A Summer Bánh Mì Buffest (Buffet+Fest)!


The Vietnamese sandwich, a.k.a. bánh mì, is the epitome of cheap, good food.

In fact, so remarkable is the bánh mì’s reputation, the New York Times Magazine devoted an entire article to this glorious sandwich. The article also suggests that Seattle, with its thriving Vietnamese community, could very well be the center of Vietnamese sandwich culture. My favorite place to get bánh mì: Seattle Deli in the International District. Nowhere else can you get a satisfying lunch for $3 or $4. Yes, you read right–$3 or $4.

Born to parents who are nationals of a former colony (Indonesia) and having grown up in another (Singapore), I feel that the most significant legacies our colonials bequeathed us are food-related. Think sausage rolls and curry devil or debal (a dish with Portuguese roots) in Singapore, or Indonesian-Dutch pastel panggang (a shepherd’s pie of sorts) and pisang boelen (banana wrapped in puff pastry).

Vietnam is yet another country with a rich colonial influence. Some suggest that the rice noodle soup, phở, is a variation of the French beef stew, pot-au-feu, and then we come to the item of today’s discussion, bánh mì.

In my opinion, bánh mì is equal parts French, equal parts Vietnamese. A baguette (French) is sliced open, slathered with mayo (French), and various fillings ranging from pâté (French and my favorite!) and/or ham, barbecued pork (Chinese-Vietnamese), lemongrass chicken (Vietnamese) and fried tofu (name your Asian country of choice). Add to this a bright, crunchy slaw of carrot and daikon radish (do chua, definitely Vietnamese), cilantro sprigs, cucumbers, and sliced jalapenos.

Last weekend, I was having a vegetarian friend over for dinner and I wanted a quick, easy meal that would satisfy everyone. Thinking back to a hot dog buffet a friend mentioned on Twitter, I came up with the idea of a bánh mì buffet to feed all five of us, toddler included.

Clockwise from top left: Carrot pickles, celery pickles, citrus tofu, lemongrass chicken, baguettes

Next, I had to decide on the components of the buffet.

Sometime ago, I sampled a delicious citrus tofu from PCC Natural Markets and I’ve been waiting for an opportunity to attempt it at home. And this was it. I did tweak the recipe a little. First of all, I halved the amount of tofu. And instead of orange juice concentrate, I used regular orange juice and reduced it. Then I cut the block into 2×4 rectangles, not 1/2-inch squares like the recipe says. After baking, I cut them into sticks.

Since I was on a lemongrass kick, the meat dish for the carnivores in the group came to me easily–lemongrass chicken.

And instead of pedestrian orange carrots and daikon for the pickles, I bought burgundy and white carrots from the farmers’ market for extraordinary color, and celery just because I was looking for ways to love this often maligned vegetable. For the record, I did! (Here’s the recipe).

I also made it a point to buy Vietnamese-style baguettes, which are usually available at any Asian store. They tend to be softer and airier than French baguettes and I find them to be easier on my mouth (don’t you hate it when the crisp shards scrape against the roof of your mouth?). Andrea over at VietWorldKitchen suggests Mexican bolillo rolls as second best choice and also offers up a well-tested recipe if you are feeling adventurous.

Finally, I declared my spread a buffest, because it’s not just an ordinary buffet but a very festive one too. I hope you’ll attempt it, and do tell me what you think!

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Bánh Mì with Lemongrass Chicken and Citrus Tofu

Store-bought pâté  or any of your favorite grilled meats or vegetables would make an exciting filling for a bánh mì buffet as well. If you have pickled cucumbers, beets, and/or onions on hand, go ahead and tuck them in too.

The whole spread might look daunting to prepare but most items like the pickles and marinating can be done ahead. Just before your guests are due to arrive, lay everything out and let them wield a wild hand, picking and choosing, mixing and matching. All you have to do is concentrate on the ginger-melon spritzer (or other some such drink) in your hand!

Time: 2 hours or so over a couple of days
Makes: 6 to 8 servings

For the fillings:
Lemongrass chicken:
3 stalks lemongrass, smashed and cut into rings (see this post for more detailed prep)
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 tablespoons granulated coconut palm sugar (I used Wholesome Sweeteners Organic Coconut Palm Sugar, a SWAG gift from BlogHerFood. It’s a little less sweet than regular brown sugar, so adjust accordingly if substituting)
4 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
2 tablespoons canola oil
2-1/2 to 3 pounds bone-in chicken thighs (about 8 medium thighs)

Citrus tofu

For the sandwich:
6 to 8 Vietnamese baguettes
Mayonnaise or aioli (store-bought or homemade)
Vietnamese pickles
Cilantro
Jalapeno rings

Make the lemongrass chicken. Debone the chicken and save the bones for making stock. (Or skip this step altogether by buying boneless, skinless chicken.)

Mix all the remaining ingredients together in a container large enough to hold the chicken. Add the chicken and turn to mix. Marinate for at least 4 hours, but no longer than overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, until the skin is burnished a beautiful bronze, and a meat thermometer inserted into the flesh reads 165 degrees F. Or grill the chicken on the barbecue for 5 minutes on each side, or until cooked through. When cooked, slice each thigh into ½-inch thick slices.

To make a sandwich, halve a baguette and toast or grill if desired. Spread with a thick layer of mayo and layer with fillings and garnish as desired.

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Coronation Chicken–A Sandwich Fixing Fit for a Queen

Depending on the quality and amount of curry used, the color of coronation chicken can range from acid yellow to subtle ochre. I like to think mine is the latter

Coronation chicken isn’t so well known in these parts (i.e. the U.S.) but in the U.K., this dish has a fabled history.

A humble dish with a regal name, coronation chicken was invented by Rosemary Hume, the founder of Le Cordon Bleu, joining the ranks of its Anglo-Indian brethren, chicken tikka masala and mulligatawny soup. It’s basically chicken salad’s gussied up little sister–shredded chicken dressed with a curry- and chutney-spiked mayo and studded with raisins–served over basmati rice or between bread.

According to this Guardian Newspaper article (where you can also read more about its provenance and permutations), coronation chicken was originally called poulet reine Elizabeth (Queen Elizabeth chicken). And since Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee this year (she ascended the throne 60 years ago on February 6th, and her coronation took place June 2, 1953), why not pay tribute to my colonial heritage?

And besides, I had leftover chicken, curry powder, and preserves just waiting to be used up. Operation “Cook Down My Kitchen” cracks on!

Do you have a favorite way with coronation chicken?

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Coronation Chicken

I first discovered Coronation Chicken when I was living in England. A friend ordered a coronation chicken sandwich for lunch one day. (This was one dish that didn’t quite catch on in the colonies, at least not Singapore). I wasn’t enticed by the turmeric yellow-tinged chicken but she coaxed me into having a bite and I’m glad she did! That first bite was an intriguing mélange of tender chicken, spicy curry, and sweet raisins. I’ve had many versions since then, not always tasty and often not pretty. I came up with a dressing that wasn’t too sweet, doing away with the requisite raisins/dried apricots of many recipes, and cut the greasy mayo with the lighter texture of yogurt. Plus, I added some celery (another refrigerator legacy!) for a nice crunch. The result–a light and bright filling I enjoyed sandwiched between hearty slices of herb bread.

Time: 15 minutes

Makes: 4 appetizer servings, or enough filling for 2 to 3 sandwiches

2 cups shredded cooked chicken (about 4 drumsticks or 3 breasts worth)
2 stalks celery hearts, finely chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 1/2 teaspoon preserves (I used a tropical mix but try apricot) or mango chutney
2 tablespoons yogurt (whole milk or lowfat is fine)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
A few squirts of lemon juice
Salt and pepper

Place the chicken and celery in a medium bowl.

In a small cast iron skillet, toast the curry powder until fragrant, about 4 to 5 minutes.

Combine the curry powder, chutney, yogurt, mayo, and lemon juice in a small bowl and mix thoroughly.

Fold the curry dressing into the chicken until the chicken is well coated. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Let sit for at least an hour in the fridge to allow the flavors to meld. Serve the chicken on a bed of lettuce leaves or between slices of freshly baked bread.