Bánh mì (Vietnamese Sandwiches) – Caramelized Pork Belly Edition

February 18, 2011 § 2 Comments

Lately I have been craving bánh mì and much to my chagrin, there are no great bánh mì places near me.  So after some exhaustive research, I settled on this truly delectable-sounding recipe from my new favorite blog whiteoricecouple.com and made a few minor adjustments.

This was seriously delicious. Major.

A few key notes:

1. Choose good pork belly!  Also many times, pork belly sold with the skin still on is much cheaper than ones sold with it off, so it’s worth an extra minute of paring to save a lot of money!  This is what I did with my 2.5 lbs of pork belly.

2. Use good bread!  A French-style baguette is key (and it totally helps that my brother works at a bakery part-time) and a hard, flaky crust and soft interior is exactly what you need to be going for, texture-wise.

3. Cilantro: ahh..the herb that could spark wars. I wish I could say otherwise, but I am unfortunately on the side that is not too friendly with cilantro.  So, I left this out, but most bánh mì enthusiasts swear by it, so please by all means, put it in!  This was purely for my personal taste, and I am sure it will be delicious with cilantro as well. I’ve tried to eat it in the past but I simply cannot bring myself to like it. (I was once publicly booed at Baogette in NYC when I asked for my sandwich without cilantro, so I know I must be missing something. 😦 )

Bánh mì Recipe (Adapated from Todd and Diane)

For the nuoc mau (Vietnamese caramel sauce)

  • 3 Tbs sugar
  • 2 tbs warm water

1. Add sugar and water to heavy bottom sauce pan. Heat pan on medium heat and let sugar melt. As sugar begins to melt, the mixture will begin to turn to a golden brown. Using wooden spoon, stir the mixture occasionally.

2. Do not leave the caramel sauce unattended! Once the sugar begins to melt, it will turn color very quickly. As soon as the mixture turns to a medium golden brown, immediate remove pan from heat.

3. If the mixture is still too thick, SLOWLY and CAREFULLY add additional water 1 tablespoon at a time until the mixture becomes more watery consistency. Adding the addition water to the HOT caramel will splatter, so be careful. Quickly mix with a wooden spoon so that there are no hard lumps. When finished, set aside.

For the Pork:

  • 2.5 lbs cubed pork belly (about 1 inch cubes)
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tablespoons of fish sauce
  • about 1 or 1.5 cups of water (and more, as needed)
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • salt to taste

1. In medium to large sauce pan (or dutch oven), turn on heat to medium. Heat oil, then add onions. Slowly cook onions for about 1 minute, then add garlic. Cook both until they become soft and fragrant. Add pork belly. Sprinkle with about a teaspoon of coarse sea salt.  Cook pork belly for about 10 minutes or until all the edges are seared and browned.

2. Add fish sauce and cook pork belly for about another 5 minutes. Add about 1 cup of water. If you need more water to cover the pork, add more until the pork is covered. Add the peppercorns. Turn heat to low and cook for about another 10 minutes. Stirring occasionally. Then add the caramel sauce.

3. Continue braising the pork on low heat for about another one hour, or until pork is tender. Stir occasionally.  Add more water as is needed, so that the pork does not burn.

For the Pickled Carrots and Radish (Vietnamese caramel sauce)

  • 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar
  • 1/2 cup organic cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of coarse sea salt
  • 1 small Korean radish, washed and peeled (please see size reference in Dongchimi post)
  • 4 carrots, washed and peeled

1. Using a mandolin, finely julienne the radish and carrots.  PLEASE BE CAREFUL OF YOUR FINGERS!

2. In a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar, and salt.  Put on medium heat and heat through until all the ingredients are dissolved and combined.  Pour mixture over prepared radish and carrots and mix. Let the mixture soak for at least 30 minutes.

For the Banh Mi assembly (not all required, some are optional):

  • 2 large French baguettes (for the amount prepared above)
  • pickled carrots and radish
  • 4 jalapenos
  • thinly sliced cucumber
  • mayonnaise

1. Slice baguettes lengthwise. Add the ingredients that you want (or like) to the banh mi. I showed my step-by-step in my pictures above, I’m sure I didn’t do it the “correct” way but it tasted good, so it’s okay!

2. Spread mayonnaise on the top layer of bread.

3. On the bottom layer of bread, start by spreading cucumbers thinly and evenly.  Add jalapenos on top (I like things CRAZY spicy so I use a whole jalapeno on 1/2 of the bread).  Add pickled radish and carrots on top, according to taste. Add slices of the pork belly.

4. Enjoy!

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