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.
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!
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:
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)
For the sandwich:
6 to 8 Vietnamese baguettes
Mayonnaise or aioli (store-bought or homemade)
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.