Bánh Me Sandwiches

posted in: Recipes | 27

If pork belly is the cut craze of the moment, then I nominate Vietnamese banh mi
sandwiches as its most appetizing summer application. I’ve been hearing about pork belly all over the food world lately: 23% of the chefs polled in this month’s Food & Wine magazine thought of it as the ingredient more home cooks should try. And in the New York Times, Frank Bruni drools all over it, along with other fatty cuts of “fat, glorious fat.” It is fun to revel in fat once in a while, no doubt, but especially now that it’s bathing suit season, let’s not forget that balance and moderation are everything. With its refreshing ratio of fresh veggies to meat and satisfyingly crisp bite, the banh mi sandwich seemed the way to go. Come to think of it, I’d nominate them as just about the best summer application for any type of pork, meat or tofu — and that’s just what I made this weekend to serve a living room full of lady friends.

Anyone who has tried this popular Vietnamese street food and quintessential colonialism-induced fusion food cannot get enough of them. I enjoyed them many times in Boston’s Chinatown during college (for $1 at one sandwich shop at the time!) but had nearly forgotten about them until my friend Karol asked me to try making them. And so I did. But I also realized how great sandwiches are for entertaining a group of people with varying food preferences (without ostracizing some guests like throwing on a frozen veggie burger instead of having a vegetarian entree). The proteins can vary, but the rest of the sandwich makings remain the same. And who doesn’t like having options?

the three food groups: sliced fried tofu cubes

sliced roast pork

marinated and grilled chicken

For this assortment, I went with a somewhat traditional roast pork sandwich, one with grilled chicken marinated in some spices, and one with fried tofu slices. Regular firm tofu would have been fine, I suppose, but the puffy, contrasting texture of fried tofu seems more suited to sandwich stuffing. For the roast pork, I loosely adapted a garlic-brined pork banh mi recipe from Food & Wine. Since I roasted the pork the day before the party, though, I ended up slicing the roast and then heating up the slices in a pan for a minute or two, dabbing a bit of extra seasoning on them while I was at it. Other meat varieties might call for a pork pate or crushed Vietnamese meatballs (or seasoned ground pork); these would probably have been much faster to prepare, although sandwiches like these are typically devised to use up whatever meats are on hand. (And in an ironic twist, I’m left with a lot of leftover roast pork after making these sandwiches.)

the drink special was a quickly improvised lychee martini: 1 part vodka, 2 parts lychee syrup (from a can of lychees) and a twist of lime

All this talk about meat for a ladylike luncheon!

Banh Mi Sandwiches Three Ways
(makes 3 baguette-length sandwiches, for 8-10 servings)

for the pork:
1 lb pork belly
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 serrano chili, roughly chopped
2 Tb light brown sugar
1 Tb salt

for the chicken:
1 lb boneless chicken breasts or thighs
1 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp white pepper
1 tsp ginger, finely minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
juice of 1 lime
1 Tb vegetable oil

about 4 oz fried tofu, sliced
3 sandwich-style baguettes
about 1/2 lb daikon radish, julienned
2 medium carrots, julienned
2 Tb vinegar
1 Tb sugar
1 tsp salt
2-3 scallions, sliced thinly on a bias
about 1/4 cup mayonnaise
2-3 jalapeno or other hot peppers, sliced
1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems trimmed

Marinate the pork belly one day ahead: combine brown sugar and salt with about half a cup of warm water and stir until dissolved. Add garlic, serrano pepper and pork and fill container with cold water until the pork is submerged. Marinate at least overnight, preferably one full day ahead of roasting. When ready to roast, preheat oven at 350 degrees. Roast pork in a roasting pan with lid on for about half an hour. Remove, and continue cooking until the pork has reached an internal temperature of 165 degrees at its thickest point, about another half hour. Let sit for 15 minutes before slicing.

Marinate the chicken an hour before cooking. Rub with spices, ginger, garlic and lime juice, cover, and refrigerate. When ready to cook, heat up a skillet with some oil. Brown the chicken on each side until cooked. Place chicken onto a cutting board and let cool a bit before slicing into strips.When the carrots have been julienned, place into a bowl with vinegar, salt and sugar. Fill with cold water to submerge the carrots. Refrigerate while you chop and prepare the rest of the ingredients.

To put the sandwiches together, coat the inside of each sandwich baguette with mayonnaise. Add chicken in one sandwich, pork in another, and sliced tofu in the other. Top with radishes, (semi-pickled) carrots, scallions, cilantro, and jalapenos, if desired. Cut into single-serving size sandwiches. Serve hot sauce on the side if desired.

Cost Calculator
(for 8-10 servings)

3 baguettes (at $1.50/each): $4.50
1 lb pork belly: $3.49
1 lb boneless chicken thighs: $2.99
1 4-oz package fried tofu (from a Chinese grocery store): $1.25
1/2 lb daikon radish: $0.50
2 carrots: $1.00
3 scallions: $0.35
1 bunch cilantro: $1.00
2 jalapenos: $0.30
4 garlic cloves: $0.10
1 lime: $0.20
salt, sugar, peppers, ginger, oil: $0.10

Total: $15.78

Health Factor

Five brownie points: Again, it’s a terrific role reversal of a sandwich that the crisp, fresh veggies are so much a highlight, on a par with the meat (think a BLT). You won’t be skimping on your daily intake of fat (unless you chose really lean chicken and light mayonnaise), but you should get plenty of fresh nutrition in each bite.

27 Responses

  1. Yvo

    Awesome, I never would have thought to make my own Bahn Mi. Can you believe I’ve only ever had them once? Shame on me…

  2. masticator

    Next time you make the pork variation(if there is a next time) through some star anise into the marinade.
    Another nice bánh mi is with grilled marinated chicken thigh meat. And if you get the skin crisp enough you can put it on the sandwich as well, with a good shot of fish sauce. Although chicken skin may cut down on the brownie points.

  3. Matt

    I always thought the key ingredient in Bahn Mi was great, french bread. For that matter, the I also think the bread is key to a po-boy. Perhaps, I’m just partial to a baguette with a crisp, but very light crust with a toothsome interior, but I wouldn’t think to make them at home, unless I’d found a great local bakery.

  4. masticator

    Paris Sandwich on Mott sells Vietnamese-style baguettes. Other than that, I don’t know anyone in town who makes them.

  5. cathy

    There’s also a place on Atlantic Ave. and Smith St. in Brooklyn called Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches (www.nickyssandwiches.com), though I haven’t tried it there. Thanks for the suggestions on the crispy chicken skin and star anise, Masticator! Two things I’m a big fan of…

  6. Nancy

    One of the best Banh Mi is at Hanco’s in Boerum Hill. They have a really great pork version there full of smoky grilled pork goodness. I have a question: Often times when I have pork banh mi, the meat is sliced really thinly, which probably makes the marinating process really effective. I’m wondering if any of your readers have seen really thinly-sliced pork belly anywhere in the city. I’m not sure I can ask my local Key food to slice up some pork belly for me. It’s worth a try, though!

  7. Su-Lin

    I have no idea where to find bahn mi in London. Argh!

    When I’m back in Vancouver, my favourite bahn mi joint uses a dark sauce on their sandwiches (right at the end). I had always thought it was some kind of Vietnamese fish sauce but when I finally had the nerve to ask them a few months ago, she whipped out a bottle of Maggi seasoning! I’ve already purchased a small bottle and will be adding it to my sandwiches!

  8. cathy

    Hi Nancy: Well, I marinated and roasted the pork in one big piece, then I (tried to) thinly slice it after it was all cooked. I’m not sure where to get it sliced thin from a store, but with a good knife and practice, you should be set!

  9. Deborah Dowd

    This sounds realy good and a great use of pork belly! And I need to try that Maggi seasoning!

  10. Aaron

    Wow, I logged on to this site expected to see heaping of mounds of orange cheddar cheese, and instead I get to see a personal favorite that I hadn’t thought about in months. By the way, that place in Boston really was a steal. Much better than McDonalds dollar menu!

  11. Loren Elizabeth

    I love these sandwiches. There is a market in Springfield, Missouri that in the Winter months have these every Friday when they bring in a truck load of fresh market food from out of state. During the summer they do have them them due to the temperature of the truck during transport. I am anxious to try to make this at home. They are so delicious! I also like the blood my friend cooks for me. She serves it over bean sprouts with a sauce. Do you know how to do that? I’d love to see the recipe on here so I could cook it at home.

  12. ann

    But where’s the mystery meat? That’s one of the things that scares me away from the “traditional” banh mis, the multiple slabs of processed meat I cannot identify… Perhaps making them at home IS the way to go! When are you making them next Cathy? 😉

  13. […] Bahn mi over at Not Eating Out in New York. I love love love these delicious, fresh Vietnamese sandwiches. I prepped the daikon and carrot pickles last night and I’m having bahn mi for dinner tonight. […]

  14. cathy

    Hi Ann: Hmm, perhaps it’s high time this summer for a food blogger potluck barbecue! We’ll see… and yeah, the mystery meat is probably some pork pate that’s usually in there along with roast pork or alone. Who needs it?

  15. Minnie

    Great blog!
    I’ve been getting Banh Mi in Boston since the early eighties for only $2. My favorite thing is just to have them with butter, pate, good bread, and veggies. Check out my blog, Minnie Eat World, sometime for other Vietnamesesque dishes.

  16. p

    Other than Paris, there’s another Vietnamese sandwich shop on the block of Mulberry just below Canal (if you’re walking from canal its on the left) called, I believe, Saigon Sandwich (but that name may admittedly just be my imagination filling in a blank). Anyways, great great banh mi.

  17. david

    Nicky’s original location is on 2nd st and avenue A in the east village. The pork cop sandwich is delicious and costs about 4 bucks.
    Great blog Cathy, keep up the good work!

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  20. Stacy

    I think the “mystery meat” you are referring to is cha lua. It is a type of Vietnamese ham. There are also other types of processed meats that you can put into the sandwich, such as head cheese. You can get these in any Vietnamese/Chinese grocery store. They are normally wrapped in banana leaves and in the refrigerated section if they are fresh. If you don’t live in an area with a large Vietnamese population, it will probably be wrapped in foil in the frozen foods section.

    One of my favorite types of banh mi just uses these types of sliced meats, mayonnaise, pate, hot sauce, fish sauce, and vegetables. It is also a lot less time consuming to make. =P

  21. Mert

    Mayonnaise? Interesting that all the recipes I’ve seen online so far for banh mi sandwiches call for mayo. I just got back from a trip to Vietnam, and all the banh mi vendors that we saw invariably used Laughing Cow spreadable cheese, not mayo.

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    There are heaps of ingredients for this one… not sure if I can handle this recipe… What do they say about ‘if you cannot handle the heat in the kitchen’!!!

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