Cooking Forward: Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches
Note: This recipe is an example of Cooking Forward — transforming one dish into an entirely new recipe. Before you can make these sandwiches, you will need to make some easy Carrot and Daikon Pickles and also have some cooked meat or tofu on hand (details in the post below).
These sandwiches are amazing. They have everything going for them: tantalizing complex flavors, wonderful textures — chewy and crunchy, and even a combination of hot and cold temperatures.
I have lead an eclectic, adventurous, well traveled life, but somehow Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwiches eluded my culinary radar until last year. I discovered them while watching season one of The TV Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race show. Each week the Nom Nom Truck would prepare a variety of delicious Vietnamese sandwiches — some traditional, some not so. I had never had one of these sandwiches, but they looked so good, you could almost smell them coming off the grill through the television.
At the time I lived in the tiny town of Big Bear, CA, a place with no nearby Vietnamese restaurants or markets. So I set about trying to make my own Banh Mi. As soon as we tried the sandwiches, I was hooked and Banh Mi became a staple of my casual cuisine repertoire. The pickles are easy to make a head of time and last for a week or more, and since you can use so many different type of proteins, so the sandwiches make a good way to use up leftover meats (the Cooking Forward part).
Now that I’ve moved back to the LA area, I’ve had Banh Mi from many restaurants and sandwich shops in LA and the Little Saigon section of Garden Grove (I haven’t caught up with the Nom Nom Truck yet, but hope to someday). Mine may not be entirely traditional, but I like them better than any of the commercially prepared ones I’ve had so far. Perhaps because I stuff them, like an American Sandwich, where the restaurant versions have been sparse on the fillings.
Here are the components you need to make a Banh Mi Sandwich:
Protein: You can make a sandwich with most any kind of protein — cooked chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, fish, or tofu. Usually the protein is heated, so the sandwich contains a mixture of hot and cold temperature foods. Some recipes I’ve used with great success in making Banh Mi Sandwiches are boneless (or bone removed) Korean Style Short Ribs, Sliced Jamaican Jerk Chicken, or the Chinese Style Pork Tenderloin in my book The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Easy Freezer Meals (2011, Alpha Books). All of these recipes can be ready in your freezer, then all you need to do is thaw, grill and eat. Make extra and save the leftovers to make Banh Mi, just heat and add to the sandwich.
Bread: A traditional Vietnamese baguette, like the one in the photo at the top of this post, is a transcendent experience — perfectly crusty on the outside, soft on the inside, and overall light as a cloud. If you live near a Vietnamese bakery or sandwich shop you can pick up baguettes fresh and hot. If not, you can make do with a French or Italian baguette, although these will be a bit tougher, the sandwich will still be delicious.
Carrot and Daikon Pickles: While it may sounds strange to the American palate to put pickled carrot and radish on a sandwich, but it works beautifully in Banh Mi, providing a great crunch along with a flavor that blends on with all the others to make a perfect bite.
Vegetables: You can prep these ahead of so that you can just assemble the sandwiches come dinner time. Have at the ready thinly sliced peeled cucumbers, sliced jalapenos, sliced red onion, and chopped cilantro.
Condiment: Mix 1/2 teaspoon sri racha type hot sauce with 1/4 cup mayonnaise.
Assemble the sandwiches:
Slice baguette almost in half. Spread both sides with hot sauce/mayonnaise mixture. Add heated protein of choice. Top with Carrot and Daikon Pickles, sliced cucumbers, onions, jalapenos, and cilantro. Serve immediately.