Banh Mi

Banh Mi is a Vietnamese street sandwich sweeping the Internet, kind of like the recent bacon craze. With all this hub-bub, I did my research and found out that it has some (all?) of my favorite ingredients like pork, cilantro, jalapeno, crusty bread and pickles. Now I needed to try it and join the fray.

First thing, I needed to learn how to pronounce it. “Bun me”. I pretend that I am in Vegas at the blackjack table. “Bun me” (now where is that girl with my vodka tonic!)

I was discussing Banh Mi with one of my foodie colleagues at lunchtime and he found a local spot to try. Mind you this isn’t one of the high-falutin fancy joints you read about, just some quick takeout in midtown. It turns out that Banh Mi doesn’t have to be pork so I upped the ante and went for crispy duck while my colleague went for the roasted pork belly. Wow, this thing rocked! I can’t imagine how good it must be at the “great places”.

The combination of savory meats, sweet and sour pickles and that soapy cilantro taste was awesome, but it looked and tasted complicated. I couldn’t make this at home, could I? I happened to have a copy of Bon Appetit proclaiming “5 amazing meatball recipes”, no wait it was “5 AMAZING meatball recipes”. Really now? AMAZING? I love meatballs, but this kind of enthusiasm seemed a little over the top. Serendipitously one of the recipes was a pork meatball Banh Mi, so it was filed for future use.

I enjoy introducing Nicole to new things and since she isn’t in NYC for lunch often, I decided to break out this “AMAZING” recipe. I thought the sandwich came out very good, but not nearly as good as the crispy duck or roasted pork. To be fair it would be really hard for a pork meatball to match the depth of flavor as a nice slow roasted piece of pork. Nicole’s reaction was “it’s alright”. Blasphemy, but I still love her.

I would definitely make this recipe again, but what was a real surprise winner were the accoutrements: sriracha mayo (used subsequently on a roasted cod sandwich), and pickled carrots and daikons.

PS: I made 2 mistakes, one which is visible (which is why I am admitting it!) I didn’t have enough cilantro, so only a few leaves made it on, and I somehow mixed the sesame oil in with the pickling liquid instead of using it to bake the meatballs. These amateurish flubs likely impacted the taste, so I’ll need to give it another go one day.

The photo is pretty crappy, we were hungry and I rushed the pictures.

Recipe courtesy of Bon Appetit (January 2010).


Ingredients

Makes 4 robust sandwiches.

Chili Mayo:

  • 2/3 cup mayo
  • 2 scallions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbl. sriracha sauce (or other hot chili sauce)

Meatballs:

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 1/4 cup basil, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tbl. fish sauce (can be found in the Asian section of your grocery store)
  • 1 tbl. sriracha sauce
  • 1 tbl. sugar
  • 2 tsp. cornstarch
  • 1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tbl. sesame oil

Pickles:

  • 2 cups julienned carrots
  • 2 cups julienned daikon radish
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar (unseasoned)
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt

Sandwich:

  • 4 sandwich size baguettes, or 10″ sections cut from a larger one
  • Mess ‘o cilantro

Directions

Meatballs:

  • Mix all ingredients in large bowl
  • Roll out 1 inch meatballs and place onto baking sheet
  • Cover and put in fridge while making rest of dish (can be chilled overnight)
  • When ready, saute the meatballs in the sesame oil until browned on all sides. Depending on the size of your frying pan, you may need to do it in batches.

I actually don’t like to fry meatballs so I baked them at 425. I also rolled ’em around a bit every few minutes to evenly brown them. I should have sprinkled a little sesame oil onto them first, but alas I mixed the oil in with the pickles by accident.

Pickles:

  • I used my mandoline with the julienne blade to get nice even strips of carrot and daikon, but I suppose you could just shred them
  • Mix vinegar, salt and sugar, pouring over veggies (put ’em in a bowl first)
  • Let sit for an hour, tossing occasionally

Sandwich:

  • Mix sriracha, scallions and mayo in a small bowl.
  • Drain pickle liquid
  • Slice baguettes in half and scoop out most of the insides
  • Toast baguettes in a 300 degree oven until crispy, but not browned and dried out. It should only take a few minutes
  • Spread mayo mix on bread
  • Add meatballs, pickles and 4-5 cilantro sprigs
  • Serve

Make sure you keep any leftover sriracha mayo. This stuff rocks.