Banh Mi Sandwiches – Everything You Need!
About two years ago for dinner my wife made banh mi (pronounced like bon in bonfire) bowls from Budget Bytes and it became an instant favorite for us. The bowls are a bread-less version of a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. There is no denying the exceptionally complicated and often dark history (and present) of colonialism but it has given us the blending of various culinary traditions. These sandwiches resulted from French colonial influence in Vietnam, featuring a Vietnamese variation on a baguette with traditional ingredients including daikon radish, carrots, cilantro, cucumbers, and jalapeños. It is worth noting that banh mi is actually a term in Vietnamese can technically describe any sort of bread. Most often it describes the baguettes associated with this sandwich which is how the term has gradually been appropriated to mean the sandwich itself.
I’m fairly certain the first time I had a banh mi sandwich was at Ginger Deli in Ann Arbor. It was incredible. The spicy mayo gets soaked up by the spongy baguette while the heat of the jalapeños alternates with the coolness of the carrots, daikon, and cucumber. When I say I can’t get enough of these sandwiches I am not exaggerating. Two weeks ago I had one for dinner each night of the week and last week I had one for lunch every day. By the time you read this I may be going through the early stages of banh mi withdrawal.
My policy when I go out to eat is to usually try and get something that I wouldn’t make for myself at home. The first time I had banh mi that’s how I thought of it; I felt that there were so many components and that it would just be too much to bother with myself. Over Christmas while visiting my in-laws I was flipping through a banh mi cookbook (The Banh Mi Handbook) that my wife’s dad has and started to realize that maybe it wasn’t so much work after all. Depending on how much you want to do it may only involve cooking one or two things. The rest is just assembly!
So let’s go through the sandwich from the bottom up just to see how little work you’ve got to do. First off is the bread. These are softer baguettes than you’re probably used to having. They have a small amount of butter to do that and take around two hours, about as much time as a quick loaf of bread. No need here for a poolish or a super long, slow, rise. They also include a crushed up vitamin C tablet to help boost yeast activity and get a lighter, airier, baguette. If you don’t have any around already there is no need to go out and buy them for this, your baguettes will turn out just fine anyways.
Onto your delicious fresh baguette you spread (for this particular sandwich) a Sriracha aioli. An aioli is another part of the French influence on the sandwich and is different from mayonnaise because it has a garlic paste. You can just mix Sriracha and mayo but toss a few ingredients into a food processor and five minutes later you have a freshly made spicy homemade aioli.
For this sandwich the meat I used was the Hanoi grilled chicken recipe, I also made a few later in the week with grilled flank steak. This was probably the portion that involved the most cooking. You marinate the chicken shortly and then grill it over high heat. On top of that went jalapeños, cucumber slices, and some cilantro. Pretty easy to take care of that!
Last, but certainly not least comes the pickled carrots and daikon radish. For this particular sandwich I just used carrots because the only daikon I could buy at the store were HUGE. It isn’t an ingredient we use often and I didn’t want to be stuck with lots left over. Just grate (I used our food processor) the veggies and toss them in a container with some water, vinegar, and sugar. Pretty easy, right? Fair warning: daikon radish when pickled can get pretty stinky. The first times we made the banh mi bowls I thought it had gone bad, but that is just the normal smell of it. They still taste great and have a nice crunch but the smell can be off putting for some, so you may decide you want to stick to carrots.
So there you have it, everything you’ll need for fantastic banh mi sandwiches at home. I know that looking at the ingredient lists and recipes detailed below can be daunting at first, but if you consider how much work is really involved that isn’t just chopping veggies there isn’t anything to be afraid of. And I promise you will be so blown away by the final result you’ll wonder how it could be so simple. Enjoy!
- 3 C (13.5 oz) AP flour
- 1¼ C water
- 1½ Tbsp butter, room temperature, diced
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 1½ tsp sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- 500 mg vitamin C tablet, crushed (optional)
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1½ tsp vinegar
- 2 Tbsp Sriracha
- ½ egg, beaten, room temperature
- ½ C vegetable oil
- 1½ lbs bonesless, skinless, chicken thighs
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp sugar
- 1¼ tsp ground black pepper
- 1 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp lime juice
- 1½ Tbsp vegetable oil
- 8 oz carrots and/or daikon (about 4-5 carrots or a small daikon radish)
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp + ¼ C sugar, divided
- ⅔ C vinegar
- ½ C water
- Cucumbers, sliced
- Jalapeños, sliced
- In the bowl of a stand mixer combine all ingredients and mix on medium speed for 2 minutes, until the dough forms a rough ball. Let sit for 5 minutes. After 5 minutes mix again on medium speed for 5-7 minutes, until a smooth dough has formed.
- Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap, then let rise for 45 minutes.
- Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and cut dough into 6 equal pieces. Form each piece into a round ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise 10 minutes.
- While rising line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly dust with flour.
- To shape each ball into a baguette begin by patting out the ball into a rectangular shape. Fold one end of the dough in toward the middle, pressing to create a seam. Repeat with the opposite end.
- Then join both ends of the dough together and pinch to create a tight seam. Roll the baguette slightly, tapering the ends, until it is about 6 inches long. Place on the baking sheet seam side down and repeat with the other dough balls.
- Cover baguettes with plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes. While rising preheat oven to 475 F and place an older pan (cake pan works great) on the lower rack.
- After the 45 minute rise remove the plastic wrap, and let rise for 15 more minutes.
- Using a knife or razor blade score each loaf long-ways down the middle. Place in the oven, and pour 1 cup of water into the pan to create steam. Close oven door and lower heat to 425 F.
- Bake for 20-22 minutes, until the tops are golden brown. Turn off heat and keep in oven for another 10 minutes after. Then remove and place on a cooling rack. Slice and toast before serving.
- To the bowl of a food processor add garlic cloves, salt, vinegar, Sriracha, and egg. Pulse for 30 seconds until well combined. While running very gradually pour in oil in a thin stream. It should take about 2 minutes to pour in all of the oil.
- Let the processor run for 30 seconds after all the oil is added.
- Remove and place in an airtight container, then refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Keep in refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- In a bowl combine all ingredients for the marinade and mix well. Place chicken thighs in a large plastic zipper bag and add marinade. Mix well and place in refrigerator for 30 minutes to 2 hours.
- When ready to cook preheat a grill pan to medium high heat. Cook chicken for 8-12 minutes, or until cooked through. Turn as needed to nicely brown each side.
- Grate carrots and daikon and mix with salt and 1 tsp sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, then rinse. In a glass dish combine vinegar, water, and ¼ C sugar.
- Mix until sugar is dissolved, then add carrots and daikon. Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to two weeks.