Our cleaning lady, Alicia, is such a nice woman that it is surprising how she clears all of us out of the house when she comes to clean. She probably doesn’t intend to, but it happens anyway. Sweetie blasts off to work, the cats hide in terror in the bushes from the monster known as “Va-Coom”, and I go off to browse cook books at the library or take a walk along the Columbia River. On my last library visit, I picked up “The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Crazy-Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches” by Andrea Nguyen. I like how banh mi sandwiches are packed full of crunchy, fresh vegetables but I dislike how there aren’t any good ones available in our little city by the river. So I set out to make my own homemade banh mi from the options offered in the book and decide which parts really needed to be made from scratch. We can thank Alicia for this post, and she probably thanks me for cleaning* the kitchen after all of this cooking.
*wiping off surfaces with Lysol disinfecting wipes is cleaning, right? I don’t do Va-Coom.
The Banh Mi Handbook is interesting because it lays out a master recipe with typical ingredients then offers variations you can choose to make your own banh mi. I made one with marinated chicken and another with pork tenderloin from this book and thought they were both quite good. In the interest of good research and good flavor, I followed the book’s recipes to make homemade Vietnamese sandwich rolls, homemade mayonnaise, and homemade pickled daikon and carrot (do chua). I even ordered the German version of Maggi-Würze online to avoid the saltier version of Maggi seasoning usually found in U.S. stores.
The essential part of the banh mi baguette, for me, is the crunch of the crust when you take a bite and these banh mi rolls passed that crucial test after being reheated in an oven before serving. The bread will be hot when you take it out of the oven, but try to cut only partway through it and remove some of the interior to make room for the fillings. Although these authentic Vietnamese-style rolls look great, I don’t suggest making them yourself because they use leaveners (vegetable shortening) and highly-processed all-purpose flour. Instead, find a nice whole-wheat alternative with a good crust.
Our household loves the creaminess and flavor of homemade mayonnaise but I often wonder about the practicality of making my own. It isn’t difficult to make, but it’s wasteful. A batch of homemade mayonnaise uses one egg yolk and makes a cup of mayonnaise. I’ve tried making less but it renders the mayonnaise too thin if you use less oil. So, everytime I make homemade mayo I am stuck with a full cup of the stuff and then it is only safe in the refrigerator for about one week, according to Alton Brown. We don’t eat enough sandwiches, coleslaw, or potato salad to use that much mayonnaise in one week. Still, I’m providing the recipe for homemade mayo because, like a first-timer to Fight Club, if you’ve never made your own mayonnaise before, you have to make it.
Pickled daikon and carrot sticks are quite easy to make and worth the effort. Red radishes, sliced thinly on a mandoline, work just as well as daikon radishes and, in my opinion, have a less funky aroma than daikon radishes. I cut down on the sugar in the recipe for tangy pickle slices with just a little sweetness. You will appreciate that sweetness when you lay fresh slices of chiles across your banh mi for spicy heat. Liver pate is considered traditional in a banh mi since the sandwich is a creation from the French colonial period in Vietnam, but I made a much leaner sandwich using pork tenderloin. It was odd to me to boil the tenderloin as the recipe instructed; I will sous vide the meat next time at 150°F/66°C for 1 to 4 hours to reach a slightly pink, medium-well, firm but juicy pork tenderloin. Our delicious specimen of pork came from Blue Valley Meats, the Walla Walla butcher that produces “local, natural, grass-fed meats” (although I doubt that pigs are grass-fed).
My final note on the banh mi is that it is too big to eat in a single serving. To appreciate the healthy properties of all those fresh veggies in your sandwich (don’t forget the cucumber, cilantro, and jalapeno), your proper portion size should be a half sandwhich.
- 1 medium daikon radish
- 1 large carrot
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1¼ cups distilled white vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice (1/2 lemon)
- 1 teaspoon dijon mustard
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 clove roasted garlic
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 1 pork tenderloin
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1¼ teaspoon sea salt
- Peel the daikon and cut into sticks about 4 inches long and the width of a chopstick. Peel the carrot and cut into similar sticks but slightly skinnier. Toss the vegetable sticks in a colander with the salt and set over a bowl to drain liquid, about 5 minutes.
- Discard the drained liquid and flush the vegetable sticks with running water. Shake to expel excess water then transfer to a 4-cup jar.
- To make the brine, combine the sugar, vinegar, and water in a small pot and heat on low temperature, stirring, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature, then pour brine into the jar to cover the vegetable sticks. Pickles are ready after one hour of brining or can be stored in the refrigerator for one month.
- Put egg, lemon juice, mustard, water, garlic, and a pinch of salt into a food processor or blender. With the blade running, slowly drizzle in the oil until all of it is emulsified. Season to taste with more salt if needed. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to one week.
- Pat the pork dry with paper towels, then cut in half cross-wise into 2 shorter pieces.
- Toast the peppercorns over medium heat in a dry skillet or saucepan until they are fragrant, 2 - 3 minutes. Let them cool briefly, then grind them into a chunky powder with a mortar and pestle. Add the garlic, five-spice powder, sugar and salt to the mortar. Mash and pound to a rough paste with the pestle.
- Rub the paste onto all sides of the meat. Vacuum seal each piece into a plastic bag (or use the water displacement method) and cook in a sous vide cooker at 150°F/66°C for at least 1 hour up to 4 hours. Alternatively, wrap the pork in parchment paper and then aluminum foil and boil in a large pot of water for 30 minutes.
- Thinly slice pork into rounds to assemble sandwiches. Cooked pork tenderloin can be wrapped in aluminum foil and placed into a plastic bag to freeze for up to 2 months.