I am a scientist who loves to cook because there are many similarities between working in a lab and cooking in a kitchen. I love to share my cooking experience with you and to inspire others to cook.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Vietnamese Sandwich (Bahn Mi) - My way

Bahn Mi, ladies and gentlemen, is one of my top top favorite food (note the repetition for emphasis). Vietnam was once colonized by the French and, as a result, Vietnamese cuisine is heavily influenced by the French cuisine. Bahn Mi, aka, Vietnamese Sandwich is a birth-child between the marriage of French and Vietnam cuisine.

                                 Banh Mi at Banh Mi Zon in Manhattan (picture: Banh Mi zon)

Here are the elements of Vietnam and French cuisine found in a Bahn Mi:

French - French Baguette, Pate
Vietnam - meat and pickled vegetable.

I am not learned-student of either cuisine nor have I experienced the real deal in Vietnam. The experience that I had is based on the Anglo-American version, with each restaurant adding its own unique take. Have I tried an authentic Bahn Mi, probably not; did that take away my enjoyment of this sandwich? No.

One of my favorite Banh Mi restaurants in NYC (picture: yelp user Louis K)

I have seen many kinds of Bahn Mi, from Sloppy Bahn Mi (sloppy joe on a baguette) to Char Siu Bahn Mi (cantonese roast pork on a baguette), to minced pork on a baguette with mayonnaise sauce, to good old pate. For me, it does not really matter what they put on the sandwich as long as it meets the following criteria - a) fresh baguette, b) balance sweet and sour pickled vegetable, c) distinct flavorful meat.

Cut to the chase, I have been craving for Bahn Mi and I decided to take things into my own hands. To start, I need to make my own pickled vegetable.

Pickled vegetable
1. Start with fresh carrot, cucumber, and radish
2. Julien or slice the vegetable into fine strips with a mandoline
3. Put the vegetable into an air-tight glass container
4. Add asian rice vinegar and sugar to the vegetable
5. Store the pickled vegetable overnight in the refrigerator

How much vinegar and sugar to add? you might ask. Well, that's where you got me. Honestly, I don't know because I didn't measure. I started with maybe a quarter cup of vinegar and a few tablespoons of sugar. Then I adjusted the amount of sugar and vinegar bit by bit until I found the right balance that I want. I was told by someone experience in pickling vegetable that the ratio of vinegar to sugar should be 1:1  (ie: 1 tablespoon of vinegar + 1 tablespoon of sugar).

Meat (In this case, pork, but it could be anything)
1. I bought a piece of pork tenderloin then butterflied it, which I did poorly
2. Then I pound the pork tenderloin until it became flat
3. Transfer to an air-tight container and season with five-spice powder, salt, pepper and some soy sauce. (sorry, I wish I can give you a precious measurement)
4. Season the meat overnight in the refrigerator

Putting all together the following day,
1. I cooked the meat with my new toy - cast-iron skillet (AWESOME!)
2. Toasted some baguettes (not as fresh as I want, fresh baguette is hard to come by in my area)
3. Sliced the cooked pork and overlay it with the pickle vegetable

The result?
Not as good as the "commercial" Bahn Mi, that is for sure but it is delicious no less. The deliciousness of Bahn Mi (mine and others) can only be described in one-bite. The harmony of the sweet and sour pickled vegetable, the crunch of the vegetable, the savory flavor of the meat and the softness of the fresh bread. This, ladies and gentlemen, is marriage made in  heaven.

 Sloppy Bahn Mi at "Baoguette" in NY (picture: Flickr user Christa)