Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Bánh Mì Thịt Nướng

Monday was our anniversary and we spent the evening at Carter's football game. Most people would go out on their anniversary and we might have too, because Monday night is usually date night. But during football season on Monday nights, well, we are obliged to go cheer on Carter and his mates (who, incidentally, were crushed 35-0, ouch!) instead of going out or (given the lack of decent restaurants in our area) staying in and fixing a nice dinner.

After a long, hard slog at the restaurant on Monday, I needed an easy dinner and, for obvious reasons, a somewhat special one. And it seemed pretty clear that rather than trying to bolt something down before rushing out the door for the almost hour-long drive to the game, that I would pack a dinner for us to take to the game. So I got to thinking about portable, easy-to-eat food and naturally, sandwiches fit that bill really well. I don't eat many sandwiches, so when I do, I want them to be spectacular, especially for my anniversary dinner.

When I think sandwich now, I think bánh mì if for no other reason than we just launched a very successful pork belly bánh mì on our new fall lunch menu at the restaurant. I wanted to change it up because pork belly is more successful when it is hot and hot food and football games just don't mix. So, on my way home, I stopped at the market and picked up some lemongrass and a package of very thinly sliced pork, labeled both bistek de cerdo and pork cushion meat. Grilled marinated pork is common in Vietnam and is known as thịt nướng, grilled meat, and the meat is understood to be pork.

Now I don't know about you, but I understand bistek de cerdo a lot more than I understand pork cushion meat, and I am a professional chef who butchers whole hogs from time to time. Because I butcher hogs, I recognized that the meat came from the shoulder, which is what I wanted. But the whole cushion thing is still a mystery to me even after looking it up. [I looked it up in the IMPS where USDA specs it as a real cut, 405B, that we never use at the restaurant.]

Pork Shoulder in Marinade, Ready for Grilling
Anyway, thank you to the butcher that put this boneless piece of Boston butt on the slicer and converted it to thin steaks for me. I marinated the steaks in a rub of lemongrass, garlic, black pepper, palm sugar, and fish sauce. They probably sat in the fridge for 90 minutes before grilling.

Pork Steaks Grilled; Baguettes Toasted
The steaks were on the super hot grill about 60 seconds on each side. I brought them and the toasted baguettes into the kitchen where I built them into sandwiches. I have come up with a spicy mayonnaise that I love on my bánh mì, rather than the traditional, yet boring plain mayo. I mix equal parts of sriracha, hoisin, and finely minced garlic and cilantro stems with two parts of mayo. This goes on both sides of the bread.

I made a quick slaw of julienned carrots and daikon mixed with nước chấm, which I make from time to time and keep in the refrigerator as needed. My nuoc cham is a heavy syrup of rice vinegar and white sugar thinned out with fish sauce, lime juice, crushed red chiles, and minced garlic. Yours might be different.

On the spicy mayo-slathered baguette went a layer of sliced cucumbers, a layer of carrot-daikon slaw, grilled lemongrass pork, tons of fresh cilantro, and a good sprinkling of crispy fried shallots. A lot of people add a layer of bird chiles or other chiles, but I just build the spice into the mayo. I like an even distribution of heat and am not very happy when the fresh chiles squirt out of the side of the sandwich when I bite into it!

Mango and Red Pepper Salad
To accompany our sandwiches, I made a savory mango and red pepper salad by roughly dicing the two fruits, and dressing them with lime juice, fish sauce, the merest hint of agave nectar, and a lot of Thai basil, fresh from our garden. I love the salty, citrusy nature of this salad, primarily because it is so unexpected. Your brain expects mango to be sweet, yet this salad is anything but sweet.

And that is the saga of our anniversary dinner. It was probably the best food that I have ever had at a football game anywhere. I know the people in the stands around us were jealous! Sorry for no pictures: they weren't going to come out in the dark anyway. You'll have to use your imagination.

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