Friday, February 4, 2011

Bánh Mì

Bánh Mì- I think it's Vietnamese for 'Amazingly Delicious,' or something along those lines.

I've only had two kinds of Bánh Mì- one I bought a couple years ago at a Vietnamese Bakery, and my version. Thankfully I knew better than to judge all Bánh Mì by the version I had back then, because it was just ok- not bad, but nothing to go off and tell all your friends about. So after awhile, I started poking around online to get an idea of just what comprises a Bánh Mì Sandwich, and then came up with my own version, which is far superior to the one I had at the Vietnamese bakery that day. At least one person, after eating one of mine, is reported to have said, 'That's the best thing I've ever stuffed in my face.' She may have been exaggerating, I don't know, but I do know that mine is a mighty fine Bánh Mì indeed.

Typically made with a crusty baguette (which this one is obviously not, but that was mostly due to the need for efficient prep and serving at work- this was just the easiest choice. I prefer baguette, but it was still amazing), pork or other meat, carrots, pickled daikon, cucumbers, and mayo, along with various other things. It's hard to get too specific- it's like asking what a Subway sandwich is typically made with- the variations are pretty numerous. But you can find plenty more info about Bánh Mì, as well as lots of other recipes, here: Battle of the Bánh Mì.

Here's my version:

Gather up the following:

For the sandwich-

Baguette or hoagie bun
Your favorite lettuce
Boneless chicken breast
Chinese 5-spice powder

For the Asian slaw:

1/4 c each fish sauce, sugar, rice vinegar
1/4 c + 2 T water
1 t or so kosher salt
Juice from about 1/2 lime
1 T or so minced garlic
A pinch of crushed red pepper
Some red onion, carrot, and jalapeño

Start with the Asian slaw- to speed things up a little, I usually start with hot water to dissolve the salt and sugar quicker, and then just add everything but the veggies. For those, there is no specific amount. Just grab a red onion and slice it as thin as you can, shred a carrot or two on the small holes of a box grater, and slice up the jalapeño into little matchsticks (seeds or not, according to how hot you like things). Toss all that into the mix and set aside to marinate for a couple hours or so. (I've let it go overnight before, but it loses a bit of its fresh taste. It's still good, just not as good.)

As a side note, I'll often use this recipe as a starting point, but never quite follow it exactly. I always tweak it as I go, adding more of one thing or another. If you want to want to play around with it a bit, but aren't quite sure which direction to go in (or maybe you wrote it down for later, but lost it somewhere), a good rule of thumb for this type of thing is that you want a fairly even balance of Hot, Sour, Salty, and Sweet. There's even a pretty good book by that name on this sort of stuff.

While that's marinating, start in on the chicken. Think Subway sandwich again, in that however you prefer to cook it, it'll be good, but for my Bánh Mì, here's how I do it-

Take a couple of chicken breasts, 10 oz. total or so, whatever you think you might need, butterfly them if necessary just so they're not overly thick, and then cook them in a simple salt/sugar brine on a sheet tray in a 350 degree F oven until they're done. I forget what all the science behind it is, but something about a little bit of salt and sugar in the water helps keep the chicken juicier. Most brine recipes that I've seen seem a little strong to me, like 1/4 c each per quart of water, or something like that. I just use a couple teaspoons or so per quart of water, and it always turns out fine. Anyway, when the chicken is done, let it cool a bit, but not completely, and pull it into shreds. Toss in as little or as much 5-spice powder as you like. (Ever had cinnamon sugar on your toast in the morning? That's about the color I go for with mine.) And 5-spice powder goes quite well with orange, so I'll often mix in a little O.J., or granulated orange peel or zest. Let that sit for an hour or so for the flavor of the 5-spice and orange to meld a bit.

That's pretty much it- now you're ready to build. Get your bread of choice all toasted up and crusty, slather it heavily with mayo, then the lettuce; throw on a handful of the shredded chicken, some slaw (drained a little, but not totally), and top with cilantro.

Pretty simple, eh? Yet amazingly tasty. The combination of all the different flavors is really something special.

Oh, and since my last post was a Thai chicken soup, and now this one, maybe you're in the mood for a good Bubble Tea drink for dessert or something? Well, I have one! I was going to post it tonight onto the end of this, but it's late and I don't have time. Possibly tomorrow (Tuesday) but maybe not. If you don't see it here tomorrow, then in a couple weeks (going to be out of town next week). I'll may just add it here at the end of the Banh Mi post, but I may also just do a whole new entry for it, we'll see.

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