There is a special place for the bánh mí in both our hearts and the kitchen, at the Flora + Davis house. When Adam and I first met, he proudly announced that it was his specialty in the kitchen and promised to make them for me one day. Incredibly, I had never eaten, nor even heard of, a bánh mì until he described it to me. Bánh mì, which simply means wheat bread in Vietnamese, is the delicious offspring of French and Vietnamese culinary traditions. During the 1800s, French colonists occupying regions of Asia known as French Indochina took to serving local Vietnamese fare – fish sauce, pickled vegetables, cilantro, spicy pork – with their own French foods – baguette, pâté, mayonnaise. The resultant sandwich, layering the tangy pickled vegetables and spicy pork across a traditional French baguette, has as many variations as there are types of vegetable or preparations for pork. Adam’s original method for bánh mì involved a garlicky brined pork loin, roasted and thinly sliced before serving with the traditional vegetables and topped with sriracha and cilantro. Because these sandwiches are Adam’s specialty – my role is typically limited to peering over the side of the bowl and asking if there is enough vinegar in the pickled vegetable slaw before getting shooed away with a wooden spoon – I asked him to share a few words on his bánh mì meatball recipe. (And, because I can never keep my commentary to myself, I had to share my own memories as well.) I will share the recipe for the full bánh mì sandwich/salad tomorrow. Enjoy!
Adam: Whenever I used to get asked the question – “Do you like spicy food?” – I used to answer with a resounding yes. After a couple spicy food eating challenges (some of them unintended meals cooked by friends and others as seen on popular TV shows), I’ve come to realize that the answer is more nuanced for me: I like spicy food, but only when combined with other great flavors that play well with the heat. The bánh mì sandwich is a prime example of this. I love bánh mì sandwiches. (Also, I just love sandwiches). I tried one for the first time, maybe six or seven years ago in Portland, Oregon. I immediately fell in love with the fusion of so many great flavors and textures. Also, did I mention that I love sandwiches? No restaurants in Helena, Montana serve a sandwich even remotely like this, so I searched for recipes online and made it myself.
Insert Kate, a Pacific Northwesterner with life-long access to, and love for, authentic Vietnamese food. She was giddy to come out and try bánh mì – while officially meeting my family for the first time (my parents and a visiting aunt from Minneapolis). Kate: The first time I met Adam’s parents, we were invited up to their beautiful log home at the foothills of the Elkhorn Mountains for summery bánh mì and chocolatinis.
(This is where I would employ my #OnlyInMontana hashtag, were this written on social media.)
Adam was to bring his brined pork loin and his aunt, who was visiting for the week, was preparing a Vietnamese meatball recipe; thus, we would have two unique types of bánh mì to enjoy. When we arrived, his parents and aunt were already hard at work slicing and dicing the various accoutrements, and the house smelled wonderfully of fresh cilantro and garlic. We enjoyed our martinis while Adam and his aunt bustled around the kitchen, preparing their respective pork dishes. Kate: I recall being a bit alarmed as his aunt added one fresh jalapeño after another to a growing pile of thinly sliced green peppers, but I’m notoriously timid when it comes to fresh hot peppers. Because the sandwiches were assembled en masse, and then cut into sections for all to share, the jalapeños were already stuffed into the baguette and buried beneath pickled diakon radish, carrot, and cucumber by the time the sandwiches reached my plate. Wanting to display proper table manners in front of his extended family, I took polite nibble off of my sandwich.
Everything in the sandwich was absolutely delicious, in particular the Vietnamese meat balls…but the peppers were perhaps the spiciest jalapeños I had ever tasted! Eventually, I gave up all pretense, and gulped my water desperately with tears streaming down my face and my throat in flames. As I apologetically picked the pepper slices off of my sandwich sections, his family assured me that they were not offended, and even removed some of their peppers in solidarity. 😉
Adam: Kate, claiming to like spicy foods, was not at all prepared for the level of fresh jalapeno that was involved. [Editor’s Note: Understatement of the year. -K]
Kate: It did, however, make for a memorable night, and the upshot of it all was that Adam got this spectacular bánh mì meatball recipe out of it and I got an amazing extended family of (almost) in-laws, so I chalk the entire night up to a win. For fun, here is a link to the picture I took of our sandwiches that night. Adam:Up until this point, I had always made a garlic-brined pork tenderloin that I swore was the best pork topping for these sandwiches. That day, my aunt made meatballs for bánh mìs that were simply incredible. If this had been a Top Chef elimination challenge, Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi would have kicked me off the stage.
I had been dethroned.
In my defense, I had an “off” night and overcooked my tenderloin…but even a perfectly cooked tenderloin would have made no difference. When you know you’ve been beat, you just have to accept it and live to fight another day.
(Or, you can just “borrow” the recipe when your aunt leaves town and share it as your own. That works, too.) Adam: This past weekend, Kate and I were still recovering from winter headcolds we’ve both been struggling to shake. Longing to breathe again, I thought something spicy might be the perfect thing to clear my head and some bánh mì meatballs sounded just right.
Since I also had a holiday party that I needed bring an hors d’oeuvre to, I also decided to (read with heavy sarcasm) get creative:
1) Subtract the Bread, and
2) Add a Toothpick.
My strategy paid off: the meatballs were a hit. Everyone at the party loved them, and, as a bonus for the chef, the recipe is both easy and inexpensive to make. Having made these more than a few times now, I’ve made a few tweaks to the recipe for both convenience and health. Check it out below!
Bánh Mì Meatballs
Adapted, just barely, from Bon Appetit’s Pork Meatball Bánh Mì recipe.
1 lb. grassfed ground pork
Large handful fresh basil, finely chopped
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
3 medium green onions, chopped
1 TBSP fish sauce (nam pla or nuoc nam)
1 TBSP Sriracha
1 TBSP cane sugar
2 tsp powdered cornstarch
1 tsp each salt & pepper
1/2 cup whole, real mayonnaise
2 green onions, minced
3 TBSP Sriracha
Juice from 1/2 lime
Pinch of salt
1. Mix all meatball ingredients in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.
2. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Using moistened hands, roll the pork mixture into golf ball-sized rounds, and arrange on a baking sheet. We use a 10×18 jelly roll pan. Juices may drip and make a mess in the oven if using a flat cookie sheet pan.
3. Cook meatballs until the internal temperature reaches 165°F. Remove and allow to rest.
4. Combine ingredients for dipping sauce and stir. Season to taste; 3 tablespoons of sriracha results in a fairly fiery sauce.
5. Transfer meatballs to serving dish and plate with chili dipping sauce.
…and that’s all there is to it. Stay tuned for instructions for bánh mì sandwiches (and salad variation) tomorrow. Thanks for stopping by!