BANH MI SANDWICH

If you haven’t tried Vietnamese banh mi by now, you’ve been missing out on a truly remarkable sandwich. At once exotic, but at the same time decidedly familiar, these guys are unlike anything in the American lunchtime lineup.  No cheese or mustard here, just the perfect marriage of sour, salty and savory Vietnamese flavors on a sweet, light-as-air, French baguette all harmoniously coming together in one killer snack.

Topped with crunchy pickled carrots and daikon, cool sliced cucumber, aromatic cilantro and spicy chilies, a good banh mi is a melange of flavors and textures. Not unlike a BLT, banh mi are salty, crunchy and juicy with a nice counterpoint of warm meats. Packed with savory roast pork or my version with grilled five-spice chicken shown above, the real beauty of this sandwich is its variety of delicious proteins.  From grilled lemongrass beef or sardine, to the deli combo loaded with roast pork, mortadella and paté there are plenty of options out there to satisfy any hankering. Here in San Francisco, Saigon Sandwich on Larkin Street is home to some of the finest banh mi around.  At $3.50 apiece, I defy you to find a better quality, more filling sandwich for cheaper anywhere in the city.  This is the Asian sandwich.

Banh Mi Sandwich

When making a sandwich of this caliber, it’s important that all of the ingredients be of the highest quality and freshness that you can find.  Start out by looking for a nice, light and airy french baguette.  The last thing you want here is a chewy, razor sharp crust getting in the way of all those delicious, delicate flavors within.  I’ve gone with 5-spice chicken for this particular build, but feel free to use grilled lemongrass beef, Vietnamese roast pork, Chinese-style char siu, påté, or even your favorite deli meat.  One of my favorite components of a good banh mi is the sharp, bright heat of a few jalapeño rings.  If that kinda heat isn’t your thing, consider drizzling in sriracha to give your sandwich a bit of bite.  No matter what you do, definitely take the time to make the pickled daikon and carrots from the recipe listed below.  A banh mi really isn’t a banh mi without them.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 8-inch long pieces of a light, airy french baguette
  • Mayonnaise or softened butter
  • Soy Sauce or Maggi Seasoning for drizzling
  • 2-3 cups grilled, sliced, boneless-skinless, five spice chicken thighs
  • 4-6 thin slices English cucumber, seeded
  • Pickled Daikon and Carrots (Recipe Below)
  • 6 cilantro sprigs
  • Jalapeño, thinly sliced
  • Sriracha Chili Sauce (Optional)

METHOD:

  1. Slice each piece of baguette in half horizontally, stopping before you cut all the way through to leave a hinge.  Lightly toast the baguette pieces in the oven until just barely crusty and set aside to cool for a moment.
  2. Generously slather the inside of each baguette with mayonnaise or softened butter and sprinkle with a few dashes of soy sauce or Maggi seasoning.
  3. Layer in warm slices of grilled five-spice chicken and top with 1/3 cup pickled daikon/carrots, cucumber, cilantro and a few slices of jalapeño.
  4. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes enough for 2 sandwiches

Pickled Daikon

from Andrea Nguyen’s, Into the Vietnamese Kitchen: Treasured Foodways, Modern Flavors

Be warned, these guys can positively reek.  Don’t let the smell put you off as they have a wonderful sweet, sour quality and add the perfect, necessary crunch to the sandwich. For a full primer on how to pick out daikon and craft the flavor to suit your own taste, check out Andrea’s thorough primer on do chua here.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large carrot, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
  • 1 pound daikons, each no larger than 2 inches in diameter, peeled and cut into thick matchsticks
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons plus 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1  1/4 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 1 cup lukewarm water

METHOD:

  1. Place the carrot and daikons in a bowl and sprinkle with the salt and 2 teaspoons of the sugar. Use your hands to knead the vegetables for about 3 minutes, expelling the water from them. They will soften and liquid will pool at the bottom of the bowl. Stop kneading when you can bend a piece of daikon so that the ends touch but the daikon does not break. The vegetables should have lost about one-fourth of their volume. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water, then press gently to expel extra water. Return the vegetables to the bowl if you plan to eat them soon, or transfer them to a 1-quart jar for longer storage.
  2. To make the brine, in a bowl, combine the 1/2 cup sugar, the vinegar, and the water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Pour over the vegetables. The brine should cover the vegetables. Let the vegetables marinate in the brine for at least 1 hour before eating. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 weeks. Beyond that point, they get tired.
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    • Niklas
    • April 19th, 2010

    Thanks for the awesome collection of recipes. I stumbled on this blog like two weeks ago and I’m still around. I’ve started working my way through your posts one recipe at a time. The lamb and chorizo chili was the best so far. Keep up the good work.

    • Jon G
    • April 19th, 2010

    In all honesty I don’t know if I can support this weeks posting. Saigon Sandwich is unbeatable…I guess if you do not live in beautiful San Francisco you should try this recipe, but if you do live in the greater bay area, I strongly suggest a visit to Saigon Sandwich. Its a bold move even trying to emulate such sandwich perfection.

  1. Yum I love Banh mi as long as the bread is not too tough. ;)

  2. delicious rendition!!

  3. Nice looking sandwich!

  4. Aaah you’re my hero! Keep on seeing recipes for bahn mi, but none for the carrot/radish pickle. Now I can make it and experience the bahn mi for myself!

  5. Next time I’m in SF I’m hitting Saigon.

    The 5-spice thighs are an inspired swap for the expected pate.

  6. Love banh mi and made some recently with pork meatballs. This recipe has me wishing I had one right now. Not in SF, so unfortunately, can’t sample those you describe.

    • Karen
    • April 27th, 2010

    Busy week so I roasted the five-spice chicken the night before then made mine with rosemary ciabatta & substituted Whole Foods asian slaw for the pickled veggies. A quickie substitute but very satisfying! Must haves are the Sriracha, cilantro, and chicken.

  7. Thanks buddy. Good submissions you got here. Have some more websites to point to with more information?

  8. A new Vietnamese place near me makes a real true pungent spicy grilled pork banh mi sandwich – how do I know for sure? I walked into a bodega right after (to get a drink) picking up the sandwich to go – it cleared the place out – the Dominicans who work there were subtly perplexed at the strong smell of the sandwich – the African Americans who happened to be there spazzed out – yelling what smells like shit and opening the door of the bodega – needless to say I just bought my drink and walked out – it didn’t hit me till half a block later it was the sandwich that caused the commotion (I thought someone just passed gas) – I guess a dust up of cultures there – it smells exotic for sure but tastes ever so good – they’ll never know – I’m half Asian btw and I truly enjoy banh mi sandwiches

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