Now, I certainly can't claim that we are anything even approaching experts on Banh Mi. Quite the contrary - we are relatively recent converts to the Church of the Vietnamese Sandwich. What I can say, however, is that we've been making, eating and enjoying Banh Mi a lot lately. And you should, too.
Banh Mi starts with good bread. Luckily, our Banh Mi obsession has coincided with Sherry getting more into bread making. We've tried a number of baguette recipes, some more complex than others, and have been happiest with the simplest - I love it when that happens!
Our Banh Mi bread of choice is a straightforward, knead-rise-shape-and-bake recipe from a basic Williams Sonoma bread book. No overnight starter or slow-rise retarding - the dough is shaped into personal-sized "baguette" sandwich rolls and ready in time for lunch:
Another key ingredient in Banh Mi is some sort of meat filling. At home, we've been favoring pâté. One nice version that we've used is from Into the Vietnamese Kitchen, by Andrea Nguyen:
Her recipe uses chicken livers, ground pork, ground beef, eggs and some extra pork fat. It sets up quite firm and slice-able, and is flavored with an aromatic mixture of onion, garlic, salt, pepper, Cognac and Chinese five-spice powder.
No need to make your own pâté, though - your favorite store-bought variety will do just fine. We really like using a humble liverwurst.
Next up, what I think is the most important component of Banh Mi - the pickled vegetables. We do a quick-pickle of carrot, daikon radish and cucumber with a bit a jalapeño for some kick.
Start with the meat on the bottom, top with the tangy marinated vegetables, add a generous amount of cilantro and mint, and you're good to go.
While pâté is our most common protein of choice, we have had great success experimenting with other fillings as well. Case in point, this chicken milanesa Banh Mi with hit of chile-lime sauce:
So, if you haven't made your own Banh Mi before, we definitely encourage you to give it a try.
The pickled vegetables are really the only part you need to make yourself, and they are easy. Here is the recipe we've been using:
1 4-inch piece of daikon radish (about 1 1/2 inch diameter), peeled
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2/3 cup rice wine vinegar
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 2-inch piece of cucumber, peeled
Cut the carrot and daikon into 2-inch lengths. Julianne each (matchstick or thinner) and place into a bowl. Sprinkle with salt. Using your hand, massage the salt throughout the vegetables. Let sit for 5 or 10 minutes, at which point a piece of carrot should bend in half without breaking.
Add the sugar to the rice wine vinegar and stir until completely dissolved. Thoroughly rinse and drain the carrot and daikon. Return them to the bowl and cover with the vinegar-sugar marinade. Let sit at room temperature about an hour.
Meanwhile, cut the cucumber into 1/4-inch sticks (discard the seedy center). Cut about half of the jalapeño into thin slices. Taste to assess the heat level - if very hot, cut the slices in half. Add the cucumber and jalapeño slices to the carrot-daikon mixture for the last 30 minutes.
To use, grab a generous pinch of vegetables and gently shake, but do not drain. Use as a condiment or garnish. Makes enough for about four 6-inch Banh Mi. Extra carrot and daikon can be stored with the marinade in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks (discard extra cucumber or jalapeño).