Lemongrass chicken bahn mi
It only took me 44 years to wise up to what everyone in Vietnam already knew. Now I can look forward to many more years of enjoyment and experimentation combining good crusty bread with Southeast Asian flavours. A little place right beside the cable car station in Wellington provided my breakthrough experience. Talk about a big smile on my face that day! As soon as I got home I was researching and experimenting.
My take on what really matters in a banh mi? Good crusty baguette, really tasty warm pork, chicken or beef, pickled daikon and carrot and, most importantly, lots of coriander. The only reason I haven’t included pate in this list is that I was raised vegetarian and it’s still a bit unfamiliar to me. I’ve done a lemongrass chicken filling for this recipe. It’s fragrant, tasty and really simple to prepare.
The daikon and carrot pickle (do chua) is an important ingredient, providing sweet, tangy crunch. It’s also very easy to make and this recipe yields plenty to keep in the fridge. Isn’t it funny how sometimes things can be right in front of our eyes without us noticing them? I’ve been baking my own baguettes recently and loving them, at the same time as making lots of spicy Asian-style salads. But, for some reason, not putting one plus one together until now. Still, it’s always a happy day when you eat something greater than the sum of its parts and I’m learning more and more that good things are worth the wait.
I highly recommend searching out a bakery with betterthan- average baguettes for this. There is no place for soft bread here, it needs a decent crust that you have to chew, crunch and bite through. Warming the bread in the oven adds crispness too. Use lots of the daikon and carrot pickle, it contributes much-appreciated juiciness as well as all the sweet tangy flavour and crunchy texture.
Lemongrass chicken bahn mi
Daikon and carrot pickle
1 medium carrot
1 medium daikon (350g)
1 tsp sugar
½ cup white vinegar
½ cup hot water
1 tsp salt
½ Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp peanut oil
4 cloves garlic
2cm fresh ginger
10cm piece lemongrass, outer layers peeled off.
150g cooked chicken, in small pieces
1 tsp fish sauce
1 tsp honey
Juice of ½ lime
½ tsp ground black pepper
2 x 20cm long pieces baguette
2-3 Tbsp crunchy peanut butter
2-3 Tbsp whole egg mayonnaise
8 long thin slices cucumber
12 red chilli, finely sliced
12 cup coriander leaves
2 sprigs fresh mint
- To make the daikon and carrot pickle, peel the carrot and daikon and slice into thin strips. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with the sugar. Allow to rest for a few minutes so the sugar can draw out the juices, then squeeze with your hands for a minute or so until the daikon is well softened. Drain then pack into a clean jar.
- Heat the vinegar, water, salt and honey in a small pot until boiling, then pour into the jar until the carrot and daikon are covered. Allow to marinate for an hour, ideally overnight. You can keep this in the fridge for a few weeks quite happily.
- For the lemongrass chicken, chop the lemongrass, ginger and garlic roughly then pound in a mortar and pestle for a minute or so untill well broken up (or whizz in a food processor until chopped finely).
- Heat the peanut oil in a heavy-based frying pan then fry the lemongrass paste for a minute until slightly browned. Add the chicken and cook for a couple of minutes until nice and hot.
- Add the fish sauce, honey, lime juice and pepper and stir well so the chicken is evenly coated. Cook another minute or two to absorb any excess moisture.
- To assemble the banh mi, heat the baguette for a few minutes in a hot oven so it is warmed through. Slice down one side and open out so it will lay flat.
- Spread the bottom half with peanut butter and the top with mayonnaise. Start with a layer of warm chicken, then the cucumber. Add a really generous layer of the daikon carrot pickle, then cover with coriander, mint and red chilli.