Sunday, February 27, 2011

Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi

So this one is very near and dear to my heart right now.  In six short weeks, my wife and I will be on a plane to Ho Chi Minh City  for a two week long honeymoon all over Vietnam.  Just about everything is booked and ready to go, we just need to fast forward a few weeks to actually being there (if we can fast forward, maybe I can go ahead and make a request to continue fast forwarding through the 24 hours of travel to get there too).  We are excited to see all the sights; the busy cities and spectacular mountains and bays, but we are almost more excited to eat everything there is to eat.  We love Vietnamese food and can't wait to get knee deep in bowls of rice noodles, soups, and pretty much anything else placed in front of us.  To celebrate the upcoming trip, I decided to make Banh Mi - Vietnam's well known sandwiches.  Banh Mi is one of many vestiges of French occupation in Vietnam, bringing together baguettes and sometimes paté or other potted meats from French cuisine and cilantro and pickled carrots and daikon from Vietnamese cuisine.  The French first introduced baguettes to the Vietnamese in the early 20th century, so they are a relatively recent addition to Vietnamese cuisine.  Technically, banh mi refers to the baguette only, which is made with wheat and rice flour, although the word is commonly considered to be the sandwich, which is usually stuffed with vegetables and meats.  The recipe that I made was for pork meatballs, which also contained Vietnamese flavors including fish sauce and hot chili sauce.  These things are a slam dunk and can be made very quickly using store bought ground pork.  The only cooking that is really involved is the meatballs - everything else is very easy to put together.

Vietnamese Pork Meatball Banh Mi
(adapted from Bon Appetit - January 2010)

Hot Chili Mayo
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (I used sriracha)

1 lb well marbled boston butt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 green onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 tablespoon hot chili sauce (I used Sriracha)
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

2 cups julienned peeled carrots
2 cups julienned peeled daikon
1/4 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt

4 8" long pieces of baguette
Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles (personal preference)
16 large fresh cilantro sprigs

For the meatballs:
I ground my own pork for this but you could very easily opt to buy store-ground pork.  I was just looking for an excuse to use my Kitchenaid grinder attachment =).  If you can get boston butt broken down into 1 lb portions, that will work great.  If not, there is no shame in buying a larger portion and freezing the leftover ground pork.  There will always be a use for it eventually.  Begin by freezing your auger, blades, and dies for the grinder.  Break down the pork into roughly 1" cubes and spread them out on a baking sheet.  Sprinkle salt on top and use your hands to mix the pork up and help distribute the salt.  Place the baking sheet in the freezer for about 30 minutes, until the pork is starting to freeze through.  This will make grinding easier.  If they are frozen through when you check, let them thaw until they are partially unfrozen before grinding.  Set up your grinder attachment with the large die and grind the pork into a bowl which is set in an ice bath to help keep everything cold.  Switch out to the smaller die and pass the pork through once more.  Reserve 1 lb of the ground pork and freeze the rest.

Make the meatballs by adding the rest of the ingredients listed above and mixing well with your bare hands.  Line a baking sheet with saran wrap and make the meatballs by portioning out about 1 tbsp of meatball mix into your hands and forming them into a meatball shape.  Place on the saran wrap sheet and continue for the rest of the meatballs.  

Place the meatballs in the fridge until ready to cook.

For the pickles:
Julienne your radish and carrot however you like - I used a mandoline but I'm not totally convinced that I like my mandoline.  Every time I use it, I manage to cut myself.  This was no exception.  I guess it's faster but I'd almost rather julienne by hand.  Anyway - place the veggies in a bowl and mix the other ingredients in.  Allow to sit for at least an hour for pickle to occur.  

For the mayo:
Mix ingredients together well in a bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper.

 To compose the sandwich, cook the meatballs in a large skillet in 1 tbsp of sesame oil or canola oil.  Cook on all sides until the meatballs are well done.  Cut your baguette into appropriate sizes and tear out some of the bread in the middle, leaving a shell for you to place the fillings.  Spread a good amount of the mayo on the bottom and, if desired, line with jalepeno slices.  Place meatballs on top of those, followed by pickles and cilantro.

It was a lot of fun to make this and get a little Americanized taste of what I might expect out of Vietnam.  I'd love to get into some more involved recipes, so if anyone has any good recommendations for legit Vietnamese recipes, I would be really excited to hear about them.  I can't wait for this trip and I can't wait to try to bring back some of the sights and sounds and smells to share!

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