Super Bánh Mi
Bánh mi is the Vietnamese word for bread, but here in the U.S. the term has become synonymous with a pork belly sandwich served on a French baguette. This odd combination is the result of French colonialism in Indochina. There are some restaurants in the Berkshires that serve phenomenally delicious Bánh mi sandwiches – my favorite comes from Mountainside Café in Falls Village, CT.
The ingredients in a Bánh mi can be as varied as you like, but more traditional sandwiches contain pork belly, a smear of pâté, along with pickled vegetables such as onions, carrots and daikon radish. A few sprigs of cilantro and some cucumber for crunch add the perfect finishing touch. Vegetarian sandwiches can be made with spiced tofu or seitan.
For your Superbowl feast, instead of the traditional cold-cut sandwich (grinder, sub, hoagie, po’boy), why not class it up by offering a Bánh mi instead? What’s great is that the pork belly takes time - but little effort - to make, and can be prepared in advance then stored in the freezer until Game Day. The secret to cooking pork belly is to slowly braise it until tender, then fry up when ready to use in your sandwiches. It’s easy to make your own pickled vegetables, but if you’re in a pinch for time, you can cheat by setting out chopped kimchee (Korean fermented cabbage) and/or chopped Giardiniera (classic Italian pickled vegetables). Both of these are readily available at most grocery stores.
Nose-to-tail butchers often have pork belly in stock. Guido’s Marketplaces (Great Barrington & Pittsfield), and The Meat Market (Great Barrington) are good sources. For my Bánh mi sandwiches, I purchased a 3˝ pound chunk of pork belly (skin on) at The Meat Market.
Below is my recipe for braising the pork belly in advance for your bánh mi sandwiches. This recipe slowly braises the pork belly with sweet pungent Asian flavors that coat the pork and delicately release the flavor when you fry it up for the sandwiches. I would suggest braising the pork belly a day or two before you plan to make the sandwiches.
After braising the pork belly, all you need to do for Game Day is purchase high-quality sandwich bread (small French baguettes or ciabatta), along with some pickled vegetables, fresh vegetables for crunch, and a spicy mayo for the dressing. I like to use sriracha mayo or chipotle mayo. This recipe will make enough pork belly for about 8 Bánh mi sandwiches.
Braised Pork Belly for Bánh mi
In a small bowl, mix together:
12 cloves garlic, peeled and quartered
2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced 2 cups white wine (or sake) Ľ cup fish sauce
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 cup low sodium soy sauce
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Place a 3˝ pound pork belly skin-side-up into an ovenproof pot (Creuset pots are perfect for this recipe). Carefully pour the liquid on top of the pork. Pour in enough water to completely cover the pork, then stir gently to mix a bit.
Bring the pot just to a boil on the stove, then remove from the stove, cover the top with heavy duty aluminum foil and cover tightly. You want to make sure that all steam is captured in the pot so that the pork belly can gently braise.
Put the pot into the oven and braise for 3 hours – until the pork is tender. That’s it! Remove the pork belly from the braising liquid, let cool, pull off the skin then wrap in plastic. The pork belly may be frozen, or will keep in the fridge for about 5 days.
To make the Bánh mi sandwiches, thinly slice the pork belly and fry on low heat in a heavy pan. Be careful, because the pork belly will tend to splatter as it releases the fat and crisps up. You might want to put a splatter screen on the pan while it is cooking. Drain the pork belly on paper towels before composing the sandwich.