Every once and a while it’s fun to ditch what you’re familiar with and try something completely new. About a year ago my friends and I got together and had a Peruvian themed dinner party. We all made a dish and got to taste some food and flavours that we didn’t get a chance to eat everyday. I even challenged myself to make ceviche which turned out to be the best ceviche I’ve ever eaten. It pays to try new things! We had originally planned to make this a monthly thing but our schedules are so busy that we ended up having another themed dinner over a year later. Oops!
We decided on Vietnamese cuisine. I often eat Vietnamese because from my experience it’s delicious, inexpensive and a slightly healthier eat-out option. Aside from the salt content, a lot of vietnamese food has beautiful, fresh ingredients that aren’t deep fried. (unless you’re eating the spring rolls from Golden Turtle in Toronto-they’re the greasiest things I’ve ever eaten but SO good.)
My friends got creative and came up with some pretty amazing dishes. Erica made delicious chicken satay, Erinn created beautiful cold rolls with shrimp and Sarah whipped up a vibrant mango salad with grilled shrimp skewers. Carla finished off the meal with a bang, making fried coconut bananas with chocolate sauce and coconut whipped cream. This was more Thai but Vietnamese desserts are hard to come by. One recipe she found suggested opening a bunch of cans of fruit and dumping them in a bowl. No thanks! Perhaps you have a recipe you’d like to share? I’m curious to see what else is out there.
I opted to make chicken banh mi sandwiches. Apparently “banh mi” is a vietnamese term for all types of bread. (Did I mention I made a gluten free baguette for my friend Carla who is gluten intolerant? Let’s just say that a stapler was involved and the baguette was so dense that you wouldn’t be able to bring it on a plane because it for sure could be used as a weapon HOWEVER it was quite tasty and I think I’ll have some for breakfast today.) The meat filled banh mi sandwich as we know it is a product of French Colonialism. The bread is traditionally a sub roll/baguette hybrid. The meat inside can include things like pork belly, beef cheek, chicken etc. It’s then topped with pickled radish and carrot, fresh cucumber and cilantro. They are the perfect balance of sweet, savoury, meat and crunch. Seeing as I’ve never tackled one of these bad boys before, I looked to the internet for a recipe as a guide. I found this nice one!
As usual, I changed a few things around. I used 3 enormous chicken breasts. I cut each large breast into 3 pieces to resemble regular sized breasts. Big breasts are too much to handle.
I used slightly less lime juice (because I ran out of lime) and 3 packets of sugar and a good squeeze of honey instead of the half cup they suggested. I don’t ever have sugar on me so I used the packs of snagged from brunch last week. I honestly think half a cup would have been too much! I also only used 1 thai chili and 4 cloves of garlic. After all, I was using slightly less chicken than the recipe called for. I marinated all of my tiny breasts in a large, covered corning ware dish for about 4 hours.
Now for the pickling of the veg. I realized that I also needed a 1/4 cup of sugar for this so had to go out and buy some. Also, have you ever used daikon radish? I found it at my local Metro, which was surprising. It’s milder than a traditional red radish and it looks like a giant, whiter parsnip. I followed this pickling technique to a T. Spoiler alert; your fridge is going to smell like farts. The pickled radish is VERY potent. Not taste wise, smell wise. Just wanted to give you a heads up, because I thought my friends were crop dusting my kitchen.
I pan seared the chicken breasts because it’s february and I don’t have a BBQ. I let them get nice and dark and caramelized. Once cooled, I sliced them into pieces. Before assembling my sandwich I cut and toasted my sub rolls in a 300 oven for about 6 minutes. Slather with mayo and top with chicken, pickled veg, cucumber, sliced jalapeños, cilantro and sriracha. You can add some green onion too! Wow. So, so yummy. I paired it with a German Gruner Vetliner (white wine) because some website said that was a good choice. and it was! It’s impossible to find Vietnamese beer in Canada, but apparent Tiger beer is very popular in Vietnam and goes well with what we were eating.
We had tons of leftovers and the sandwiches were even better the next day. Probably because I jammed them full of even more chicken, pickled veg and hot sauce.
If you’re thinking that you don’t want to try this recipe because you don’t like fish sauce, DO NOT FEAR. This doesn’t taste fishy at all. It just gives the chicken a complex, salty flavour that would not be achieved with regular salt or soya sauce. It dances with the other flavours in the marinade and completely transforms once cooked. I really hope you’ll give this recipe a try. Vietnamese cooking doesn’t have to be super intimidating. And why not jazz up your regular cold cut sandwich? The most time consuming part of this is the marinade, so make a ton of chicken at once and have leftovers during the week. I’m going to make a deconstructed banh mi chicken salad today for lunch. I can’t wait.
Thanks again for eating with me this week. I hope I’ve inspired you to explore different cuisine. Grab a bunch of friends, spin a globe, and try something new!