Bánh Mì: Vietnamese for Sandwich!

Bánh Mì Sandwich                                                              

A bánh mì sandwich might be the most perfect expression of East-West fusion food, a direct result of France’s colonial occupation of Vietnam, which melded European and Southeast Asian cooking methods and ingredients. Some incredible foods were born from this marriage of taste and techniques; witness the bánh mì, a fantastic sandwich featuring a French baguette, butter or mayonnaise, assorted meat fillings, lightly pickled vegetables, cilantro, cucumber, and sometimes fiery chilies.

My favorite sandwich? Very possibly! This one has grilled gingery chicken, cha mo, and the works.
Vietnamese baguettes are frequently made with a combination of rice and wheat flours, resulting in an airy interior and a crisp crust. As a classic Vietnamese baker is a rare commodity in most of America, any good soft-on-the-inside, crunchy-on-the-outside baguette is fine. However, I wouldn’t use sourdough in this instance as the crumb is too dense and the flavor too assertive for the zesty, fresh ingredients of a good bánh mì.

You are limited only by your imagination when it comes to meat fillings. Vietnamese sandwich vendors will offer grilled or bbq pork, grilled lemongrass beef (featured below), roasted chicken, tofu, grilled shrimp, patés or cha, any number of simple Vietnamese home-style lunchmeats usually made from pork. Feel free to improvise.

Below I’ve offered recipes for lemongrass beef, grilled gingery chicken, Vietnamese pickles (which are essential to a banh mi), nuoc cham dressing, sambal mayo, and cha mo, a classic lunchmeat of ground pork.

When I made Bánh Mì Sandwiches at Red Ginger I used to toast the bread until it was warm and crunchy. I also slathered on sambal mayo and drizzled the sandwiches liberally with nuoc cham dressing, which is an all-around dipping sauce/salad dressing made from lime juice, fish sauce, and vinegar. My assembly kinda goes like this…

  • Cut an 8-inch piece of baguette down the side, keeping one side as a “hinge”. Open the bread and place over a hot grill or in a very hot oven for a few minutes to lightly toast it. 
  • Smear 2 tablespoons of sambal mayo on the inside of the baguette.
  • Place four or five very thin slices of jalapeno on the bottom half.
  • Layer in 1 tablespoon chopped green onions.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint leaf.
  • Add 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh cilantro.
  • Add a quarter cup or more of Everyday Table Pickles.
  • Add cooked meats (lemongrass beef, grilled chicken, etc).
  • Add generous amounts of julienned cucumber.
  • Drizzle liberally with nuoc cham
  • Cut sandwich in half on a bias and serve immediately.
  • Drink a beer.

Grilled Lemongrass Beef

  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup Vietnamese fish sauce (I like 3 Crabs brand)
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil or similar
  • 2 tablespoon finely shaved lemongrass, interior white parts only
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • pinch chili flakes
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 lb beef sirloin, ribeye, flap steak, or skirt steak, cut into very thin slices (¼ inch thick or less) about 3 inches long

Combine first nine ingredients to make a marinade. This will make more than you need for this recipe as you want to just coat the meats; reserve the remainder for the next time (it’ll last a week or so). Pour just enough marinade over meat to coat evenly, mix well, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes up to six hours.

Heat grill to high. I prefer a charcoal grill for this, but a propane grill works fine. However, the grill grates must be very hot when the marinated meat does down otherwise the meat slices will steam instead of charring nicely.

Drain meat of any excess marinade. Grill until lightly charred on both sides, about three minutes a side.

Grilled Marinated Gingery Chicken Thighs

An indoor grill works fine for this chicken. Be sure to ventilate well!

  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup Vietnamese fish sauce (I like 3 Crabs brand)
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
  • 1 tablespoon finely minced cilantro leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dark toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • pinch chili flakes
  • ¼ tsp kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp finely ground black pepper
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs

Combine first eleven ingredients to make a marinade. Pour all of marinade over chicken, coat well, cover, and marinate in the refrigerator for 30 minutes up to three hours.

Heat grill to high. Sometimes I’ll use a good grill pan inside if the weather isn’t great. Either way, make sure your grates are very hot before laying down your chicken to grill.

Drain chicken of excess marinade. Grill until lightly charred on both sides, about five minutes a side. Make sure to let meat rest for at least five minutes before cutting. Chop chicken into thin strips.

Cha Mõ:

This Vietnamese lunchmeat is mild, savory, and slightly addictive. It’s very easy to make, and I urge you to give it a try. Some credit for this recipe must go to Andrea Nguyen, who has a similar recipe in her book Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, an essential guide for those interested in this wonderful cuisine. I took her recipe, greatly simplified it, and melded it with some tips from my mother. 
I know, I know, this photo’s a little blurry.
  • 1 pound ground pork, fatty is better than lean
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tapioca starch (potato starch will also work)
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • pinch salt
  • pinch cinnamon

By hand mix all ingredients until smooth and very well combine. Chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. Remove from the fridge and place about 20% of the mixture into a large mixing bowl. Take the remaining 80% and grind in a food processor until smooth and pink. You should scrap down the sides periodically during this procedure. When you’re finished the end result should look uniform and a bit shiny. Take this blended meat paste and with a wooden spoon or a plastic pastry spatula mix into reserved pork mixture. Combine well and refrigerate for 15 to 20 minutes.

Now, set up a steamer. Take out the pork mixture and place on a small oiled piece of aluminum foil (or banana leaf ), about 5 to 6 inches square. Form the meat into a disc about an inch thick and 4 to 5 inches across. Place the meat disc into the steamer basket and steam for about 30 minutes. Remove and cool for another 30 minutes.

Set up a fryer or heat oil in a pot, about three inches deep. Heat canola or peanut or vegetable oil to 350 degrees F. Fry cooled meat disc for about 6 minutes or until the outside surface is crisp and golden.

Allow to come to room temperature before slicing thinly with a sharp knife. 

The Vietnamese eat these basic pickles all the time!
Everyday Table Pickles

  • 2 cups cider vinegar
  • 1 cup rice vinegar
  • 1 cups water
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • pinch chili flakes
  • 1 slice fresh ginger (about 1 inch long and ¼ inch thick)
  • 2 cups julienned carrots (2-3 inches long)
  • 2 cups julienned daikon radish (2-3 inches long)

Combine vinegars, water, sugar, salt, chili flakes and ginger in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and add cut veggies. Remove from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Steep for one hour and drain. In a well-sealed plastic container these quick pickles will last about a week, refrigerated.

Nuoc Cham:

  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • ¼ cup fish sauce
  • ¼ cup white vinegar or cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons white granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp chili flakes or thinly sliced Thai chilies (this will be much hotter!!)
  • finely grated carrot (about 1/8 of a cup)

Combine all ingredients and set aside until ready for use.

Sambal Mayo:

  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 tablespoon sambal oeleck chili paste
  • 1 teaspoon water (to thin it out if you like) 

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate until use

I made this over-stuffed, foot-long lemongrass beef, “meat-lover’s” banh mi and it kicked ass!!!!

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