Man it is HOT this weekend which means minimal cooking for me. One of my favorite dishes of all time is sandwiches! I think sandwiches are so underrated. I think most of us overlook them because they are so easy to make, but the combination of crispy fluffy bread with meat and vegetables is just perfection in every bite. The Vietnamese version of the Western sandwich is banh mi. Hipsters and new age food people LOVE banh mi, mostly because it’s one of the least weird things from Vietnamese cuisine. I’ve actually never made a traditional Vietnamese sandwich, so I was really excited to dive into this lemongrass pork banh mi recipe.
The origins of banh mi
Banh mi is the Vietnamese word for bread. I always laugh a little bit when people say “banh mi sandwich” because you’re really saying “bread sandwich”. Banh mi is another perfect example of the mixture of Vietnamese and French cuisine. Ingredients that come from French cuisine include the baguette, mayonnaise, and pate. The rest are either Vietnamese ingredients or come from both cultures. A traditional Vietnamese sandwich typically has a combination of meats (typically some kind of pork and cha lua), pickled carrots, pickled daikon, cilantro, and jalapeños. All of these ingredients are served in a baguette. For my version of banh mi, I chose a combination of lemongrass pork and cha lua. Other meats I’ve seen used are ham, chicken, and even shrimp. I’ve even made a vegetarian tofu banh mi.
Because banh mi has gotten so popular in the last couple years, weird versions of it have been made like I once saw a banh mi burger. This makes no sense to me because you’re essentially saying “bread burger”. In my personal opinion, you can’t categorize a dish “banh mi” unless it is served in a baguette, has pate, and includes a combination of proteins (pork, chicken, beef, or tofu) and fresh vegetables. The most traditional combination of vegetables used is pickled daikon, pickled carrots, cilantro, and jalapeños.
Ingredients, Substitutions & Adjustments
- Pork shoulder – The main protein in my lemongrass pork banh mi. I love using pork shoulder because it has a great fat to meat ratio. Good substitutes for pork shoulder are pork belly and pork butt. You can also use leaner cuts of pork like pork chops or pork loin, but personally, I don’t think it’ll taste as good.
- Garlic – Adds flavor to the pork shoulder and helps cover the gross meat-y taste of the pork.
- Fish sauce, soy sauce, and oyster sauce – These ingredients add salty and umami flavors to the pork shoulder. Use tamari instead of soy sauce and eliminate oyster sauce to make this marinade gluten free.
- Brown sugar – Adds sweetness to the marinade. I used light brown sugar, but dark brown sugar will also work. I would use less sugar if using dark brown sugar because it is slightly sweeter.
- Baguettes – I would not substitute anything else for baguettes for the most authentic Vietnamese banh mi.
- Cha lua – Cha lua is a pork sausage made by steaming pork in a banana leaf. It is definitely an acquired taste, so you can leave it out if you don’t like it.
- Pate & mayonnaise – Like the baguette, these are French ingredients that add amazing flavor to the banh mi. Any kind of pate and mayonnaise should work for this banh mi. I personally like using Kewpie mayo because it’s richer in flavor. For the pate, I prefer the Flower Brand Cured Pork Liver Pate because it is the easiest to spread and has the best flavor in my opinion.
- Cilantro, cucumbers, and jalapeno – Fresh vegetables provides balance to the richer ingredients.
- Pickled carrots and daikon – Like the fresh vegetables above, these pickled vegetables provide more balance to the sandwich. Get the recipe for my pickled carrots and daikon here
Making my lemongrass pork banh mi
First prep the cha lua, cucumbers, and jalapeños by thinly slicing them. Set them aside in the fridge. Combine all the ingredients for the lemongrass pork in a bowl. Make sure the lemongrass pork is coated in the marinade. Let it marinate for at least 30 minutes. Next heat a grill pan or regular pan over high heat. Cook the pork for 1-2 minutes on each side until it is brown. Set aside the pork.
Now it’s time to put together your pork banh mi. Slice the baguette about halfway, so you can open it like a Subway sandwich. Smear the pate on one side and the mayonnaise on the other side. Add the lemongrass pork, cha lua, cilantro, cucumbers, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, and jalapeño to the baguette, and you’re done! Make sure to serve and eat right away for the best flavor and texture.
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Lemongrass Pork Banh Mi
- First prep your cha lua, cucumbers, and jalapeño. Thinly slice all these ingredients and set aside in the fridge.
- Combine all the ingredients for the lemongrass pork in a bowl. Make sure the pork is coated in the marinade. Let the pork marinate for at least 30 minutes.
- Heat a grill pan or regular pan over high heat. Cook the pork for 1-2 minutes on each side until brown. Set aside.
- Put together your banh mi. Cut the baguette about halfway through length wise, so you can open it like a Subway sandwich. Smear mayonnaise on one side of the baguette and pate on the other side of the baguette. Add the lemongrass pork, cha lua, cilantro, cucumbers, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, and jalapeño to the baguette.