Delicious banh mi may seem a little intimidating to prepare at home, but this succulent recipe for banh mi with lemongrass pork is juicy and flavorful, and couldn't be easier!
Banh Mi, a Delicious Vietnamese Sandwich with a French Influence
Here in Los Angeles and nearby cities we have a rich and amazing tapestry of cultures. We have Thai Town, Koreatown, Chinatown, El Pueblo, Little Armenia, Little Ethiopia, Little Tokyo, and Little Saigon—our Vietnamese center—just to name a few...
Each brings its distinct flair and unique flavor, especially when it comes to food, that wonderful gift that connects us to each other when we long to gather and make our bellies full on one another's unique dishes.
Vietnamese cuisine is one of my favorites, and with its fresh, complex, and layered flavors, it keeps my palate wanting more. One of the most delicious and beloved snacks or light meals that the Vietnamese culture has contributed to the grab-and-go food arena is banh mi, or the banh mi sandwich.
Banh mi translates to “bread” (among a variety of foods, including bread), but it also refers to a sandwich made on a baguette with meat. This delicious and incredibly colorful and flavorful sandwich was born of the French influence in Vietnam, when soft baguettes became a common staple (and actually, the Vietnamese have been known to make their baguettes with both wheat and rice flour).
So Banh mi represents a beautiful combination of both cultures, using the baguette as a base for other French ingredients such as mayo or pate, along with Vietnamese ingredients such as pickled vegetables (cucumber, carrot and daikon radish), coriander and lemongrass.
And for the meat portion of the banh mi, classic options are lemongrass pork, ground pork, grilled chicken, or just the pate, each of which are very flavorful and often grilled or sauteed (apart from the pate), then stuffed into the roll with the fresh, crisp and cool ingredients.
Banh Mi with Lemongrass Pork, So Tender, Juicy and Flavorful
Here's the wonderful thing about banh mi: it's actually quite easy to make at home using some basic ingredients that impart the flavor profile you're craving; and in this case, it is the flavor of tender, juicy, and succulent lemongrass pork.
Traditionally, pork shoulder or pork loin steaks are cut very thin and marinated in lemongrass, sugar, garlic, soy sauce, ginger, and a hint of fish sauce. But for my banh mi recipe, I'm using pork tenderloin for a more tender and juicy cut of meat. Generously marinated and slightly charred from the sear in a screaming hot pan, this sandwich is loaded with flavor!
And the accompanying pickled carrots and radishes (daikon is traditional, but I'm using regular red radishes here) can be made with either a quick 1 hour pickling in a simple solution of rice vinegar, water, salt and sugar, or left to mingle together overnight if you're looking to prep ahead, or to impart more flavor.
For the bread, I opt for medium-size French rolls, the kind with the very soft and almost “cotton-y” interior and soft-yet-slightly-crisp exterior (typical for banh mi); rather than the chewy, super crusty, and hard to bite through baguettes.
Then, all that's left to prepare is a quick spicy mayo (made with only Sriracha and mayo—super easy!), and to stuff all of those scrumptious components into your roll for your own homemade banh mi.
Who knew preparing something so seemingly exotic, so flavorful, at home could be so simple?!
Tips and Tidbits for Banh Mi:
- Prep and marinate overnight for extra flavor: While you can certainly do a quick 1 hour marination of the pork and the pickled veggies, you'll get a lot more bang for your buck in the flavor department if you leave them overnight. Plus, you'll have your components pretty much ready to go for the next day!
- Choosing lemongrass: I've seen lemongrass paste in the stores recently (near the prepared ginger and garlic), and that's fine to use; but to use fresh lemongrass, choose a nice fresh yellow stalk, cut off the bottom and use only the top, more pale-yellow part. Bruise it by hitting it with the back of your knife a few times, them cut it in half lengthwise, and proceed to mince it finely. It can be a bit tough and stalky, so take care when mincing.
- Pork tenderloin for a juicy result: I love pork tenderloin for this recipe, because it stays wonderfully tender and juicy, but you can also use pork loin (sliced very thinly), or pork butt/shoulder sliced thinly as well.
- A job for a heavy bottom skillet or grill pan: Since my grill pan is not that big, I like to use my cast-iron skillet for this because I like the surface area. I get it very, very hot and lay a batch of the pork slices in an even layer to quickly sear until slightly charred.
Feast your eyes on these, or just jump to the recipe:
by Ingrid Beer
Yield: Makes 4 sandwiches
Prep Time: 30 minutes (not including marination)
Cook time: 10 minutes
Pickled Veggie Ingredients:
• 4 ounces shredded carrots (about half a bag, store bought)
• 1 bunch radishes, sliced into thin matchsticks, or shredded
• 1 cup rice vinegar
• 1/2 cup water
• 3 tablespoons sugar
• 1 tablespoon salt
• 1 pound pork tenderloin, sliced thinly
• 3 tablespoons soy sauce (plus more to sprinkle on the roll)
• 3 tablespoons brown sugar
• 2 tablespoons fish sauce
• 1 tablespoon finely minced lemongrass
• 1 teaspoon grated ginger
• 1 teaspoon garlic, pressed through garlic press (about 4 cloves)
• Pinch black pepper
• 1/2 cup mayonnaise
• 1 teaspoon Sriracha (use more if you like it a little more spicy!)
• Vegetable oil, about 1 tablespoon
• 4 medium-size, soft French rolls
• Cucumber slices (about 2 Persian cucumbers)
• Jalapeno slices, optional
• Cilantro leaves
-Prepare you pickled veggies by adding the carrots and radishes to a large container (you can also use a bowl); in a mason jar, measuring cup or other vessel, combine the rice vinegar, the water, the sugar and the salt, and whisk to dissolve (the mason jar is great for this as you can seal it and shake it); pour the liquid over the veggies, and allow to marinate for at least an hour, or even overnight.
-Prepare your pork by adding the slices to large bowl (you can even use a large ziplock bag), and then add in the rest of the ingredients up to and including the pinch of black pepper, and toss to coat; marinate for at least an hour, or even overnight.
-When you're ready to prepare your banh mi, mix together the mayonnaise with the Sriracha and set aside.
-Place a cast-iron skillet or grill pan over high heat, and allow it to become very, very hot; drizzle into the pan about 2 teaspoons of oil, then working in batches, add in some of the pork in an even layer, and allow it sear and caramelize on that first side for about 1 minute; flip and caramelize on the other side as well. (Since the meat is sliced so thinly, it won't take long at all to cook through; just allow it get nice and charred.); remove from pan and repeat with the rest of the pork.
-To build the sandwiches, cut the French rolls in half lengthwise, and spread some of the mayo on both sides; sprinkle a few drops of soy sauce over the mayo (this is traditional—Maggie seasoning is often used, alternately), then add a layer of the pork, followed by a generous amount of the pickled veggies, some cucumber slices, some jalapeno slices (if using), and a generous amount of cilantro leaves; and enjoy!