~ Totally Undeserving of the James Beard Award

~ Completely Undeserving of the James Beard Award ~

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Bahn Mi Up...

To me, the Vietnamese sandwich "Bahn Mi" is addictive...and may just be the perfect sandwich, combining a selection of flavorful, marinated meat, savory and crisp vegetables, herbs, a bit of spice...all on a warm, light, crunchy roll.

One day at work, a co-worker offered to bring one back for me at lunch. "A ban what", I asked. Here it was, $2.25 later, all wrapped up in butcher paper, slightly warm. "Hmmm...how good could this be?"
After that day, I was hooked. In fact, the day I was writing this post, I was going to make some homemade spaghetti noodles and sauce...I couldn't...I had to have another bahn mi.

Never had one you say? You, my friend are missing something great...found at Vietnamese restaurants and delis for like $2 to $3...which makes it even better!

There are strong opinions on who makes the best, which deli in which city makes the best, which mix of ingredients are best...on and on.

The New York Times did a piece on them as did the Seattle Times...and there is a great blog dedicated  to them...recipe sites have articles related to them...and Anthony Bourdain swung into Vietnam for one.

At home when throwing around ideas on what to have for dinner, I usually get a SURE! if I suggest it.

A bit of history...(according to Wikipedia): The sandwich is a product of French colonialism in Indochina, combining ingredients from the French (baguettes, pâté and mayonnaise) with native Vietnamese ingredients, such as cilantro, hot peppers, and pickled carrots.

Let's go through each highlighted item, shall we? It is a relatively simple sandwich of 3 major sections:

As with any quality sandwich, the bread is key. You could get the best cuts of meats, cheeses, condiments and if you put it on Wonder Bread...well, that would just be silly. Your bread selection can easily make or break a sandwich.

The roll for a bahn mi is a baguette, preferably made by a Vietnamese bakery if there is one around (good luck). The authentic rolls are many times made to include rice flour which some say aids to the airiness of the interior and the crispyness of the crust. I have had good success with (believe it or not) a Safeway baguette. What you want is a baguette crispy to the point that shards of bread flake all over when you bite into it.

There is little argument on what to use as the vegetable fillings:
1)sliced or julienned cucumbers
3)thinly sliced peppers such as jalapeño
4)"Do Chua" which are julienned and pickled daikon radishes and carrots.

This where there can be a wide range of choices, pork, beef, chicken, no-meat, meatballs, pork belly on and on. All normally sliced thin.

Including the various meat choices, there are a multitude of combinations:

Chả Lụa (Pork Roll)...Giò Thú (Headcheese)...Gà Nướng (Grilled Chicken)...Cá Mòi (Sardines)...Thịt Bò Nướng (Grilled/Bar-B-Que Beef)...Paté...Trưng Chien (Fried Egg)...Chay (Vegetarian)

I think it's the little things that really push this sandwich to a next level. The right bread, how your meat was marinated and quality fillings.

For the marinade I used a combination of typical Asian flavors including lemongrass.

Lemongrass either comes pre-cut in those little hanging plastic boxes found with other fresh herbs, or a 2 foot piece in bulk as above

To use lemongrass, you only want the white portion

Then, depending on what you are doing with it slice away. It is very tough so a heavy knife is essential. For my marinade, I wanted it minced. I sliced it lengthways into strips, then the other direction.

Soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, pepper, garlic, minced red onion and sesame oil...plus the lemongrass for my marinade.

The "do chua" as I mentioned is pickled carrots and daikon radish. A daikon radish looks like a huge white carrot, like a foot long. And here's a little known tip...you don't always have to buy the entire piece of produce in the store. If you only want a half of head of cabbage, the produce dude will cut a head in half for you...same with the daikon, just ask them to cut off a piece. The pickling solution is simply water, vinegar, sugar and salt. The link at the bottom will give you definitive portions.

Here I have the ingredients, the baguette, cilantro, jalapeño, sliced cucumber, mayo and a jar of pickled carrots and daikon.

 Got my meat marinated and ready for the grill. For this version I used a pork shoulder blade steak. I think grilling the meat (as opposed to stove top cooking) also adds and extra something to the whole sandwich. As you see I will be using a grill basket as the meat is sliced quite thin.

 I was too lazy to fire up some briquettes, so I just flipped the Traeger on high...

 ...and assembled the sandwiches. I warmed the bread a bit in the oven. Just spread the mayo, add the meat, pile on the veggies.

Way good...it really is...make one...find one at a local Vietnamese deli..AND EAT ONE!

For more info, I highly suggest the website "Battle of the Bahn Mi"...it has a large amount of info for details I did not cover here.

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