A banh mi (bánh mì) is a type of sandwich originating from Vietnam that usually contains meat or protein, cucumber, cilantro leaves, and pickled veggies on a French-style baguette. There are often additions such as mayonnaise, spicy chili sauce, or even things like pâté or head cheese.
As I like to point out, I am not a source of authenticity for the banh mi sandwich. I’m not a banh mi professional nor am I an authority on Vietnamese food, I just really like this sandwich and am sharing how I made them at home.
Let’s talk about how I make crispy pork belly and then turn that into a fantastic flavor-filled and texture-laden sandwich experience.
The crispy pork belly
I’ve shared some pork belly recipes before, but this one is different. The focus is on getting a crispy and crunchy outside layer. You accomplish that with a low and slow bake followed by a quick temperature blast to crisp up the pork belly skin.
The reason this recipe requires a skin-on pork belly is that the skin will crisp up and become crispy cracklin’. This lends texture to your sandwich since the rest of the pork belly will be very tender after its time in the oven.
The marinade used is very simple and will only take you a couple of minutes to whip up. The recipe calls for you to marinate the pork belly overnight, but you could get away with only four hours of marination time.
The key to the crispy pork belly is getting the skin to crisp up. This should happen in the last part of the cooking process when the oven heat is raised up to 500 degrees F. If it’s not crispy enough, you can add a little time under the broiler for a couple of minutes to get to crispyville.
The recipe for this pork belly is in the full sandwich recipe down below.
The pickled and non-pickled veggies
Julienne is a fancy word for cutting things into matchstick-sized pieces. Now that no one smokes anymore, I guess matchstick-sized pieces might need explaining too, but just know that julienning carrots and daikon radish is simply the process of cutting them into 3-ish inch long skinny strips.
The other veggies typically in a banh mi are raw cucumbers and jalapenos. You could slice these very thin in a mandoline or just use a knife and do your best to slice them as thin as you can.
Banh mi sandwiches also typically have a decent amount of cilantro leaves. I know some folks have a sensitivity to cilantro, so use it at your own discretion.
Banh mi sauce
According to the internet, most banh mi sauce/spread recipes are mayonnaise-based with some sriracha. It’s not traditionally Vietnamese, but I add a little bit of hoisin sauce to my blend. The hoisin adds a touch of sweetness that works well with the sandwich as a whole. I also have used this sauce with cheeseburgers and other sandwiches as well.
Here’s the sauce recipe I used in my sandwiches this week:
- 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon sriracha (add 2+ teaspoons extra for a hotter sauce)
- 1 tablespoon hoisin
I wrote about this recipe back when I covered the French dip sandwich, but it’s great for banh mi as well (maybe better). The key for bread in a banh mi is to make sure it’s a bit chewy and this recipe covers that, but if you don’t want to bake, just make sure you get a French-style bread roll that isn’t super soft.
French-style bread tips:
This is where you get extra flavor. I have made this recipe a few times without the overnight rise (just add all the ingredients into the mixing bowl with everything else), but the flavor just isn’t the same. The overnight part lets your yeast and flour work things up a little and it lends something like sourdough flavor to the final bread.
Do the chew
The chewy texture in bread like this comes from using bread flour or a high protein flour alternative. You can use all-purpose flour in this recipe, but it just won’t bring the chewiness. Don’t get me wrong, when using bread flour, the interior will still be soft; it will just have a bite that holds up to the sandwich ingredients.
Let that bread rise
The dough will brown better after it has fully risen. Yeast eats flour and produces sugar and CO2 (gas bubbles) and more sugar in bread means there will be more browning in the oven. This recipe has no sugar at all in it, so the sugars that the yeast brings to the table is all that there is.
Your home oven most likely doesn’t create steam which is needed in this style of bread. In the process of home baking, steam can be created with a hot oven, spraying the dough with lots of water right before baking and filling a preheated pot in the oven with water or ice that turns to steam. The steam also helps dissolve any sugars on the outside of the bread, which helps with browning and crust formation.
Pork belly banh mi sandwich
Instead of explaining more about this sandwich, I just created some simple banh mi math with banh mi calculations.
|Chewiness from the bread|
|+||Freshness from the cucumber and jalapeno|
|+||Zip from the pickled cucumber and daikon radish|
|+||Crisp from the pork belly skin|
|+||Tenderness from the pork belly itself|
|+||Spice and heat from the sauce and the sliced jalapeno|
|=||Fantastic banh mi sandwich|
You can’t argue with math so here’s the recipe. Scroll past the recipe to look at more crispy pork belly banh mi sandwiches if that’s what you’re here for!
This banh mi recipe combines textures and flavors to form a wonderful experience that will likely end up on a list of your favorite sandwiches. This recipe makes enough pork and veggies for quite a few banh mi.
Ingredients:Pickled carrots and daikon radish
- 6 ounces carrots, peeled and julienned
- 6 ounces daikon radishes, peeled and julienned
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 3 pounds pork belly, skin on
- 6 garlic cloves, sliced
- 4 tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 birds eye chilis (or serrano chilis), sliced
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 6 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 six-to-eight-inch sections of French bread, sliced horizontally
- 10 ounces pork belly, sliced
- cucumbers, thinly sliced
- jalapenos, thinly sliced
- mayonnaise and sriracha (optional)
- pickled veggies (from above)
- cilantro leaves
For the pickled veggies: julienne the carrots and daikon radish, slicing them into planks, and then matchstick shapes.
In a small pot over medium heat, add the rice vinegar, water, sugar, and salt. This is your pickle brining liquid. Bring it to a boil and then remove the pot from the heat.
Add the carrots and daikon radish to a container and pour over the pickle brine. Store these in a covered container in the refrigerator overnight.
For the pork belly: add the garlic, soy sauce, brown sugar, sliced chili, fish sauce, and vegetable oil to a small pot over medium heat and bring the liquid to a boil. This is your marinade for the pork belly. Add the marinade and the pork belly to a zip-top bag or sealed container and store in the fridge.
Marinate the pork belly in the refrigerator overnight or for up to 24 hours.
The next day: when you are ready to cook, preheat your oven to 300 degrees F (148 C).
Remove the pork belly from the marinade and dry the skin very well with paper towels. Cut shallow slices in the skin about a quarter inch apart, just cut through the skin and no deeper.
Place the pork belly on a sheet pan or baking dish, skin side up, and cook for 2.5 hours.
After 2.5 hours, remove the pork belly from the oven and raise the heat on the oven to 500 degrees F (260 C).
Move the pork belly to a wire rack, set it over a lined baking sheet, and place it in the oven for an additional 25 to 30 minutes. This is meant to crisp up the skin.
Remove the pork belly from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing. If you want thinner slices, you can cool the pork belly in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 hours until the meat is firmer.
Sandwiches assemble: when it's sandwich time, slice your two 6 to 8-inch pieces of French bread two-thirds of the way through. Don't cut the bread all the way through, leave the backside to serve as a bread hinge.
Place a medium pan over medium-high heat. Add enough slices of pork belly for your two sandwiches and sear the pork for 4 minutes per side to warm it up and add some extra texture from the searing.
Spread the mayonnaise and sriracha sauce into the interior of the bread.
Add slices of pork belly to the bread.
Next, add slices of cucumbers and jalapenos.
Top with pickled carrots and daikon radish and cilantro leaves.
Top the sandwiches with more sauce if desired. Serve and enjoy.
You really should make a banh mi on your next sandwich night. Crisp up some pork belly and get busy!
Check back next week when we take another trip with an internationally inspired sandwich.