put tons of Jalapeno in there. This sandwich make me salivating. Yummy!

Anonymous said...

there are some great vietnamese wiches here in houston. we should do a city exchange--i visit you, you visit me for a weekend of cooking and exploring. i love your blog, love love love your food adventures.

Jude said...

This is certainly one of the more intimidating sandwiches to recreate at home. Is it true that the bread has to have rice flour in it? Couldn't find a Vietnamese baguette recipe.

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only one who put fish sauce on my pork? (Actually, I put it in the brine for the pork). How about that Pate' recipe :)

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