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Cook-Off 60: Banh Mi


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Today we’ve reached a milestone, the 60th edition of one of the most popular discussions that graces our forums—the eGullet Cook-Off Series. (Click http://forums.egulle...m/#entry1581324 here for the complete eG Cook-Off Index).

In celebration of reaching Cook-Off #60, we’ll be discussing a sandwich that is a marriage of French and Vietnamese cultures. A sandwich that has crossed international borders and now finds itself on restaurant menus throughout the world. It’s served on fine china at white tablecloth dining rooms and it’s delivered on a paper plate out of a food truck parked in downtown Manhattan. Yes, friends, you’ve guessed the subject of Cook-Off #60-the Banh Mi sandwich, the current king of sandwichdom.

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Well we are both basically in the same circumstance. While I've heard of Banh Mi sandwiches, I've never eaten one nor have I ever made one. But due to the urging of our Members and the popularity of Banh Mi sandiches today, I think we'll be embarking on a fun adventure in the kitchen--and I'll be relying on everyone's input before I start crafting my sandwich.

From what I've researched over the course of the past week, the basics are French bread rolls, pork, (and often pate), and crisp vegetables dressed with some variety of vinegar--a marriage of French and Vietnamese cuisines.

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this will be fun :-) also just poked around the net a bit, french roll, though the best seem to have some rice flour in them and are crispy almost to the center if I read that correctly. Pickled carrots or similar are in the mix, meat (pork belly!) of any kind, marinated in 'Vietnamese' sauces/spices, mayo or a simple yolk/oil mix and cilantro seems to be a staple. I'm getting hungry just thinking about this, sandwiches are a fun thing to play with!

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

Diablo Kitchen, my food blog

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I'm going to resist temptation with this Cook-Off and not go directly into the kitchen. I'm going to gather my thoughts and recipe ideas while I gain some insight and relish in everyone's Banh Mi success stories. Then next weekend I'll put my mouth to my own Banh Mi and taste the results.

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Having eaten a stupid quantity of these for breakfast ($3 for a roll of awesome?) some preferences I have:

* Roast pork belly as opposed to the cured meats, even tho' I think that roast meat as opposed to cured meat is maybe a riff on the classic and perhaps not honest-to-God banh mi (which I grew up knowing simply as a 'pork roll').

* Easy on the coriander. Or, rather, take care with it. I love coriander. I do. It's just that my go-to banh mi guys basically tear the bunches into long strips, meaning when you're eating the roll you always need to pull out nasty threads of stem from your teeth.

* Butter or nothing. No marg or random vegetable fat spread. Proper greasy pork belly kind of butters its own bread, anyway. Pig butter. And I'm pretty sure that some places in Springvale will just go all out and use lard, anyway.

* The best soy sauce for the job is that thick, sweet Indonesian stuff.

I'm off to buy some pork belly. Will report back.

EDIT

I have no idea of the ethno-cultural mix of Spokane or your cities/areas, but truly, plant your arse in the car and go find an area with a few Vietnamese/SE Asian retailers. Look for a bakery. In Melbourne, at least, damn near every suburb I've shopped in has at least one Vietnamese bakery. And pretty much all of them will sell you banh mi. It might not be great banh mi, but it will give you an idea of what you're shooting for. I also suspect that it's probably easier to make the pork belly version for you than the cured meats version, as the whole idea is to have a selection of meats (brawn and that sort of thing). Fresh slabs of pork are probably easier to get your hands on. And I assume pate isn't too hard to get (or, in a pinch, make).

Edited by ChrisTaylor (log)

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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Having eaten a stupid quantity of these for breakfast ($3 for a roll of awesome?) some preferences I have:

* Roast pork belly as opposed to the cured meats, even tho' I think that roast meat as opposed to cured meat is maybe a riff on the classic and perhaps not honest-to-God banh mi (which I grew up knowing simply as a 'pork roll').

* Easy on the coriander. Or, rather, take care with it. I love coriander. I do. It's just that my go-to banh mi guys basically tear the bunches into long strips, meaning when you're eating the roll you always need to pull out nasty threads of stem from your teeth.

* Butter or nothing. No marg or random vegetable fat spread. Proper greasy pork belly kind of butters its own bread, anyway. Pig butter. And I'm pretty sure that some places in Springvale will just go all out and use lard, anyway.

* The best soy sauce for the job is that thick, sweet Indonesian stuff.

I'm off to buy some pork belly. Will report back.

EDIT

I have no idea of the ethno-cultural mix of Spokane or your cities/areas, but truly, plant your arse in the car and go find an area with a few Vietnamese/SE Asian retailers. Look for a bakery. In Melbourne, at least, damn near every suburb I've shopped in has at least one Vietnamese bakery. And pretty much all of them will sell you banh mi. It might not be great banh mi, but it will give you an idea of what you're shooting for. I also suspect that it's probably easier to make the pork belly version for you than the cured meats version, as the whole idea is to have a selection of meats (brawn and that sort of thing). Fresh slabs of pork are probably easier to get your hands on. And I assume pate isn't too hard to get (or, in a pinch, make).

Wow, Banh Mi for breakfast. Makes sense of course, meat and bread. The local Asian store I shop at just started getting bread rolls for sandwiches and I'm sure they are intended for Banh Mi sandwiches. They also sell fresh pork belly, but it's cut in pretty small slabs, under about 1 1/2 pounds. We don't have a large Asian community and the Vietnamese restaurants only serve Pho soup and not much else. I can find decent pork pate in a regular grocery store.

You mentioned thick Indonesian soy. I assume you mean Kecap Manis? I have a bottle on hand that I occasionally use. Do you use it as a condiment on the sandwich or do you cook the pork belly with some of the thick, sweet soy?

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this will be fun :-) also just poked around the net a bit, french roll, though the best seem to have some rice flour in them and are crispy almost to the center if I read that correctly. Pickled carrots or similar are in the mix, meat (pork belly!) of any kind, marinated in 'Vietnamese' sauces/spices, mayo or a simple yolk/oil mix and cilantro seems to be a staple. I'm getting hungry just thinking about this, sandwiches are a fun thing to play with!

It would be interesting to see a Vietnamese recipe for the "French" roll--especially the inclusion of rice flour. The French likely brought their beloved bread with them across the seas when they landed in Vietnam during the Colonial period. I'm not an expert on French baguettes, but I doubt they employ rice flour in the dough. Anyone know if the Vietnamese started baking French-style baguettes using rice flour as a substitute for wheat flour? I imagine it was probably somewhat expensive to export European wheat flour to Vietnam in the mid 19th century.

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No doubt my experience with banh mi is peculiar: these sandwiches have become a staple in our house, but weirdly, and despite the fact that some great places (by reputation) abound here in Oakland, I've never even once eaten one out.

If you have never made or eaten one, I suggest a good place to start is with Andrea Nguyen's Viet World Kitchen website. Recipes are given for the carrot-daikon pickle and for roasted pork as well as a master recipe for putting the sandwich together. The essentials as far as I know them are: pate, roast meat, sliced cucumbers, a source of heat, such as fresh sliced jalapenos or sriracha, fresh cilantro, a mild fresh pickle such as carrot-daikon and a good baguette-type bread. I do use mayo and I take Andrea's advice and spike it with a drizzle of Maggi sauce.

I have made banh mi with various kinds of meats; my own char siu pork roast (Andrea's recipe) or if I am lazy, roast pork purchased in Chinatown. I've done it with grilled leftover chicken and with grilled or broiled prawns. I'm a big fan of using some type of pate as well as roasted meat. I have used the Viet rolls that can be bought in Chinatown but honestly I am partial to an Acme baguette, which I can get easily at the places I usually shop. I don't make my own mayo or my own pate. I've used a variety of pates that can be purchased and find that a relatively smooth chicken liver pate works really well and is a good foil for roast pork. Once I used a fabulous coarse duck pate but I'm not sure it's the best use of expensive charcuterie. Nor have I ever used pork belly, but I'm sure that would be heavenly.

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Funny - younger son has been lobbying for banh mi recently, so I will probably join in. We typically use Andrea Nguyen's rather flexible instructions from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen. Our favorite version includes char siu pork, liver pate, cucumber strips, cilantro, jalapeno slices, Maggi, mayo, and daikon and carrot pickle.

I'm not much of a baker, so store-bought baguettes are fine by me.

I look forward to seeing what everyone does with banh mi.

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What's the purpose of the Maggi seasoning? Does it just add a soy type of salty flavor? Would a drizzle of sweet or dark, thick soy sauce provide the same flavor profile as Maggi?

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No, you're never going to get the same flavour from soy as you will from Maggi. Maggi's secret is the addition of an herb called Lovage (Levisticum officinale), which (at least in my experience) works kind of like MSG as well as boosting the umami factor quite a bit. Reason, of course, why I grow Lovage (which is actually called Hierba Maggi over much of the Spanish-speaking world) in the garden - it's absolutely indispensable in the kitchen.

Minor edit for spelling issues.

Edited by Panaderia Canadiense (log)

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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My ignorance is showing. I've seen bottles of Maggi in markets for years. I always assumed it was like the browning agent Kitchen Bouquet and I sensed it was full of salt and preservatives. Now I know better. Do you dilute the Maggi or just drizzle it on the pork when you are making the Banh Mi sandwich?

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Oh, but Maggi is full of salt and preservatives. It's just also got a very unique flavour that you won't get unless you've got access to lovage. Personally, I'd drizzle a little neat on the pork while making the sandwich (if I'm working with precooked meats) or (if I'm cooking my own pork) I'll use it in the marinade for the meat. Maggi isn't nearly as thick as most soy sauces.

Elizabeth Campbell, baking 10,000 feet up at 1° South latitude.

My eG Food Blog (2011)My eG Foodblog (2012)

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Growing up in the South Bay area of CA, I'll also report that maggi's a pretty essential part of the bahn mi here.

Here's my experience with it:

french roll: reheated in a toaster oven, so that the crust gets overly crunchy and is likely to cut the roof of your mouth (not my favorite part of the experience, but essential nonetheless)

meat: any number of things but typically a choice between...combo (pate, cold cuts), roast pork, bbq pork(char siu), meatball

pickled julienne of carrots and daikon

jalapenos sliced thin lengthwise

coriander leaves

mayo

maggi

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My ignorance is showing. I've seen bottles of Maggi in markets for years. I always assumed it was like the browning agent Kitchen Bouquet and I sensed it was full of salt and preservatives. Now I know better. Do you dilute the Maggi or just drizzle it on the pork when you are making the Banh Mi sandwich?

If making one or two sandwiches I just sprinkle a bit on top of the mayo. If I'm being efficient and making a number of sandwiches I might just put some mayo in a bowl, drizzle in the Maggi and swirl it in, then apply. I don't use a lot of either, just a thin layer on both top and bottom halves of baguette. If you just taste a drop of undiluted Maggi you can guess just how much you think you will like on your sandwich; you wouldn't really want the end result to taste like Maggi. It packs a wallop and yep, is mighty salty. Since I have not found any other use for Maggi besides banh mi, I'm still on my first little bottle. With all the crap (and I don't really want to know what) that's in it I assume it's preserved for life.

Edited by Katie Meadow (log)
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Thanks everyone, you're helping me put together my shopping list, but I've still got a way to go. I see that most traditional Banh Mi call for roast pork belly with crisp crackling. I love Asian-style roast pork, but it can be bland with the main flavor component coming from that fatty, crisp skin. So, has anyone ventured over to China and used red-cooked pork belly in a Banh Mi? I like the deep flavors and caramel notes in red-cooked meats so I'm thinking it would work in a Banh Mi, maybe without the need of adding pate. I've also seen some Vietnamese recipes for a caramelized pork belly, (not red-cooked). Any thoughts on this discussion of how to treat the pork meat? Can we use the loin, ham or shoulder meat?

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Our favorite version includes char siu pork, liver pate, cucumber strips, cilantro, jalapeno slices, Maggi, mayo, and daikon and carrot pickle.

So, has anyone ventured over to China and used red-cooked pork belly in a Banh Mi? I like the deep flavors and caramel notes in red-cooked meats so I'm thinking it would work in a Banh Mi, maybe without the need of adding pate. I've also seen some Vietnamese recipes for a caramelized pork belly, (not red-cooked). Any thoughts on this discussion of how to treat the pork meat? Can we use the loin, ham or shoulder meat?

Well, if you want char sui in your bahn mi, you're in good company with Bruce. Though personally, I think the sweetness would be all wrong in bahn mi and would compete badly with the bright flavors of the pickled/fresh vegetables and herbs. Plus, there's already plenty of richness from the pate and mayo. Char sui is definitely not a substitute for the pate, which does not add sweetness, just the opposite--the light smear of liver pate gives the sandwich a funky, earthy note. A good bahn mi has a lot going on flavor-wise but is still balanced.

My favorite bahn mi shop offers a bbq pork option that I'm pretty sure is a slow-roasted shoulder, but definitely not caramelized. I'll stop by tomorrow for lunch and find out.


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Our favorite version includes char siu pork, liver pate, cucumber strips, cilantro, jalapeno slices, Maggi, mayo, and daikon and carrot pickle.

So, has anyone ventured over to China and used red-cooked pork belly in a Banh Mi? I like the deep flavors and caramel notes in red-cooked meats so I'm thinking it would work in a Banh Mi, maybe without the need of adding pate. I've also seen some Vietnamese recipes for a caramelized pork belly, (not red-cooked). Any thoughts on this discussion of how to treat the pork meat? Can we use the loin, ham or shoulder meat?

Well, if you want char sui in your bahn mi, you're in good company with Bruce. Though personally, I think the sweetness would be all wrong in bahn mi and would compete badly with the bright flavors of the pickled/fresh vegetables and herbs. Plus, there's already plenty of richness from the pate and mayo. Char sui is definitely not a substitute for the pate, which does not add sweetness, just the opposite--the light smear of liver pate gives the sandwich a funky, earthy note. A good bahn mi has a lot going on flavor-wise but is still balanced.

My favorite bahn mi shop offers a bbq pork option that I'm pretty sure is a slow-roasted shoulder, but definitely not caramelized. I'll stop by tomorrow for lunch and find out.

What is your favorite bahn mi shop? My husband and I have ventured no further than the stall at Super 88 in Allston. Dangerously delicious. The spicy sauce they use...is it this Maggi? I've no idea how I could duplicate the wondrous bread...shatteringly crispy on the surface yet meltingly soft inside. No roll up here will come close. And half the sandwich is all about the bread!

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My go-to banh mi place offered both regular crisp pork belly (my favourite--and keep in mind you've got condiments, salad, etc to go in there, so it's not a slice of pork in bread with nothing else) and red-cooked pork. Chicken, too.

Chris Taylor

Host, eG Forums - ctaylor@egstaff.org

 

I've never met an animal I didn't enjoy with salt and pepper.

Melbourne
Harare, Victoria Falls and some places in between

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I get banh mi all the time in chinatown Boston. I didnt realize they made them in Allston, but its difficult to park there when the food court is open. Sunday AM different story.

the place i go to is a 'hole in the wall' with the usual collection of chinese seniors hanging out. its on Beech street just off Washington on the L side turning off Washington. Its the kind of place you think twice about going in.

But ..... the banh there are the best Ive had. it get the 'regular' one with the pate/etc. Its interesting that the 'innards' seem standard and come from somewhere else.

extra green chili for me of course!

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What is your favorite bahn mi shop? My husband and I have ventured no further than the stall at Super 88 in Allston. Dangerously delicious. The spicy sauce they use...is it this Maggi? I've no idea how I could duplicate the wondrous bread...shatteringly crispy on the surface yet meltingly soft inside. No roll up here will come close. And half the sandwich is all about the bread!

So true about the bread. "Shatter" is exactly the right word to describe what happens when you eat it. Though my office is an easy walk to several good bahn mi shops, what keeps me from having a bahn mi lunch more often is having my desk--and me--covered with the crumbs that inevitably result from every bite. Standard baguette bread doesn't come close.


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Char siu (Xa xiu in vietnamese) is a standard filling for bahn mi at my favorite BM joint, which happens to be a bakery suppling rolls to most of the Viet restaurants around the area (as well as to white-tablecloth places). Here is the BM menu from Dong Phuong, where you can buy 10 sandwiches and get one free: http://www.dpbanhmi....ry/Banh_Mi.html

I usually go for the #1 Dac Biet (house special), which is overflowing with housemade rolled ham, pate, and other porky goodness.

I have tried, many times, with NO success, to make a BM roll as light & airy as what I can purchase at many Viet bakeries in SE Louisiana. I think that the feathery light rolls have some dough conditioners and require a steam-injected oven to get the "right" texture. I can attest that rice flour does nothing for the texture.

When making 'em at home, I usually fill with ga nuong (grilled boneless chix thighs), and I use Andrea Nguyen's recipe (lime juice, fish sauce, a little sugar, black pepper, and oil). Or, I buy red-cooked boneless pork from the asian supermarket & use it (pictured below).

p9111593.jpg

Edited by HungryC (log)
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      *NOTE: Use cider or distilled white vinegar, do not use wine vinegar.
      1 1/2 cups, sugar
      2 heaping teaspoons, pickling spice mix.
      PREPARE THE PICKLES:
      Carefully wash the cucumbers and bell pepper. Slice all vegetables very thin, using a food processor with a narrow slicing blade, or by hand, or using a V-slicer or mandoline. Toss the sliced vegetables together in a glass or crockery bowl large enough to hold twice the volume of the vegetables. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, add the cracked ice, toss again to blend all ingredients and add water to just barely cover the vegetables. Place a heavy plate on top of the vegetables to keep them below the top of the liquid.
      *Set aside for 4 hours.
      PREPARE THE SYRUP:
      Place the vinegar, sugar and pickling spices in a 4-quart Pyrex or other microwavable container (the large Pyrex measure works very well)
      Microwave on high for 15 to 20 minutes. [if a microwave is not available, simmer the syrup in a narrow saucepan on the stovetop, over low heat, for the same length of time.] Allow the syrup to cool. Strain the syrup and discard the spices.
      ASSEMBLE THE PICKLES:
      Place one wide-mouth quart canning jar (or two wide-mouth pint jars) with their lids in a pot of water to cover, place over medium heat and bring the water to a simmer (180 degrees). Remove the pot from the heat and allow jar(s) and lid(s) to remain in the hot water until needed.
      *After the 4 hours are up (crisping the vegetables as described above) pour the vegetables into a large colander and rinse well. The cucumber slices should taste only slightly salty. Return the rinsed vegetables to the bowl, add the mustard seeds and celery seeds and toss well until evenly distributed. Set aside.
      Return the syrup to the microwave, microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes [or heat the syrup on the stovetop] until an instant read thermometer shows the temperature of the syrup is 190 to 200 degrees.
      Place the vegetables into one wide-mouth quart jar, or in 2 wide-mouth pint
      jars that have been scalded as described above. Pour the syrup over the vegetables, place the lids on the jar or jars, tighten well and place in the refrigerator overnight.
      The following day, turn the jar upside down - then continue to turn every day for 2 weeks. (This is to insure that the pickles are evenly flavored)
      After 2 weeks open the jar and taste. The pickles should be ready to eat.
      Pickles will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 months.
      ( RG2154 )
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