Some sandwiches are so perfect that making a comparable version at home seems out of reach.
To me, the bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ has always been one of those sandwiches. Can you blame me? There's a lot going on in these things: juicy layers of roasted pork; a rich schmear of pÃ¢té; a smattering of crunchy, punchy pickled vegetables; and a loaf of bread that's totally unique in its construction. So I much as I love eating bÃ¡nh mÃ¬, I left the actual making of them to the professionals.
That is, until my co-worker Mindy Fox showed me the way. Mindy, it turns out, also adores the bÃ¡nh mÃ¬. She dreams of its brilliant textural interplay (especially the crispy quick-pickles). The bread? No problem-there's a solution that doesn't involve becoming a master French-Vietnamese baker. (Though, if you're one of those, do let me know.)
So, with the help of Mindy, I learned to get over my fears and make a bÃ¡nh mÃ¬. And along the way I developed a little Sandwich Theory.
Perhaps the most fussed over-and, thus, most critical and important-aspect of a proper bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ sandwich is the bread. True renditions sport a hybrid bread that nods to the sandwich's French-Vietnamese origins: A loaf that looks like a traditional baguette at first glance, but isn't. The exterior packs some of the baguette's signature crust, but what lies underneath is soft, chewy, and closer to French bread (more on that here).
Your best bet on finding something that fits this description is to seek out a local Vietnamese bakery. Don't have one of those in your town? Chances are your favorite bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ shop will happily sell you a few loafs if you ask nicely.
Don't have either of those things? Get your hands on the freshest baguette possible and toast it lightly-don't take things too far or you'll end up with a crumbly mess.
I spend a lot of time in these Sandwich Theory columns rhapsodizing about meat: Turkey and bacon best practices for a perfect club; the ideal mix of fish and celery in a stellar tuna fish sandwich; the right blend of beef to achieve patty melt nirvana.
The bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ is different. Yes, the pork products you'll pile on the thing (more on those in a second) are important, but it's the vegetables that give the sandwich its characteristic textural crunch. That comes from a trio of quick pickled vegetables-matchstick-sized pieces of carrots, cucumbers, and daikon radishes. Sound complicated? It's not. All you'll need is a bit of white vinegar, salt, and sugar; then you follow the instructions in the pickled vegetable section of this recipe.
Finally, layer on a handful of fresh cilantro, mint, and slices of jalapeÃ±o.
"Still, I'm here for the pork," you say. I hear you.
You know those thin slices of slow-roasted pork that turn the bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ into an hours-long sandwich odyssey? Yeah, there's an easier way. Start by rubbing down a cut of pork tenderloin with a mix of Chinese five-spice, salt, and pepper. Then, in a bit of hot olive oil, sear and brown all sides of the tenderloin until it reaches an internal temp of 145Â°F, about 20-25 minutes.
Let the meat rest for 10 minutes before slicing and-boom!-you've got tender, roast pork without all the roasting hassle.
Classic bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ calls for a layer of pork pÃ¢té atop the slices of roast pork. So I hope you can set aside 36 hours to make your own.
JK! I head to my local specialty meat store for a thick slice of country pÃ¢té (or PÃ¢té de Campagne if you want to get fancy about it). It includes a mix of ground pork, veal, and chicken livers, among other proteins, as well as a mix of spices and fresh herbs.
Country pÃ¢té works on two fronts: Texturally, it adds a smooth softness that counteracts the rest of the bÃ¡nh mÃ¬'s bite; flavor-wise, it adds a considerable amount of spice and rich fat to provide compelling low notes to an otherwise vibrant sandwich.
It seems that every sandwich I end up writing about in this column features the best condiment known to man: Mayonnaise. The bÃ¡nh mÃ¬ is no different.
But your condiment game shouldn't stop there. Make sure to break out the sriracha sauce for an added acidic, spicy punch.
As always, the order in which ingredients are assembled is critical-critical, people!-to sandwich success.
Here's your blueprint, from top to bottom:
Bread. Split the loaf in half lengthwise, then get building.
Thinly-sliced jalapeÃ±o, as many slices as you can handle.
A bunch of fresh cilantro and mint leaves.
Thin slices of pickled cucumber.
A handful of pickled carrot and daikon radish.
A layer of thinly-sliced roast pork.
Several 1/8" slices of country pÃ¢té.
A healthy swipe of mayo.
A drizzle of sriracha over the whole thing.