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Friday, May 17, 2013

At lease one good thing came out of colonialism

Leave it to the French: the finest product of their colonial period in Indochina had to be edible, right? I loooove a good sandwich, and the bành mì is one super-delicious specimen of the genre.

If you’ve never experienced a bành mì—pardon me while I weep—it’s a combination of many delicious things that add up to far more than the sum of their parts. The term “bành mì” is Vietnamese for bread, more specifically the individually-sized baguette. In Vietnam, the bread is airier, lighter, with a thinner crust. Ergo: perfect for sandwiches. A bành mì is filled with a combination of French (pâté, mayonnaise) and native ingredients (cilantro, hot sauce, pickled vegetables).

There are bazillions (or as my figlio minore used to say, brazilians) of possibilities, but some of the more popular bành mì start with pork (belly, sausage, patties, meatballs), grilled chicken, pate, cheese, fried eggs, tofu, or fish. Add a layer of vegetables like fresh cucumber slices and pickled carrots and daikon. Then a sprinkling of cilantro. The bread is spread with spicy chili sauce and sliced chili peppers. 

Voilà! A combination of spicy, meaty, zingy, sweet, and tangy that is absolute perfection.

This version is fairly simple. Although it may look daunting, it’s really just a long list of ingredients with some very easy instructions, and much of it can be done well in advance. Don’t be put off: If you have to go out and buy fish sauce or sriracha for this recipe, that’s a good thing (pace Martha). I promise you will love them. Fish sauce (also known is nam pla or nuoc nam) is available these days in most supermarkets. And sriracha has so many uses, you’ll soon be leaving it on the table along with the salt and pepper.

I make these for dinner along with a big salad and some oven roasted spicy fries. It’s a great easy meal, and the leftovers…wait, I’ve never had any.

Bành mì with spicy pork meatballs

Serves: makes 4 sandwiches (you’ll need more for a hungry crowd)


2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 TB hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)

1 pound ground pork
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 TB fish sauce (such as nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 TB hot chili sauce (such as sriracha)
1 TB sugar
2 tsp cornstarch
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp coarse kosher salt

1-2 cups coarsely grated carrots
1-2 cups coarsely grated peeled daikon
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp coarse kosher salt
1 TB Asian sesame oil
4 10-inch-long individual baguettes or four 10-inch-long pieces French-bread baguette
Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
16 large fresh cilantro sprigs


Stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt.
DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

Gently mix all ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands and scant tablespoonful for each, roll meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet.
DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.

  1. Toss first 5 ingredients in medium bowl. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.
  2. While the veggies are marinating, cook the meatballs. Heat sesame oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs (don't crowd them, cook in batches if necessary). Sauté until brown and cooked through, turning meatballs often and lowering heat if browning too quickly, about 15 minutes. Keep them warm in the oven while you cook the remaining meatballs.
  3. Slice each baguette or baguette piece horizontally in half. Scoop out enough bread from each bread half to leave 1/2-inch-thick shell. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange jalapeños, then cilantro, in bottom halves. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs. Drain pickled vegetables, place atop meatballs. Press on baguette tops. (You can also put all the finished ingredients on the table and let your diners create their own bành mì to their liking: as spicy, tangy, or meaty as they prefer.)

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