The first time I ate bánh mì was when I was still a poor student living in Paris. I had a friend living in the Vietnamese quarter of Paris, better known as le treizième (the 13th quarter). I would go there around once a week to stock up on instant Korean ramen noodles, a staple of the poor student that I was. So one day after one of those ritual ramen-inspired trips, I met up with this friend for lunch and he took me to this tiny little shop next to a huge Asian supermarket. It was so tiny that people were literally bulging out of it. When we finally made our way in, my friend ordered for me because I was obviously too hazed from the shoving and pushing. It was a chicken bánh mì. And before I knew it, I had died and gone to sandwich heaven.
The recipe below isn’t my first attempt at His Majesty the Sandwich. Bánh Mì found in Vietnam would normally consist of pork and/or pâté. I don’t really eat pork. I have this weird psychological thing with it, but once in the bluest of blue moon, I would eat bacon and pretend that it’s d’Artagnan’s smoked duck. So I adapted a recipe I found on Food52 and paired it with Charles Phan’s killer meatball sauce in his new book “Vietnamese Home Cooking” (which is absolutely gorgeous!). It is Phan’s sauce that elevates this sandwich to the realm of umami greatness, so please, don’t skip it. Here I use chicken, but go ahead and use those porky pork if you don’t have any issues with it and prefer it.
Caramelized Chicken Bánh Mì with Killer Sauce
For the bánh mì, adapted from this recipe:
- 200-250g boneless, skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2cm slices (popping it into the freezer 15 minutes before slicing helps)
- 1 tablespoon good quality fish sauce (the one that only has fish and salt listed as ingredients)
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1cm ginger, minced
- 1/2 spring onion, sliced thinly
- pinch of black pepper
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
- 1 baguette (Vietnamese baguette has a crispy, crackly exterior and a light wispy interior, thanks to the addition of rice flour. Unless you’re a baker and willing to make your own Vietnamese baguette, any old baguette will do.)
- iceberg lettuce
- pickled carrot and daikon (recipe below)
- sliced big green chillies (NOT Thai bird chillies as they will burn your tongue!)
- a bunch of coriander leaves
- mayonnaise (I used Kewpie)
- Killer Sauce
For the Pickled Carrots and Daikon:
- 1 medium carrot, peeled and julienned
- 1 smallish daikon, peeled and julienned
- 60ml water
- 60ml apple cider vinegar
- 1/2 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
For the Killer Sauce (adapted from Charles Phan, Vietnamese Home Cooking, p.52) – makes 1 cup:
- 60g minced chicken
- 120ml water
- 2 tablespoons vegetable/grapeseed oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- pinch of red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 3 asian shallots, minced
- 1/2 yellow onion, finely diced
- 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 2 tablespoons ketchup (I snobbily raised my eyebrow to this ingredient as it’s something that I would never have cooked with, but I trusted Phan with this one and was glad I did)
- 1 teaspoon light soy sauce
First things first: Make the PICKLED CARROTS AND DAIKON. Combine water, cider vinegar, sugar and 1/2 tablespoon of salt in a non-reactive bowl and mix well. Taste for seasoning. If it needs more salt, go ahead and dump more in. Transfer the vinegary liquid to a ziplock bag and add the julienned carrots and daikon, making sure that all the vegetables are drowned in the liquid. Put in the fridge and forget about it for at least an hour.
In the meantime, MARINADE THE CHICKEN SLICES. In a non-reactive bowl, mix 1/2 tablespoon of fish sauce, honey, brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, minced ginger, spring onion, and black pepper together.Taste for seasoning. If you think it needs more kick from that fish sauce, add in the other 1/2 tablespoon. It should taste salty, sweet, and sesame-y. Add the chicken slices to the bowl and coat it well with the marinade. Cover, transfer to the fridge, and let rest for 30 minutes.
Now, make the KILLER SAUCE. In a high-sided saucepan, combine the minced chicken and 60ml water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Just when it has boiled, reduce the heat to low so the mixture is at a steady simmer. Simmer for 7 minutes. Remove from heat and with an immersion blender (or in a normal blender), blend the mixture until it has become a smooth paste. If you lose too much liquid during the simmering process, add in more water little by little. It should have the consistency of pureed
cat food canned tuna (I know, it doesn’t look promising, but have faith!). Set aside.
Return the empty saucepan to the stove and add the oil over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the garlic and cook for just shy of a minute, stirring CONSTANTLY, until lightly toasted (watch it carefully, as it can go from a beautiful golden hue to the blackest of black really quickly). Add the red pepper flakes and stir for 30 seconds more. Then add the shallots and onion, cook whilst stirring for about 4 minutes, or until softened. Add oyster sauce, ketchup, and soy sauce. Stir to combine. Add in the pureed chicken mixture and the remaining 60ml water and mix well.
Increase the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Then simmer for about 7-10 minutes. Set aside and let cool while you assemble the rest of the sandwich.
Next, GRILL THE CHICKEN SLICES. The best method would be chargrilling it outside, but you can also pan grill it. Add vegetable oil to the chicken marinade and coat it well. On a very hot pan, sear one side of the meat until dark brown, then flip to the other side, around a minute each side. As the meat is very thin, it’s very easy to overcook it. So keep a watchful eye.
Last step, ASSEMBLE THE SANDWICH. Slice the baguette lengthwise in half. Place it under a 200C oven grill for a minute or two to crisp it up. Slather some mayonnaise on one side and the killer sauce on the other. Finally, add lettuce, meat, pickled vegetables, coriander leaves and slices of green chillies. Enjoy.
PS: leftover killer sauce can keep for 2 days in the fridge and around about a month in the freezer. It’s so so good atop of fried eggs.
Bánh Mì Trivial Facts
Bánh Mì is spelt Bánh My in Northern Vietnam.
Donner-style bánh mì aka bánh mì kebab is increasingly popular in Hanoi (and maybe elsewhere in Vietnam).
The real thing costs between 20000 to 30000 Vietnamese Dong from a street food stall. That’s less than 2 dollars.