Recipe Sketchbook: Barbecue Pork Banh Mi Sandwich

100726-demian-banh-mi-2Hosting a picnic for about twenty people, I needed to come up with a few sandwich ideas.  Sandwiches that would be big taste ‘bang’ for the buck, that people would like and, most importantly, that I was interested in making.  Immediately I thought of the Vietnamese Banh Mi.  One of my all-time favorite foods.  but could I make something that tasted as good as the amazing banh mi’s I have had from various hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese video store/delis around town?  There was only one way to find out.  And what better than to have an audience to see me sink or swim?

Searching the internets I found the very thorough Wandering Chopsticks blog and her recipe for a pork Banh Mi which called for, among other things, ‘Char Siu’, a Chinese Barbecued Pork.  I liked what I saw.  But I also came across Sam Sifton’s article in the New York Times about the pork spareribs that chef Zak Palaccio does at his Fatty ‘Cue restaurant.  I liked that also.  I decided to combine the two.

I deboned a pork shoulder.  I then prepared the fish sauce and garlic brine from the Fatty ‘Cue recipe, making the apartment smell quite funky.  Not feeling any need to tie the meat, the shoulder went into the chilled brine and then into the fridge overnight.  I had a few more minutes (Alton was still on) so I also made a simple pickle of julienned carrot and daikon radish with white vinegar, salt and sugar.  That also went into the fridge to mellow.

The next morning I pulled the pork out of the brine and dried it off.  I then prepared the Char Siu marinade from the Wandering Chopsticks recipe.  Smearing that all over the shoulder, the pork went back into the fridge for another two hours.  Was this overkill?  Hopefully not.  I then roasted the shoulder according to the Chopsticks recipe although here the instructions were a bit vague.  The recipe allowed for pretty much any cut of pork from a should to a loin or belly.  So, naturally, cooking times would vary.  But since my pork shoulder was on the thick side I figured my cooking time would be on the long side so I let it go for about two hours, only occasionally prodding it with a thermometer near the end to make sure the internal temperature was 165F (74C).  Hitting that mark I then did as the recipe said and put it under the broiler for a few minutes on both sides to let the sugars caramelize a bit more.

100726-demian-banh-mi-1ton, When the pork shoulder rested enough to handle I cut it into thin slices.  And tasted it of course.  The meat was out of control good.  A depth of taste complexity, sweetness, spice and fishy funk that I had not ever before achieved.  This was getting exciting.  I then made the Wandering Chopsticks dead simple pate recipe of not much more than chicken livers, fish sauce and butter.  Also very good.

Time to assemble the sandwiches.  A relatively soft baguette gets smeared with the chicken liver pate on one side.  The other side of the bread would typically get a mayo application but not wanting to overplay the fat content of the sandwich, not to mention that I didn’t have any on hand, I skipped this step.  I then loaded in warm pork slices, sprigs of fresh cilantro, sticks of cucumber, some of the pickled daikon and carrot  and topped it all of with a little bit of Sriracha.  Amazingly good.  And surprising how close my pork banh mi was to ones I had that were professionally made.  Serving this makes you look like you know what you’re doing.  For a depth of taste that has real profundity, the combination of barbecued pork, pate, fresh herbs and vegetables in a bahn mi is hard to beat.

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