[Natalie’s Kitchen] 1 // Banh Mi (Oh My!)

Jen and I are so excited to introduce our newest JtoZ contributor- Natalie Johnson!  Natalie is a dear friend of ours from our {glory} days in Colorado, and a MASTER in the kitchen. I swear, this girl is a culinary genius.  She will graciously be sharing her favorite recipes with us each month. Bon appetit y’all!

I was thrilled when my two dear friends Jen and Amy asked me to start chatting with their readers about what I love to do, which is to make, eat, discuss, question, strategize about, and experiment with food. I live in New York City, where I have spent my time working as a cook, a fresh truffle saleslady, and now have a business of my own. I am here to offer some insight into the wonderfully expressive world of food, and will be sharing a new recipe each month. I hope you enjoy!


I’m beginning my courtship of you with my take on the traditional Vietnmese sandwich called Bánh mì. Actually the Vietnamese term for all types of bread, bánh mì, or baguette as far as we are concermed, was introduced to Vietnam when the French successfully invaded in the late 19th Century. Let us not focus on the flex of power here, but rather the culinary lovechild produced by the coexistence of these then dueling nations. Made with butter and cured pork, the traditional French version of the sandwich is—in my opinion—elevated by a tangle of fresh herbs, the bright pucker of sweetly pickled cucumber and carrot, and a luscious layer of fishy (yes, fishy) aioli. Let’s build it!

Roasted Broccoli and Candied Pancetta Bánh Mì, (Oh My!)

I admit. There is a lot going on here; many ingredients to collect and then coax into mouth-watering submission, but your efforts will be rewarded with a truly brilliant sandwich. I suggest you enlist the help of some poor hungry soul, a roommate or lover perhaps, who will willingly take on those (undesirable) tasks—herb washing, sugar measuring, baguette slicing—that must be completed to get the job done.

For the Sandwich

1 baguette (I used a flaky, white in the center, not usually considered to be the best bread, Italian baguette because this is how the bánh mì ‘round these parts are usually prepared.)

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch mint

2 cups bean sprouts

1 jalapeno, sliced

For the Aioli

2 egg yolks

½ cup grapeseed oil, approximately

2 tsp. Dijon mustard

3 tsp. anchovy paste

1 lemon

1 garlic clove

salt to taste

Method—WARNING: This takes patience. In a small food processor, combine yolks, mustard, anchovy paste, garlic, pinch of salt, and the juice of half of the lemon. Now have a snack, because you need a steady hand and peace of mind for the next 5 to 8 minutes. Calmly return to the food processor, and (with machine on), slowly add the oil into the opening at the top of the machine, drip drip drop at a time. You may need to use slightly more or less oil to get to the right consistency.

You are creating an emulsion here, which is a highly scientific process whereby two liquids that usually don’t dig being in proximity of the other, let alone beaten into each other, are forced to create and maintain a union. The mixture will slowly thicken and pull away from the sides of the food processor. When you see this, you can begin to pour a little more steadily if you feel comfortable, or continue with the drips.

Now, open up your machine and take a peek, have a taste. First of all, is it holding together like an aioli that you sometimes dip your fries into? Is it seasoned properly? Nicely acidic? And what about the salt? Adjust accordingly.

If this process seems meltdown inducing, skip it. I suggest using Kewpie mayo instead, which is a mysteriously delicious Japanese variety that tastes nothing of the Hellman’s you have hanging out in your fridge right now.

For the Pickles

1 carrot, cut into thin sticks

1 cucumber, seeds removed and cut into thin sticks

1 cup rice wine vinegar

½ cup water

5-6 tbsp. sugar

2-3 tbsp. salt

2 bay leaves

Method—You’re going to love how easy this is. Combine water, vinegar, sugar, and salt with the bay leaves in a small saucepan, and bring to a boil until salt and sugar dissolve. Taste the mix and add salt or sugar accordingly. A sweeter pickle works nicely here, complementing the saltiness of the pork and bright herbage. When you are satisfied with your mix, pour over the veg in a small glass jar or quart container. Make these the night before for extra flavor!

For the Pancetta

3 slices pancetta, (thick as bacon)

2 tbsp. sugar

Method—Slice the pancetta into Chiclet-sized rectangles. Render the pancetta in a non-stick pan over medium/low heat, allowing the fat to slowly melt away. This will take about 8 to 10 minutes. In the last few minutes of cooking, sprinkle the sugar over the pancetta and allow to lightly caramelize. Move pancetta to a wire rack for cooling. Avoid cooling pancetta on paper towel here. That sugar is candy and will stick!


For the Broccoli

2 heads broccoli, divided into florets

2 tbsp. olive oil

salt to taste

Method—Toss broccoli with the oil and a pinch of salt and roast in a 400° oven for about 8 to 10 minutes, until the tiny buds are brown and the broccoli is nicely tender with good crunch. Remove, taste for seasoning, adding salt if necessary, and roughly chop your florets into more manageable pieces.

Meanwhile, make sure that roommate or lover or whomever has been doing his/her job. Are the bean sprouts washed? The cilantro and mint too? What about the bread? Has it been sliced? Good because you should throw it in that hot oven for a few minutes to get a little toasty.  Now you are ready to assemble. You are moments away from satisfaction and full-fledged sandwich glory.

Assembly—I leave the baguette whole for assembly, and portion it out after. Generously slather both sides of the bread with your aioli. Now begin layering on the bottom half of the baguette, starting with the jalapeno, then broccoli, bean sprouts, mint, cilantro, and pickles. Top everything with the candied pancetta, and the other half of your bread, of course. Press firmly down on the sandwich to make sure everything stays where you tell it to. Cut in half. Give the smaller half to hungry roommate or lover, and enjoy. I would pour a glass of French Riesling with this—nicely acidic and bright with citrus fruit, they tend to pair nicely with bright herbs and are complementary of the richness of cured meats.


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