My last Top Comments diary was all about how to make pho ga, the delicious Vietnamese chicken noodle soup. We'll stick with Vietnamese cuisine in this food diary, but this time we're going to make something a little less labor-intensive: banh mi, or a Vietnamese sandwich.
You might be thinking, "A sandwich? Really?" If so, you obviously haven't tried banh mi. It may be just a sandwich, but, if prepared correctly, eating banh mi is like letting a symphony of flavors and textures play in your mouth.
Now, if you're blessed enough to live near a Vietnamese population as I do, you might have never considered making banh mi at home. After all, a sandwich costs no more than $2 or $3 at a banh mi shop. My problem is that I'm far enough away from both Houston's Chinatown and Little Saigon neighborhoods that it can be a pain to drive to either to satisfy a banh mi craving. So I decided to try my hand at making banh mi myself. And if you don't live near any good Vietnamese restaurants, making banh mi by hand may be the only way to enjoy it.
Have no fear: It's a great deal easier than pho. But don't be fooled. Making banh mi properly still requires effort. Follow me below the cucumber to learn how to make a vendor-quality sandwich yourself.
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Please come in. You're invited to make yourself at home! Join us beneath the doodle...
There are different ways to make banh mi, but these are the essential ingredients:
- A petite baguette roll, which you should be able to find easily in any bakery.
- Meat. Typical banh mi will include such delicious meat options as chargrilled pork or chicken. As for me, I'm just using some marinated pork tenderloin I picked up in the supermarket. Not as good as something you'd find in a banh mi shop, but it works.
- Mayonnaise. You can use the mayonnaise you probably have in your fridge (not Miracle Whip!), but if you want to be a little more authentic, you can whip up some Vietnamese mayonnaise from scratch. Here is a good recipe--it's not hard, but you really need a hand mixer. I don't have one, so I'm just going to use regular ol' mayonnaise.
- Do chua, or pickled daikon and carrots. You should be able to find this in a Vietnamese market if you have one handy. If not, and if you don't have a wonderful Vietnamese momma-in-law like I do who has offered to bring me a big jar of it the next time she's in Houston, you might have to make it yourself. I'll explain how to do that below.
- Maggi seasoning sauce, available in the Asian section of any good supermarket.
- Long cucumber strips. Self-explanatory.
- Cilantro sprigs. Sorry, BeninSC, it's back. :p
Other common ingredients include liver pate and jalapeno (yuck--I'm sorry), but we're going to stick with the above ingredients for the purposes of this diary.
Okay, we're ready to get started. Making good banh mi requires you to start a day in advance, because the do chua needs to refrigerate overnight. Do chua, like I said above, is pickled daikon (a white radish you should be able to find in most supermarkets) and carrots. It provides a salty, somewhat spicy crunch to the banh mi. And it's pretty easy to make (I'll be following this recipe). You'll obviously need a daikon root (about a pound) and one very large carrot, both peeled and washed.
Cut the carrot into somewhat thick matchsticks. They need to be cut a little thick so they provide the necessary crunch.
Repeat the process for the daikon. I like to cut the daikon into fourths and proceed from there.
Put the daikon and carrot in a large bowl.
Sprinkle with a teaspoon of salt and two teaspoons of sugar. Knead the vegetables with your hands for three minutes, squeezing what water you can out of them (to make them more crunchy). You will see a pool of liquid form at the bottom of the bowl.
Discard the liquid and put the daikon and carrot in a strainer. Rinse with cold water, then use your hands to press the excess water out of the vegetables.
Put the vegetables in a jar (or, if you're like me and only have half-pint jars, put them in four jars).
Now, you'll need to make the brine for the pickling. For this, combine 1/2 cup of sugar, 1-1/4 cups of white distilled vinegar, and a cup of lukewarm water in a bowl. Stir until the sugar is dissolved.
Ladle the brine over the daikon and carrot. There should be enough to cover the vegetables.
Cover the jars and put them in the refrigerator. As I said above, they should be refrigerated at least overnight before they are used. Do chua will last several weeks in the refrigerator, so don't worry about it going bad.
Now it's time to assemble the sandwich. Toast the baguette roll in the oven for a few minutes and then cut in half.
On one half of the bread, spread the mayonnaise. On the other half, drizzle some Maggi.
Add the meat.
Add a little of the do chua. Don't be alarmed when you open the jar and smell death--that's normal. Do chua is stinky!
Add the cucumber strip.
And, finally, add the cilantro.
Take a knife and squish the ingredients so you can close the bread.
And there you have it: You've just made banh mi.