On the weekend, I spent 2 days (and $50) making a pork roll that sells for $4.
It wasn’t just any pork roll. It was the roll with a cult following around the world – bánh mì.
An ode to bánh mì
Bánh mì is a Vietnamese culinary institution, and a culinary legacy of the French colonial era in Vietnam. It starts with a Vietnamese take on the French baguette made with rice and wheat flours, chunky pork liver pâté and creamy mayonnaise. Add handfuls of fresh herbs, crunchy pickles, and meat filling (3 types of luncheon meat, or grilled pork, or meatballs, or red braised pork). Finish with red chillies and a splash of dipping sauce or fish sauce (diagram showing bánh mì with luncheon meat below, borrowed from New York Times). The result is a hybrid of flavours that is somehow quintessentially Vietnamese, unexpectedly flavoursome, and addictive.
These baguettes are a popular lunch in the CBD, and a cluster of Vietnamese takeaway shops sell dozens and dozens of them to office workers. The people behind the counters work so quickly and deftly, their actions are like a stylised dance: cut baguettes, smear pâté and mayonnaise, layer meats, herbs, cucumber, pickles, a generous splash of savoury seasoning, and a random handful of chopped chilli – the degree of spiciness varies wildly from mild to painful.
I could go on about bánh mì for hours.
Making bánh mì, for you and for me
A leisurely Sunday lunch with friends was a chance to serve DYI bánh mì. I bought Vietnamese baguettes from a Vietnamese bakery, and made everything else from scratch: pickles (carrots, onions, daikon), pâté, mayonnaise, braised pork belly, and sweet-savoury-chilli seasoning.
This was a fun idea. Everyone built their own bánh mì. For some friends, they were revisiting an old favourite that they have eaten many times in Vietnam. For other friends, this was their first encounter with the iconic snack.
Even better, each home made component was a stand out in its own right.
The pâté was just gamey enough in taste to be interesting. It was textured (rustic?), thick, yet easy to spread and creamy to taste. It used relatively little butter, and was finished with a good splash of cognac to provide a little extra oh-la-la. Spread on thin slices of (French) baguette with a tiny smear of raspberry jam, the pate also made quick and satisfying canapes.
The mayonnaise was a delicate yellow, silky smooth, so light yet tasting like a million dollars of rich. It was utterly different from the dense, stodgy stuff we find in shops. I think it converted a couple of confirmed mayonnaise haters including Mr Gander, who (as it turns out) has never had home made mayonnaise before.
Vietnamese pickles was one of the simplest things I have ever prepared. The result was just like the pickles from bahn mi outlets. The carrot, onion and daikon softened slightly, yet retained some crunch. The mixture of sugar and rice vinegar gives them a subtle sweet-sour flavour while taking away the raw taste. Finally, the ‘red’ braised pork belly is for the next post, but it was a highlight of each baguette.
I probably won’t make these baguettes from scratch when it’s just the two of us. It is a lot of work to make each type of filling, and it’s so cheap from the bánh mì outlets. I’m more likely to make some of the components as part of another meal, or when another group of friends drop by on a summer afternoon.
Here are the recipes for three components of bánh mì: mayonnaise, pâté, and pickles.
(This is a classic mayonnaise recipe, found in many places including on taste.com.au.)
2 medium sized egg yolks
2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
Pinch of salt
250ml mild flavoured olive oil (or 150ml olive oil and 100ml vegetable oil)
Freshly ground white pepper (this time, I used pink pepper instead, which gave the mayonnaise an interesting, lightly speckled look)
1. Place the egg yolks, 1 tbsp lemon juice and a pinch of salt in the food processor and pulse until the mixture is mixed together. I found the egg yolk tended to splash everywhere, but it all came together in the end.
2. If you can, slowly add the oil while the food processor’s motor is running. Or, if you use a stick blender (like me), slowly add small amounts of oil, and blend well each time. Note: the key to mayonnaise is to add oil slowly to the egg yolks and lemon juice. I started by adding a teaspoonful of oil each time and whizzing until well combined. As the mixture grew in volume, I added a tablespoonful or more of oil each time. Watching the egg yolk become creamy mayonnaise was like magic.
3. Taste and season to taste with extra lemon juice, salt and pepper. Transfer to an airtight container and cover. Refrigerate and use – ours were gone in a few days, so it should keep for about a week.
(Adapted from Indochine, by Luke Nguyen)
The Vietnamese obsession with pork is reflected in their use of pork liver in pâté. This probably resulted in a stronger flavoured pâté. If you prefer a milder flavour, just use chicken liver instead of a mixture of pork and chicken liver.
200g each pork and chicken livers
100g minced pork
2 red shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tbsp brandy
4 tbsp double cream (whipping cream)
1 tsp sugar
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground white pepper
1. Clean the livers of fat and sinew. Cut the pork liver into pieces to match the size of the chicken livers. Wash the livers under cold water, rinse well, pat dry with paper towels.
2. Heat 2 tsp of butter in a frying pan over medium heat (use a pan large enough to fit half of the livers in a single layer). When the butter starts to foam, add half of the livers and fry for 1-2 minutes until just browned. Then, turn the livers over and brown the other side. Make sure the livers remain pink in the middle (they should be slightly soft, mostly firm to the touch when prodded with chopsticks).
3. Remove the cooked livers. Repeat with the second half of the livers.
4. Heat 1 tbsp of butter in the pan over low-medium heat, and gently cook the pork mince for about 2 minutes until just cooked through but not browned. Remove from the pan. Heat another tbsp of butter in the pan, and pan-fry the shallots and garlic until they are very soft and just caramelised.
5. Increase the heat to medium-high. Return the livers and pork mince to the pan. Pour over some brandy, and ignite the alcohol (this step is optional, I did not set the brandy on fire, used a little less brandy, and the taste was fine).
6. Cool slightly. Pour the pork mixture into a food processor and process until smooth. Add the remaining butter and cream, and process again until smooth.
7. Season with sugar, salt, pepper to taste. Refrigerate for 2 hours or until set. Before serving, bring the pâté back to room temperature.
Pickled onion, carrots, daikon
(This is adapted from a few sources including the website, Battle of the Banh Mi)
About 200g each of carrots, daikon radish and onions
3-4 cups warm water
5 tbsp rice vinegar (I used glutinous rice vinegar, which has a mellower flavour, but it didn’t seem to make a noticeable difference to the pickles)
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoons salt
1. Mix water, rice vinegar, sugar and salt together. Stir until dissolved.
2. Peel, wash and shred carrots, daikon and/or onions, or cut them into thin or thicker sticks. I find I prefer the carrots thin, but the daikon slightly thicker.
3. Put carrot and daikon mixture into a jar. Put onions into another jar.
4. Pour the vinegar, sugar and salt mixture into the jar until the liquid just covers the vegetables or until the jar is full. Close the lid and let it pickle. The minimum is 1 hour, but this can be kept in the fridge for about a week.