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Vietnamese banh mi recipes to relish

Three takes on the classic Saigon-style sandwich make for a crunchy, flavorful meal.

Grilled pork banh mi.

Photograph by anthony tieuli; food styling by Sheila jarnes/Ennis inc.

Grilled pork banh mi.

Regardless of the filling, a classic Saigon-style banh mi follows roughly the same blueprint: a crisp baguette or roll, moistened with mayonnaise or butter, stuffed with a filling, and garnished with chili and cucumber, lightly pickled carrot and daikon, and fresh cilantro.

The fillings can cover a lot of territory. Here we have two classics: grilled pork, and pate made from chicken livers. The bread for banh mi should be light, soft, and faintly sweet, with a defined and crisp yet thin crust. Steer clear of anything sturdy, rustic, or sourdough.

CARROT AND DAIKON PICKLE

Makes about 1¼ cups

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4        ounces daikon radish, peeled and finely julienned (about 1 cup, lightly packed)

1         medium-large carrot (about 4 ounces), peeled and finely julienned (about 1 cup, lightly packed)

Salt

½      cup distilled white vinegar

3        tablespoons sugar

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In a large colander over a bowl, toss the daikon and carrot with 1 teaspoon salt and allow to soften, at least 15 minutes. Shake the colander to drive off more liquid, rinse the vegetables with cold water, dry them well, transfer them to a medium nonreactive bowl, and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the vinegar, sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/3 cup water to a bare simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar and salt. Cool briefly, pour over the vegetables (make sure they are submerged), and set aside to cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 2 weeks.

GRILLED PORK BANH MI

Makes 4 sandwiches

If you are not up for grilling outdoors, cook the pork stovetop in a heavy, well-heated, oiled grill pan — with the exhaust fan on, because the seasoning paste will smoke. The cooking time is the same as for grilling.

4        stalks fresh lemon grass, tough outer leaves removed and cores roughly chopped (about 1/3 cup)

2        large jalapenos, seeds and all, 1 roughly chopped, 1 whole

1         tablespoon chopped garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

1         tablespoon light brown sugar

2        tablespoons soy sauce

1½    tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)

1         tablespoon neutral oil, plus extra for grill grates

Salt and ground black pepper

4        thin-cut pork-butt boneless Southern-style ribs or 4 slices boneless pork butt about 1 pound total)

 2/3     cup mayonnaise

4        6-inch lengths baguette or other light, crisp roll, halved lengthwise, some of the interior crumb removed

1         cup loosely packed small cilantro sprigs (thin stems and leaves)

16      thin slices of cucumber

1         cup Carrot and Daikon Pickle (see recipe above)

In a mini chopper or food processor, process the lemon grass, the chopped jalapeno, garlic, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons soy sauce, fish sauce, 1 tablespoon neutral oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and 1 teaspoon ground black pepper to a loose paste, stopping several times to scrape down the work bowl of the food processor.

In a shallow bowl, toss the pork and seasoning paste to coat the meat well; cover and refrigerate for at least 1 and up to 12 hours, turning the pork once or twice. Remove the pork, shaking each piece gently so excess seasoning paste falls back into the bowl.

Prepare a medium-hot fire in a charcoal grill or preheat a gas grill on high for 15 minutes. (If using gas, adjust the burners to medium-high and grill with the lid closed). Clean and oil the grill grate well. Grill the pork, undisturbed, until well charred on the bottom, about 7 minutes. Turn and continue grilling until the second side is charred and the pork is cooked through and fairly firm to the touch, 7 to 13 minutes longer, turning as necessary near the end. Remove, rest for about 5 minutes, and cut into very thin slices.

Very thinly slice the whole jalapeno crosswise. Spread 1 generous tablespoon of mayo on each piece of bread and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon soy sauce. Arrange a quarter of the jalapeno slices and cilantro on 4 pieces of bread. Top each of the other 4 pieces of bread with a quarter of the grilled pork, 4 cucumber slices, and ¼ cup well-drained pickled carrot and daikon. Press the pieces with jalapeno and cilantro onto the others. Cut the sandwiches in half and serve at once.

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TIP: COOKING WITH LEMON GRASS

 The outer layers of fresh lemon grass are tough and must be removed  to reach the tender core. I use a heavy skillet to bash the lemon grass to  break the outer layers, making it easy to peel them away.

anthony tieuli

The outer layers of fresh lemon grass are tough and must be removed to reach the tender core. I use a heavy skillet to bash the lemon grass to break the outer layers, making it easy to peel them away.

QUICK CHICKEN LIVER PATE

Makes 1 generous cup

Pate, often baked into a loaf, is a traditional banh mi filling, alone and in combination with other items. This spreadable pate is easier and quicker to prepare, and very satisfying.

8        ounces chicken livers, with fat, membranes, and connective tissue trimmed

Salt and pepper

2        teaspoons neutral oil

3        tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

½      cup finely chopped shallots (about 2 medium)

1         tablespoon pressed or grated garlic (about 5 medium cloves)

 1/3      cup low-sodium chicken broth

3        tablespoons heavy cream

1         tablespoon brandy or cognac

1½    tablespoons fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc mam)

Dry the livers with paper towels and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. In a medium skillet over a medium-high setting, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the livers and cook, undisturbed, until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn them over and continue to cook, undisturbed, until browned and still slightly pink inside, 2 to 3 minutes longer. Transfer to a food processor.

Wipe out the skillet, adjust heat to medium, add 1 tablespoon butter, and melt until foamy. Add the shallots and ½ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring, until softened and browning at the edges, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 40 seconds. Add the broth and cream, adjust the heat to medium-high, bring to a simmer, and simmer for 2 minutes.

Set aside off heat to cool briefly, then scrape the mixture into the food processor with the livers. Add the cognac, fish sauce, and ½ teaspoon pepper and process to puree the mixture, stopping to scrape down the sides of the work bowl several times. With the motor running, add the remaining butter, 1 tablespoon at a time; puree until smooth, 30 to 40 seconds. Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper if necessary. Scrape the mixture into a small bowl, press plastic wrap onto the surface of the pate, and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.

VARIATION: PATE BANH MI

Makes 4 sandwiches

Follow steps for Grilled Pork Banh Mi, with these changes: 1) Eliminate seasoning paste. 2) Use 1/3 cup of mayonnaise divided among 4 bread pieces. 3) For each sandwich, substitute 3 generous tablespoons of Quick Chicken Liver Pate for the grilled pork. 4) Use only 1 jalapeno, sliced very thinly crosswise, divided among sandwiches.

Adam Ried appears regularly on “America’s Test Kitchen.” Send comments to cooking@globe.com
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