Scratch-made Baguettes and Banh Mi, Vietnamese Sandwiches

I'm pretty sure every culture has their version of a sandwich.  Behind pho, banh mi's are probably the most well-known Vietnamese food for the rest of the world.  Again, because Vietnam is a country with a complicated political past, it's food (unlike the rest of the country and culture) really benefited with the banh mi.  Part French, part Chinese, part Southeast Asian amazingness, the banh mi takes a French baguette, stuffs it with meats only an adventurous, starving person would consider edible (can I get a hell-yeah for some headcheese?!), and smothers it in French mayonaise, fresh cilantro, jalepenos, cucumbers, and pickled, shredded carrots.  If you haven't had banh mi yet, you've probably been living under a rock.  But growing up in Houston where we have had amazing banh mi specialty shops for ever, I can tell you with experience that there are good banh mi and there are life-changing, mmmm-worthy, eat-every-weekend-after-your-parents-dragged-you-to-yet-another-tennis-tournament-banh mi's.

There are a few mentionable banh mi shops in Austin, but none that could ever hold a candle to my favorite shop in Houston, so I decided to try my hand out and creating my own.  One thing that always helped sort the average banh mi from the good ones is fresh-made baguettes.   The banh mi baguette has to be FRESH with a chewy, fluffy interior and a crusty, crunchy crust, not that day old bollilo (Mexican-style roll), that I've seen some places use.  If you're of my mom's opinion, the banh mi baguette should be made from an actual French-style baguette that's been cut to make the sandwich, not a roll specially made for sandwiches.

So step one was for me to bake some baguettes.  There was definitely room for improvement here, as I'm not much of a bread baker and I refuse to purchase a baguette pan.  I have a tiny kitchen.  I'm not going to be baking baguettes every day, so why do I need a pan I'll use 3 times ever in my lifetime?  Well, without a baguette pan, you get flat, awkwardly-shaped baguettes, as I came to find out.  Oh well, they still tasted excellent!

Step two was finding all the meat ingredients.  There are a lot of different banh mi's, but my favorites are the dac biet (house-special) and the thit nuong varieties.  Dac Biet (house-special) of course varies from place to place, but generally consists of head cheese (a cold cut/terrine made from the leftover meat from a pig's head; you know, the crunchy and delicious bits mixed together with some meat), cha lua (Vietnamese pork roll), and p^ate'.  I don't really like a lot of cha lua in my banh mi, so I just skipped that component.  I purchased some thick-cut head cheese from my HEB deli counter, and used some pate foie gras that I'd brought back from my last Paris visit.  Now, this was definitely a heavy-hitting banh mi with the foie gras, but it was so delicious.  When Reid took a bite out of this one, he asked me if I'd put foie gras in it and when I told him yes, I felt a little guilty about using our foie gras on a sandwich.  But it was SO GOOD.  Obviously, this was much richer than the typical pate used at banh mi shops because otherwise they'd go broke selling foie gras banh mi.
For my banh mi thit nuong, I used oven-roasted pork.  See recipe here:

Baguette (Recipe from back of King Arthur Flour bag), makes 2 medium loaves
  • 3 c. French-Style flour or all purpose
  • 2 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 to 1&1/2 c. lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp. salt
Banh Mi Fillings
  • 2 thick slices head cheese
  • 1 tbs. pate (I used pate foie gras)
  • 1/4 c. fresh cilantro, washed and stems trimmed
  • 1/2 small jalepeno, cut in slices length-wise
  • 1/4 small cucumber, sliced in length-wise wedges
  • 2-3 tbs. quick-pickled, shredded carrots (1 c. shredded carrots soaked in 2:2:1 ratio of water, white vinegar, and sugar for at least 1 hr.)
French mayonaise
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2-1 c. vegetable oil
To bake baguettes:
  1. Combine flour, salt, and yeast in a large bowl.  Add water until a soft dough forms.  Knead using a stand mixer and dough hook or by hand until smooth, about 10 minutes.
  2. Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover lightly with a kitchen towel.  Allow to rise for 2 hours, or until about doubled in size.
  3. Fold dough onto itself a few times and allow to rise again in a covered bowl for another 2 hours.
  4. On a greased surface, divide dough into two halves and roll each ball into a long tube shape.
  5. Place dough loaves onto a  baking sheet (or baguette pan if using one) and allow to rise for 30 minutes.  Heat oven to 425*F.  Using a sharp pairing knife, slash a few diagonals in loaves.  Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove baguettes from pan and place directly on oven racks.  Crack oven door open about 2 inches and allow to completely cool.
to make French mayonnaise:
  1. In a small bowl, combine egg yolks and garlic.
  2. Very slowly, whisk in vegetable oil until desired consistency achieved.  It is important to whisk in oil slowly, otherwise the mixture will break and not blend.
  3. Add salt to taste
Banh mi assembly:
  1. Using a serrated knife, cut the baguettes to make sandwiches, leaving a small piece to keep the 2 halves together.
  2. Spread 1-2 tbs. of french mayonnaise on top half.
  3. Add meat(s) of choice (headcheese and pate for dac biet and thit nuong for thit nuong). 
  4. Top with slices of cucumers, jalapenos, pickled carrots and cilantro.


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