Banh mi is Vietnamese for bread, which makes perfect sense because according to chef Chad Rosenthal, the owner of the smoke-and-whiskey-flavored The Lucky Well in suburban Philly, and a finalist on the Next Food Network Star, the roll is the most vital foundation of a solid Vietnamese sandwich.
Traditional banh mi sandwiches, or “Vietnamese hoagies” in Rosenthal’s native Philadelphia, consist of a light and flaky baguette stuffed with any number of meats or cold cuts, or even pork meatballs. Pickled carrots and daikon are also a must, along with a shmear of mayo, sliced cucumbers, jalapenos, and fresh cilantro.
But the emphasis has to be on having a light and flaky baguette that’s not hard like an Italian hoagie roll and not too soft so it won’t be able to stand up to the bold flavors inside it, Rosenthal says. Vietnamese sandwich breads are typically made with rice flour, which keeps the inside especially airy and the crust superthin.
Rosenthal, usually a barbecue guy, is hoping to make the banh mi a staple in a town already jammed with signature sandwiches, from cheesesteaks to roast pork to indomitable Wawa hoagies. His Banh Street, a “tiny, little shack where the food does all the talking,” he says, opens this fall in Abington, PA.
“I made it on my own one day, using my protein, whether it’s smoked pork or smoked chicken, and that’s how it happened,” Rosenthal says. “We started doing specials in the restaurant on Friday nights and people would just love them. A lot of people don’t even know what they are. So opening this new shop, one of my challenges is going to be trying to teach people what the hell it is.”
He shares his basic recipe here for making the perfect traditional Vietnamese hoagie at home:
Quick and easy Vietnamese mayo
- 2/3 cup mayonnaise
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
Pickled carrots and daikon:
- 2 large carrots, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
- 1 daikon radish, peeled and cut into thin matchsticks
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 2 tbsp rice vinegar
- 1 tsp kosher salt
- 2 lb ground pork
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Thai basil
- 6 garlic cloves, finely minced
- 2 green onions, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp pepper
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp sesame oil for browning
- Use the best French baguette you can find
- Bunch of fresh cilantro
- Thinly sliced jalapeño
- Sliced cucumbers
- In a small bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the mayo. Cover and refrigerate. This can be made several days in advance.
- For the pickle, toss together the carrots and daikon. In a small saucepan, whisk together the sugar, vinegar, and salt and bring to boil. Pour over the vegetables. Cover and refrigerate. The pickle can be made a day or so in advance.
- For the meatballs, preheat the oven to 400º. In a large bowl, combine the ground pork, basil, garlic, green onions, fish sauce, sugar, soy, salt, and pepper. Scoop the mixture into 1- to 2-inch meatballs. Heat the sesame oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until nice and hot. Add the meatballs in a single layer and brown on all sides.
- Transfer the browned meatballs to a foil-lined baking sheet and repeat with remaining meatballs (adding additional oil if necessary). Bake the meatballs for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and let sit on a paper towel to absorb excess grease.
- To assemble the sandwiches, cut the baguettes in 8-inch pieces, then slice down the top. Spread the mayo on the bread and pop in a 450º oven for one minute. Place a few meatballs on top of the mayo. Strain the pickled vegetables and pile on as much as you’d like over the meatballs. Finish with fresh cilantro sprigs, jalapeño, and cucumber.
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