Banh Mi: Eating Vietnam

by Karen on Friday, July 23, 2010

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After looking through dozens of banh mi recipes, I found that they can be filled with just about anything: pork, beef, chicken, even tofu.  At the foundation of this sandwich, you must start with good bread that abides by the only rule I saw repeated in every recipe: use light and airy baguettes.  That means no rustic, chewy, French baguettes with gum-penetrating crusts, which are delicious in their own right but not here.

Another indispensable aspect of banh mi is the preserved meat and offal that make up the large repertoire of Vietnamese charcuterie, which includes headcheese, pate, gio (meat paste), and sausages.  If the thought of eating a mishmash of throw-away meat parts disgusts you, first I ask you– what do you think you’re eating at Taco Bell?!  And second, I implore you to open your mind and give it a try.  The depth of flavor that develops from this style of preparation is absolutely incredible.  In my banh mi, I make two different types of meat, garlicky slices of pork shoulder and pork meatballs (I couldn’t decide between the two, so why not both!?)

Garlic-Brined Pork:
Without getting into an explanation on a molecular level, soaking meats in heavily salted water for hours basically makes the meat retain much more moisture when cooked.

– 3 lbs boneless pork shoulder
– 2 tbsps of black peppercorns
– 1 head of garlic, peeled and minced
– 3/4 cups of kosher salt
– 1/3 cup of granulated sugar
– 2 serrano chilies, crushed
– 1 jalapeno, thinly sliced
– 2 cups of warm water

In a cast iron skillet, roast the black peppercorns until they become fragrant, for about a minute on high heat.  Transfer them to a surface and with the dull side of your knife crush the peppercorns, or you can do this in a mortar and pestle.  Put the peppercorns into a large bowl you will be brining the pork in.

Add the garlic, jalapenos, serranos, salt and sugar into the mixture.  Add about 2 cups of warm water and stir until the salt and sugar are dissolved.  Place your pork in the brine and fill with cold water until the pork is completely submerged.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

Remove the pork from the brine and pat it dry with paper towels.  Leave the pork out for a while until it comes to room temperature.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and place the pork in a roasting pan and roast it for about an hour and half, turning it once halfway.  Once the meat is done cooking, wrap it in foil and put it in the refrigerator for a few hours or until cold.  Then slice on a bias into thin slices.

Pork Meatballs:

– 1 lb of ground pork
– 1/4 cup of basil, finely chopped
– 3 green onions, finely chopped
– 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
– 1 tbsp of nam pla (fish sauce)  Fish sauce is a cornerstone of Southeast Asian cooking and is made of fermented anchovies.  As you can imagine, it smells potently of rotten fish, but just a little adds a subtle depth in dishes.  Trust me, its absolutely necessary!  Fish sauce is readily available at any Asian market.
– 1 tbsp of sriracha (hot sauce).  This is readily available at any Asian market.
– 1 tbsp of sugar
– 2 tsps of corn starch
– 1 tsp of fresh ground black pepper
– 1 tsp of kosher salt

Put all the ingredients into a mixing bowl and using clean and jewelry-free hands, work the mixture with your hands just until the ingredients are evenly incorporated.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or plastic wrap.  Using a spoon measure out small scoops and roll into 1-inch thick balls with your hands and place the rolled balls onto the baking sheet.  (You can do this up to a day ahead and cover in plastic wrap to keep in the fridge until you’re ready to cook them off).

Preheat your oven to 300 degrees.  Heat a bit of vegetable oil on medium high heat in a large skillet.  Place your meatballs in the oil and brown them for about 10 minutes turning so they evenly brown.  You may need to do this in batches depending on how large your skillet is.  Place them on a baking sheet and put them in the oven for another 15 minutes or until they are cooked all the way through.

The Assembly:

– Vietnamese baguettes, or light French baguettes
– a bundle of cilantro
– English cucumber, sliced thinly on a bias
– jalapenos, sliced thinly
do chua (pickled carrot and daikon)
– pate
– Maggi Seasoning (this seasoning is from Switzerland and was invented in the 1880s and was most likely brought to Vietnam from the French colonists.  It is readily available at any Vietnamese market and has a deep meaty flavor, despite it being vegetarian.  You can substitute Maggi Seasoning with light soy sauce.)
– good mayonnaise
– slices of garlic-brined pork or pork meatballs

Rip out a bit of the center of the bread (and discard– in your mouth if you wish!)…

Pour a couple dashes of Maggi Seasoning on the bread…

Smear both sides with mayo and pate…

A few slices of Garlic-Brined Pork…

Some Pork Meatballs…

Add the Pickled Carrots and Daikon…

Add sliced cucumbers and jalapenos…

Add cilantro…


(Recipes adapted from here and here)


Nick Laborde July 25, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Great pics, they are making me hungry … also great use of Thesis …

Valerie July 25, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Thanks, Nick! And right back at you… I’ll be following your monthly challenges – lovin’ your lust for life!

Adriana July 25, 2010 at 7:43 pm

Karen, these pictures AND the website are A-M-A-Z-I-N-G. Girl, you really don’t mess around when you say “wait a week and see what we do with it.” I’m really proud of you! My mouth was drop dead, open the entire time I was scrolling down to see everything. Very impressed…. and hungry…LOL…. and I already ate dinner!

Karen July 26, 2010 at 11:59 pm

Thanks girl! Glad it’s making you drool 😉 You’ll need to come by and grub soon!

Viviana July 26, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Good leaping lord!! These pictures are incredible!! I am not big into cooking for myself but I may have to attempt all of these!! Everything looks soooo good!! Where do I start!!!???

Valerie July 26, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Thanks, Viv! My suggestion is to throw a dart at the screen and cook whatever it lands on… you won’t be disappointed!

Gelareh July 26, 2010 at 8:54 pm

these balls of meat look AMAZING! i love the fresh herbs and jalapenos in the sandwich…how so very delightful…
i’m going to stair at the pictures until i work up the energy to make it!

Karen July 27, 2010 at 12:00 am

You should– the meatballs are incredibly easy and quick to make!

anthony August 20, 2010 at 2:32 am

Love the char you got on the meatballs. That’s my kinda foot-long right there. Good stuff!!!

Karen August 20, 2010 at 1:54 pm

I see you’re in Vietnam yourself! It’s an amazing country…

anthony August 20, 2010 at 9:48 pm

TruE. Nam rocks my world. Have you been?

Karen August 21, 2010 at 12:23 am

I went a few years ago and traveled through southern Vietnam. Was incredible– dying to go back!!

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