The epicureanSandwich series part 3:
Bánh MìOh yes, the Epicurean eats hamburgers too. But he strives for the best burgers he can.
I have often extolled the virtues of Vietnamese food in this column. The confluence of French and South-East Asian flavours and eating habits has created something greater than the sum of its parts.
It is in Vietnamese bakeries that this becomes most obvious in the form of gloriously soft, subtle cakes and pastries, frequently flavoured with durian or jackfruit, and of course the famous Vietnamese baguettes. Very pale in colour with a rather soft crumb, they yield to whatever sauce is spread on them and have a fragile, crackly crust that holds everything together. By far the most pervasive use for these baguettes is to make bánh mì, Vietnamese sandwiches, typically sold off tiny metal carts that roll around the city.
The anatomy of a bánh mì is straightforward, but it comes in many variations. A baguette is filled with layers of mayonnaise, pickled cucumbers and daikon, cucumber, plenty of coriander, a choice of different meats or tofu, green chillies and pork paté. All the ingredients come together in a perfect harmony of spice, sharpness, sweetness and saltiness. It is a treat every time I make a bánh mì and I know you will love it too, so let me describe to you the version I make in Groningen.
Start by making a quick pickle (đồ chua) of carrots and daikon (white radish, rettich in Dutch). Slice the carrot and daikon into matchsticks, place them in a bowl and sprinkle them with ½ a teaspoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of sugar. Mix them very well with your hands for a couple of minutes, until the vegetables are soft and bend easily without breaking.
Drain them and add 2 tablespoons of rice vinegar. If you want to make this filling in larger quantities, it will keep in the fridge for a month, but you will have to keep it in a jar and cover it with a mixture of rice vinegar and water (in equal quantities).
Then turn on your grill and cut the bacon into thick slices (about 4mm thick). Place them on some foil or a metal tray and cook under the grill (turning once) so that the bacon becomes crisp and lightly charred.
In the meantime, prepare the rest of the sandwich. Cut each baguette (the ones from Stadsbakker Meijer are the best for this recipe) into 25cm pieces and slice those in half, lengthways. Spread the bottom half generously with paté, add slices of peeled cucumber, a few tablespoons of the đồ chua, and some sliced green chilli.
When the bacon is crisp, add that on top, sprinkle a handful of coriander leaves over the lot and spread the top half of the baguette with mayonnaise. Close the sandwich and cut it in half so that it is easier to eat.
If you prefer a vegetarian version of this recipe, simply omit the paté and replace the bacon with pan-fried tofu that you have previously marinated in your favourite hot sauce.
Interested? Then print the text version of this recipe!