“Fusion” cuisine takes quite a few hits, admittedly on these pages, and elsewhere. Perhaps this dismissal is too hasty when cooks offer inspirations like today’s effort, Bánh Mì. Though the sandwich was developed in Vietnam and is among that cuisine’s most prominent preparations, bánh mì claims at least one French grandparent.
It’s only natural, of course, as Vietnam was part of French Indochina for nearly a century and the two countries’ histories and cultures intertwine. Among the French contributions are lettuce and liver pâté, both of which are condiments of sorts. The Gallic influence is most identifiable in the bread itself, a baguette halved and, ideally, lightly toasted.
That said, bánh mì is Vietnamese. From the daikon slaw pickled in rice wine vinegar, to the cilantro and continuing through to the lime and soy-marinated chicken, the sandwich bursts with Vietnamese goodness. Even the bread gets a local treatment, as the baguette is pulled from the oven when it’s warm and the crust just begins to crisp, and it’s brushed with a mixture of peanut oil and fish sauce.
After the initial crunch, the bánh mì’s filling yields a succulent mixture of textures, the creamy pâté underlying the tender chicken, while the lettuce, slaw and onion provide a crisp contrast. The flavor is what makes a memorable, though. The chicken takes on the tastes around it, building a savor which weaves in traces of salt and tanginess. The lettuce and cilantro keep things light with a pronounced freshness.
Of course, there were some modifications, described in the recipe below, aimed at making the recipe a bit more “authentic.” Even so, bánh mì is a delicious mix of East and West (ok, East mainly). Given that fusion, it’s unusual the recipe attracted attention when Gourmet featured it in its 2009 recipe collection. A good thing it did, as bánh mì is scrumptious. Just don’t tell anyone this journal admits it.
- 1/2 pound daikon, peeled
- 1 carrot, peeled
- 1/2 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon sugar (*1)
- 1 (24-inch) soft baguette
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (*2)
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon soy sauce
- 1/4 pound liver pâté (*3)
- 1/2 sweet onion, sliced thinly (*4)
- 3/4 cup cilantro sprigs
- 2 cooked chicken breasts from a rotisserie chicken, thinly sliced (*5)
- lettuce leaves
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack set at a middle height.
Shred the daikon and the carrot in a food processor. In a medium bowl, mix together the shredded vegetables, vinegar, sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Let stand, stirring occasionally, for at least 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the baguette in the oven until it’s just barely toasted, about five minutes. Cut off and discard the rounded ends (*6) and split the baguette lengthwise.
Mix together the oil, fish sauce and soy sauce, and brush it over the baguette‘s inside, top and bottom. Spread the pâté evenly (*7) on the bottom layer, and top it with the onion and cilantro.
Drain the slaw in a colander.
Layer the chicken, slaw and lettuce on the cilantro. Cover with the top layer and cut the baguette crosswise into four pieces.
1 – There was some palm sugar in the fridge. It dissolves in the vinegar anyway, and it makes the slaw a bit more Vietnamese, so why not? For those not so pretentious, granulated sugar is fine too.
2 – In my book, peanut oil is indispensably Asian, and it provides a nice hint of flavor.
3 – Even in my relatively upscale suburb, pâté is nearly impossible to find. In such a case, substitute liverwurst. Oh, how grudgingly I offer that advice, as I don’t like liverwurst. Still, it works in this application, and it gives the bánh mì a little extra something. After all, liverwurst is, effectively, German pâté. For an additional tip, read Note 7 below.
4 – A large shallot, or two medium ones, works well. I don’t hate onions, but shallots are more refined, better.
5 – Buying a rotisserie chicken is a quick and easy option, though it’s not difficult to make your own, which provides a juicier and more complimentary outcome, and is less processed. I marinated four boneless skinless chicken thighs in the juice of a couple limes, two tablespoons of soy sauce and a dash of fish sauce. An hour later, I broiled the thighs, five minutes per side. There. Much more “Asian” than a supermarket chicken.
6 – Pity to waste good bread. Find some other use for the ends. Dry them for stuffing. Make a small non-bánh mì sandwich. Add some olive oil or butter, mince a garlic clove over them, and stick them under a broiler for a couple minutes. If nothing else, put them on an outside windowsill for the birds. Don’t just toss them in the trash.
7 – As is, the pâté/liverwurst is too thick and it isn’t all that spreadable. This stiffness lessens a bit if the meat is allowed to warm to room temperature. Mixing it with a couple tablespoons of warm water works well too. If you use liverwurst and want to give it an even more pâté-like profile, loosen it with cognac, not water. I didn’t, but still, it’s an idea.