Thursday, April 11, 2013

Banh mi (or the most delicious sandwich you might ever eat)

Back in San Jose there was this great Vietnamese restaurant where I could get a giant bowl of noodles for ~$6, or a huge bánh mì sandwich for a whopping $2.50. Granted, the meat was slim, but the sandwiches were filling with their crusty French bread and toppings full of pickled veggies and herbs. Here in Chicago, the same sandwiches- with maybe a tad more meat- will run you over $6.

Puh-lease. 

So when I saw this recipe for bánh mì made with lemongrass-marinated pork it called out my name.

Jaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa-ckkkkkiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee.
Eat me.

I'm not sure how authentic this recipe is (although it sounds quite authentic in its ingredients), but this was literally the best bánh mì sandwich I'd ever eaten. Quite possibly one of the best sandwiches I've ever had.

Every single bite was absolute perfection

You know those meals when your last bite is literally as good as your first?? Those dishes that force you to say things like "ohmygoshsoooooogood!" or "mmmmmmmmmmmmm" or "DAMN" the entire time you're eating them? I promise you- this is one of those dishes.

So many flavors: it's a party in your mouth!

So why is this humble looking sandwich so delicious? First and foremost: the lemongrass marinated pork.
Lemongrass, shallots, garlic, pepper, fish sauce, sugar, and soy sauce complete this marinade

The marinade is sooo simple to make, but the intensity and complexity of the flavor is like a giant punch to your tastebuds. Lemongrass is a common ingredient in Thai cooking, and one of the reasons Thai dishes are up there as my ultimate favorites. On top of that, the pork is grilled, which as we all know increases the flavor of meat exponentially. And on top of that (literally) are your sandwich toppings. I went mostly traditional (cilantro, pickled carrots and radishes, and jalapeno) with a less traditional addition of creamy avocado and lime wedges to add a citrus kick.

Customizable toppings

OH-MY-GOSH-I-CAN'T-EVEN-DESCRIBE-THE-DELICIOUSNESS-OF-THIS-SANDWICH

And as delicious as the sandwiches were served with warm, right-off-the-grill pork, they were equally delicious days later with pork straight out of the fridge.

Yours in hoping that every single person out there that reads this blog enty makes this dish, because it is Just. That. Good.
Jacqueline

Banh Mi with Lemongrass Pork Recipe (Banh Mi Thit Noung), from Rasa Malaysia

Note: I had issues cutting my pork into larger slices that could be grilled. Those that were long enough were put directly on the grill grates, while the smaller pieces were grilled on top of foil. While the pieces that got char directly from the grill were best, the foil-cooked pork tasted great as well. Best of luck to you in cutting the meat in nice, grillable slices!

Also, I didn't use it this time, but a food processor would be great to quickly prep the the marinade ingredients. Roughly chop with a knife, then pulse with a food processor until more finely chopped. However, don't overblend, as you don't want it to turn into a paste (although that might not be bad either...).

Ingredients

2 lbs boneless pork butt/shoulder (cut into 1/4-inch thick slices, 8-inch long by 2 1/2-inch wide)
4 to 6 8-inch baguette rolls, sliced lengthwise in the center
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves
1 Jalapeno, deseeded and thinly sliced
Pickled carrots and daikon (store-bought or homemade, see below)
Lime wedges for garnish
1/2 to 1 avocado, sliced
Mayonnaise, with a bit of Sriracha mixed in for an extra kick (optional)

Lemongrass Pork Marinade
1/2 cup minced lemongrass, or about 2 lemongrass (bottom part only as the tops get too tough and woody to cut)
1/2 cup sugar
3 tablespoons fish sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons ground black pepper (No, this is not a typo. Trust. It'll be delicious.)
5 shallots, peeled and minced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 tablespoons roasted sesame oil (I don't like sesame oil, so I just replaced it with vegetable oil)
2 tablespoons peanut oil/regular cooking oil
2 tablespoons sweet soy sauce (Note: I don't have sweet soy sauce, so I used 1 TBSP low-sodium soy sauce + 1 TBSP Chinese oyster sauce. Feel free to just use regular soy sauce if that's all you have)

Directions
  1. In a medium large bowl, mix all the marinade ingredients well. Put in the pork slices and marinade for about 1 to 2 hours or overnight (I did 2 hr and it was great.) Discard excess marinade before use.
  2. Preheat grill until ready to use. Gently arrange marinated pork slices onto the grill. Grill until the pork is nicely charred on both sides and meat is thoroughly cooked. If use indoor broiler oven, broil for 5-7 minutes on each side or until the meat is completely cooked and nicely charred.
  3. Remove lemongrass pork from grill and assemble the baguettes with mayonnaise spread, and then put the sliced Jalapeno chilies, a slice of grilled lemongrass pork, and finish off with a handful of pickled carrots and daikon, avocado, and cilantro leaves. 
Pickled carrots and daikon radish, from Shutterbean
Note: I couldn't find daikon radish at my local grocery store. So I bought regular (red) radishes instead and chopped them up. Not exactly the same, but delicious nonetheless.

Also, this pickled veggie recipe from Viet World Kitchen seems a bit more authentic, but I was running low on time and just used the Shutterbean recipe. Next time I'm trying the Viet World Kitchen recipe.

Ingredients

3/4 cup white vinegar (I ran out and used rice vinegar instead- worked well)
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1 cup julienned carrots
1 cup julienned daikon

Directions

Bring the vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Cool slightly. Add the carrots and daikon and let cool to room temperature. Extra vegetables can be stored in the vinegar in the refrigerator for at least a few weeks.

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