Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Vietnamese Banh Mi Sandwich

Vietnamese is our favourite ethnic food. We love it so much, we plan on vacationing in Vietnam so we can eat the real stuff. Unfortunately, the real deal cannot be had in the Boston area, even if you're willing to risk your safety and head into Dorchester where there are 3 pho restaurants on one corner. Northing here can compare to the Vietnamese food we've eaten in NYC, San Fran, Paris, Montreal and even our little hometown of Ottawa.

So when I had a craving for a banh mi, I knew we were going to have to make our own. A banh mi consists of the following components:

  1. Crusty bread in baguette or sandwich roll form
  2. Pâté(s)
  3. Meat - often roast pork, sometimes chicken or meatballs
  4. Pickled veggies - usually carrots and daikon
  5. Cilantro
  6. Mayo
  7. Hot sauce
This may be the most emblematic example of the French influence on the Vietnamese food culture. Who would have thought French pâtés would be good with Asian veggies and condiments? A lot of liberty can be taken with the meat component of the dish - since I knew we didn't have any roast meat lying around for lunch on Sunday, I decided to go with two types of pâté (chicken liver mousse and a pork version). The two items that you absolutely cannot omit are the pickled veggies and copious amounts of fresh cilantro.

We of course did not have any suitable pickles in the fridge as the type of pickle required for a banh mi is not of the standard dill or Kosher pickle. It's also not the kind of thing that I've found in the grocery store, so I got up on Sunday morning and made my own pickles. I used the following recipe from the king of Asian pickling, in my mind: David Chang of NYC's Momofuku restaurants.

Momofuku pickling brine
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup rice vinegar
6 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp salt

That's all there is to it. The use of the rice vinegar makes for a milder sourness, and the sugar adds a brightness that I find quite tasty. I stirred up a batch of the brine while the husband was making pancakes and cooking bacon, then went looking for things to pickle. I ended up with carrots, red onion, Thai chilis, and cucumber as victims of pickling. I had 4 little bowls wrapped in plastic, hanging out in the fridge, until the husband went out that afternoon and brought back a couple of these adorable little jars:

I think the carrots would have made for a better picture, but we ate all of those before I got around to snapping a shot. In any case, DC recommends that the sit for a few days in the fridge, but they are edible within a few hours if you're in a pinch. Which is a good thing, since I wasn't planning on waiting a few days before I could make a banh mi.

I essentially followed the banh mi recipe found in the Momofuku cookbook. This version uses the two terrine/pâté method, which was easy enough to do thanks to the excellent pâtés made by the talented people at Formaggio Kitchen. DC's instructions call for Kewpie mayonnaise, which required Googling on my part - it's a Japanese creation that's made with rice vinegar that ordinarily would have appealed to me except that it also contains MSG, of which I am not a fan. I was skeptical of the mayo and almost left it out, but decided to make a smallish starter sandwich with a light swipe of mayo. The red stuff that you see in the photo from yesterday is sriracha, an asian hot sauce that can be nuclear if you apply too liberally. My second round of sandwiches involved a heavier hand when it came to the hot sauce and left our lips numb, but in a good way.

So overall, our verdict on our homemade banh mis? Pretty damn delicious. The bread needs some work - the baguettes we've found locally aren't quite the right consistency (so much chewing!), though taking out some of its bready guts helps. The pâtés were delicious if you like that kind of meat funkiness (it's not for everyone), the mayo was actually tasty (that'll teach me to ever doubt DC again), and the veggies+cilantro provided a refreshing balance. No need to travel when we can do a pretty tasty version ourselves at home.


Open to Grace said...

I'm assuming I'm asking a stupid question since I know you're a faithful New York eater but you've had the banh mi from Banh Mi Saigon, right? It used to be the sandwich shop in the back of the jewelry store but it recently opened a really nice new space a block away. I know it's hard to not get the regular when you're there, but next time, try the chicken. It's amazingly good!

PharmaFoodie said...

Would you believe we've never been? I feel like a bad NY foodie... we'll definitely hit that up the next time!

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