Monday, January 21, 2013

The Banh Mi Uncovered

I love a good sandwich. Though we all have our own definition of what  a good sandwich is- well, this what mine looks like.

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi Wrap
 My favorite sandwich is the Vietnamese Banh Mi. By now they are everywhere, except at your local Subway. Boy, are they missing out. In Denver they can be found over on Federal Blvd which is my not so secret stomping ground. I love Federal. It makes me feel adventurous but I don’t have to show my passport when crossing over. I love the thrill of discovery and the excitement it brings. And that is how I found this sandwich at  Ba Lee – a tiny sandwich place stuck in a nondescript strip 


 A true piece of heaven if heaven was so easy to find. And no I did not take the picture.

A banh mi sandwich is something I love. Truly. If you haven’t had one, don’t. Otherwise you will crave them forever. And I mean forever. They are that good. Few foods combine the sweet and salty and spicy better than this. Not to mention the crunchy veggies and the warmth of the bread. Add in the crinkle of the butcher paper and the price of $3.50. Well, I don’t want to give you a heart attack. And did I mention the beauty of the sandwich? I am not a great photographer but hopefully you can see how the colors play off of each other. The dark greens, the orange and white- well, it brings out the artist in me.

 Did I mention I am a huge fan of Vietnamese food? And I think we have some of the best in Denver. I love it all. But the reason I love the banh mi is because of its simplicity and the fact that you can cram so much flavor onto a little bit of bread. It is totally satisfying both in the mouth and on the pocketbook. Many of the components are easily made at home. The hardest part to get right is the bread. Banh mi bread is really a French baguette. But it is a French baguette made by the Vietnamese. It is crisp but tender and for a Banh Mi it is always served warm. When I make them at home that is the part that is always lacking so the next time I go to Federal I am going to buy a dozen baguettes and put them in the freezer next to my bialys from Phoenix. Yes they are really different from what you buy at your local grocer. So I now make a Banh Mi wrap. They look like this

 and I buy them at the Pacific Ocean grocery on Alameda, just East of Federal. (They just went through a major re do and it is now a super great store.) Though they aren’t as great as a true Banh Mi  we still manage to scarf them down.

Oh-but the protein. I’ve seen lots of choices. Pates are typical (that French influence don’t ya know?) pork meatballs, grilled chicken, grilled pork, pork belly, tofu, and I could go on. But I am giving you the chicken version. I also love the pork meatballs but it is January and I am still thinking to try to be healthy.

The other components of a Banh Mi are the mayo, and the veggies. Now  Ba Le does not use mayo that I know of and I don’t miss it. But when we do our wraps I do add a bit of Sriracha infused mayo which adds a bit of zip or you could just add the Sriracha on its own if you like spicy. The carrot and daikon mixture is easy to make but you can also buy that at the Asian grocery for about $2 bucks. Then you add your fresh jalapenos and cilantro and you are looking at a thing of beauty. Not so beautiful though that you can’t sink your teeth into it. Yeah, This is How I Cook!

Grilled Chicken Banh Mi (Makes about 4)

2 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
6 garlic cloves
4 shallots
2 t sugar
2 T fish sauce (nuoc mam)
2 T light soy sauce
Several grinds of freshly ground black pepper

Blend garlic and shallots in a blender or food processor. Add seasonings and smear on POUNDED breasts. Marinate several hours and even overnight. Grill until done. Slice into thin strips for Banh Mi.

Carrot Daikon Pickled Salad

Carrot Daikon Pickled Salad
2 c carrots (Slice carrots lengthwise in half. Then cut each half into long flat slices. Then stack these slices and cut into thin strips.)
2 c daikon (Japanese white radish-our grocery sells them in the produce section.) Cut like carrots.
¼ c unseasoned rice vinegar
¼ c sugar
1 t kosher salt

Toss all together in a bowl. Let stand 1 hour tossing occasionally. Drain before putting on Banh Mi.

Other Ingredients
Fresh Cilantro
Fresh Jalapeno (Slice thin with seeds or deseed if you don’t want as spicy)
Baguettes or Wraps (I use a paratha wrap that I buy in the frozen section at the Asian grocery. You then heat them in a medium high preheated dry skillet until golden on each side. This takes about 2-3 minutes.)
Sriracha hot sauce or Sriracha Mayo (I combine 2/3c mayo with 2 finely chopped green onions and 1T sriracha.)

To assemble: Using a warm wrap or split baguette spread a little bit of mayo (if you are using) on bread. Add sliced chicken. Then top with carrot mixture, a few sprigs of cilantro and a few slices of jalapeno.

Eat to your heart’s content.

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  1. Funny thing is, I was thinking about making Bahn Mi myself this morning and I just got back from the grocery store with carrots and daikon radish to make the pickle when I stumbled upon your post.
    Yours looks great!

  2. Isn't that weird? I guess it was meant to be. Enjoy and thanks for writing!

  3. That's one terrific sandwich you've put together. And I kinda like the wrap version of a Banh Mi - although not traditional, it works really well. Great idea - I'll have to try it that way. ;-) Thanks!

  4. Yes, it is really good. And a wrap works great when you can't get that BREAD!

  5. The Banh Mi is one of my favorite sandwiches as well. Fortunately there are lots of them in Seattle. I get to Denver fairly often for work, so will have to check out your recommendation next time I'm in town!

  6. You are so lucky as there are very few around here. This is a great place though! Of course you could also try New Saigon and the dumpling place across from Ba Le and the massage place- Bamboo Forest where for 25 bucks you get a one hour massage. Yes, I love Federal! Have fun!

  7. I bet Gabi would love it!

  8. Vietnamese food is one of my favourites too, although I never tried Banh Mi sandwich. This sounds loaded with flavours....very interesting! Good to know that Denver has such great Vietnamese food options.

  9. Gabi would love it! It is a sandwich loaded with flavor. You should try it! Thanks for writing.

  10. Thanks Natalie.It is a great one!

  11. This is one sandwich that I´ve yet to eat or make. Yet, I´m terribly attracted to it. Weird, since I don´t eat much asian food. But thanks for this recipe Abbe! If I ever make it I now know how to.