Lemongrass Beef Banh Mi Recipe
This month we’re very happy to feature a brand new sandwich recipe for you. In case you’re new here, or just missed our last post, we have focused Culicurious to study and examine culture via one fairly universal dish: the sandwich. This month, we’re examining the cross section between New Orleans and Vietnamese culture with a lemongrass beef banh mi recipe. Here in New Orleans the banh mi sandwich has become increasingly popular with the continued proliferation of Vietnamese restaurants in our metro area.
The banh mi represents an interesting cross-section of French influence in two radically different places. Of course, the French have been in Southeast Louisiana since the late 1600s. New Orleans itself was colonized in 1699 by the French. The French have also been involved in Vietnam since the 17th century, culminating with the creation of their French Indochina colony in 1887 and ending in 1954 when Vietnam declared independence after the First Indochina War. The French introduced Catholicism to North America in Louisiana and to the Vietnamese as well. This common religious ground, coupled with the commercial fishing culture, is how many Vietnamese refugees came to be settled in Southeast Louisiana in the 1970s and 1980s in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
The French influence can be seen in the foodways of both Vietnam and Southeast Louisiana. It was the French who first brought their baguettes, pâté, and even mayonnaise (probably called aioli back in the day) to Vietnam — these foreign ingredients serve as a base for the banh mi. Similarly, the po’ boy was invented by brothers Bennie and Clovis Martin, who hail from Acadiana originally but created their iconic sandwich in New Orleans at the French Market. Both sandwiches have a French bread base and are piled high with meat and vegetables. Both offer portable, delectable meal options. Both were born from the French culinary canon.
While these sandwiches developed separately, they now exist alongside each other in New Orleans. We’re going to be presenting a po’ boy recipe to you in December, but for now, let’s tackle the banh mi.
The banh mi has a standard set of ingredients, but those can be remixed and changed up to suit the taste of the diner. Typically, the sandwich starts with some type of meat or tofu base. Common options are char-grilled pork, hot pork sausage patties, lemongrass beef, or marinated tofu. Today we’re presenting lemongrass beef because we came into some high quality beef that begged to be used here (more on that later).
Other standard toppings are do chua (sweet and sour pickled daikon radish and carrots), fresh cilantro leaves (and sometimes mint), sliced fresh jalapeños, thinly sliced cucumbers, mayonnaise, and pâté (or foie gras). On our sandwich, we opted to omit the jalapeños because we find that the spiciness of jalapeños obscures the more subtle flavors of the vegetables and meat on a sandwich like a banh mi. For our pâté, we used a country-style terrine, though we could have just as easily used a more spreadable chicken liver pâté as well. Of course, we made the do chua from scratch and have included that recipe for you here.
Finally, the bread. Since we have the luxury of a Vietnamese bakery in our city, we went there and bought their special single serving-style French baguette rolls. Incidentally, the Vietnamese term for bread is banh mi, and since these single serving-style rolls are the most common form of bread in Vietnam, the term banh mi is synonymous with them. Another thing that makes these rolls so special is that they typically contain some rice flour along with wheat flour. If you don’t have the option of Vietnamese banh mi rolls, you can use any type of French bread loaf, baguette, or even an Italian sub roll, if that’s all you can find. This sandwich will taste best on the light yet firm loaf of the Vietnamese-syle French bread, but not everyone can have that. We understand. Just use the best possible bread you can get your hands on.
One of our favorite parts of these sandwich explorations is the shopping and procurement. We love hunting and tracking down our ingredients from a source that means something, a source that carries at least a little bit of the food culture we are exploring. To us, that’s just as much part of the fun as the cooking and eating. This time around, we sourced our products from four different places, and we’ll share a little about each with you here.
Let’s start with that impressive French bread that we just mentioned. Out in New Orleans East, there’s a bakery called Dong Phuong. Along with excellent French bread, they make a variety of Vietnamese pastries and will even make banh mi sandwiches to order (at a quite reasonable price, too!). Dong Phuong’s bread is revered in this city and any restaurant worth their salt in New Orleans that’s selling a banh mi uses Dong Phuong bread. One of our favorite sandwich spots, Killer PoBoys in the French Quarter, uses Dong Phuong bread on their unique style of chef-inspired po’ boys as well. Killer PoBoys are so reliant on this bakery that they close on Tuesdays, the only day of the week Dong Phuong doesn’t bake bread.
Next up: the pâté. There are a few places that sell high quality pâté in New Orleans, but our favorite is Cochon Butcher, a sandwich shop, butcher shop, and wine bar by the great Chef Donald Link. Of course, stopping at Butcher for pâté gave us the perfect excuse for having lunch there as well (which you MUST do when visiting New Orleans). The pâté we purchased was a country-style terrine. We wanted chicken liver pâté but country-style is what they had so we landed there. Ours was pork-based, which again is fine for this sandwich. You can use any type of pork-based pâté or terrine or as we’ve said, a chicken liver pâté. The end goal is to give your banh mi that rich, earthy taste.
The beef is the only item we didn’t buy locally. We had the opportunity to sample meats by Texas Bar Organics out of Red Bluff, California, and since we knew we had this sandwich to make we jumped on it. Normally, we buy our meat locally, but in this case, we made an exception. We support the way that Texas Bar Organics raises their cows: organic, of course, and also grass fed. Their meats score well on the animal welfare rating system, and they can ship freshly frozen organic beef anywhere in the country. Not everyone has the option to buy locally or regionally sourced meats, but many without this option still place importance on the way the animals they consume are raised. That’s why companies like Texas Bar Organics are so important. They worked with us to provide cuts that would be appropriate for this sandwich. We selected their sliced knuckle cut (also called sirloin tip steak) for its quick cooking time and ability to stay tender. You can use any thin cut of beef like this knuckle cut (sirloin tip) or you can try a sandwich steak cut, too. Any thin, quick-cooking cut of beef will work just fine.
Finally, the most exciting part of this procurement process was our trip out to the Vietnamese Farmer’s Market in New Orleans East. We woke early on a Saturday morning to visit for our vegetables (cilantro, carrot, daikon radish, and cucumber). The market also features live poultry, fresh shrimp, and a variety of fish cleaned for you out the back of a pickup truck. Since it’s off-season for produce here, they didn’t have much of what we needed – only the cilantro and the cucumber. However, the market takes place in the parking lot of a old strip mall where a small, local Vietnamese grocery store is located. Of course, they had the daikon and carrot that we needed so we bought them there. One stop, nice and easy.
With all the ingredients in hand, we’re ready to make our banh mi sandwich!
This sandwich is rather reasonable in terms of hands-on preparation time. With about an hour’s worth of effort, you’ll have one of the tastiest banh mi sandwiches you’ve ever eaten. However, there is some preparation to be done ahead of time. For example, the do chua (pickled carrots and daikon) should be prepared at least six hours, or even better, the day before you’re ready to use it. Further, the beef must marinate for at least two hours in the refrigerator and then spend another 30 minutes outside the fridge coming up to room temperature so the meat can cook more quickly (less time on heat = less tough meat). Long story short, if you’re making this sandwich, plan ahead.
The good news is that everything you’re doing here is quite easy. Most of the preparation involves slicing and chopping ingredients. The do chua is easy to prepare, as is the marinade for the beef. The other vegetables (cilantro, cucumber) are quickly sliced and placed. It’s no big deal to slice the pâté either so don’t be taken aback by the directions below. They appear complicated because what is described is actually three recipes: the do chua, the lemongrass marinade for the beef, and the banh mi sandwich itself. We’ve gone to great lengths to detail everything you need to do, which is why the directions are so long. But when it comes time to put it all together and eat it, you’ll find that this is not a complicated sandwich at all. The pleasure in a banh mi lay in this simplicity, which allows all the fresh, simple flavors to co-mingle and shine.
The importance of the banh mi lay in that French influence, the same influence that gave rise to New Orleans’ most beloved (and remarkably similar) po’ boy sandwich. Both the banh mi and the po’boy share a common ancestor, though they have developed differently thanks to the thousands of geographic, culinary and cultural miles that separated them for centuries. So the differences between the banh mi and the po’ boy become just as instructive as the similarities. From the same seed grew two different creations. They incorporate different vegetables, different cooking methods, and different flavor profiles. In the end though, the banh mi demonstrates exactly what we hope to explore in this series: the way that different cultures take a common idea (in this case, the sandwich) and make it their own. Contrasting the banh mi with the po’ boy (and the hoagie, sub, and grinder while we’re at it) demonstrates that while sandwiches are similar the world over, they are never the same. They are indelibly imprinted with the cultures that took their tastes and traditions and placed them between bread.
Lemongrass Beef Banh Mi
This lemongrass beef banh mi recipe is based on the classic preparation method. Remember to plan ahead as the do chua must sit for six hours and the beef needs to marinate for two hours.
Banh Mi Sandwich Recipe:
- 2 French-style baguette rolls (around 6” each), cut in half length-wise
- 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
- 1/4 pound pâté (country style, chicken liver, foie gras, etc), cut into 1/8” slices
- 1/2 pound lemongrass beef (see recipe below)
- 8 thin cucumber slices
- 1/4 cup do chua (carrot and radish pickles), drained (see recipe below)
- 1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves (tender stems are ok; remove larger stems)
Do Chua (Pickled Carrot & Daikon Radish) Recipe:
- 1 cup matchstick-cut carrot
- 1 cup matchstick-cut daikon radish
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 cup hot water (from the tap)
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
Lemongrass Marinade Recipe for Beef:
- 1 tablespoon tamari (or soy sauce)
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh lemongrass root
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons neutral oil (olive, grape seed, safflower, etc)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon cane syrup (sub more honey if you can’t get cane syrup)
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 dash cayenne pepper
- 1/2 pound thinly cut beef (knuckle, sirloin tip, sandwich steak, etc)
- 2 teaspoons neutral oil (olive, grape seed, safflower, etc)
Banh Mi Sandwich Method:
- Start this recipe by first making the do chua. These should sit for at least six hours in the fridge. If you’re pressed for time you can use them before that, but the pickles will taste better the longer they sit. Ideally, you’d prepare these the day before so they’re optimally tasty for your sandwich. Skip down to the instructions under the “Do Chua Method” section for directions on how to prepare these pickles.
- Once you have the pickles prepared and in the fridge, start on the beef. Ideally, you’d allow the beef to marinate for two hours in the fridge then allow for an extra 30 minutes for the beef to come to room temperature. Skip down to the instructions under the “Lemongrass Beef Method” section for the preparation directions for the beef.
- After you have the beef marinating, prepare the remaining ingredients: slice the baguettes, portion the mayo, slice the pâté, slice the cucumber, and pick the cilantro leaves. You can leave all this out at room temperature while the beef marinates.
- Once the beef and the pickles are ready to be put on on the sandwich, place your baguette halves on plates and prepare for plate up [Cooking instructions for the beef are listed below in the “Lemongrass Beef Method” section under “Cooking the beef” (Step #3)].
- Assembling the sandwich:
- Start by smearing a tablespoon of mayo on each sandwich half.
- On the bottom half, layer on about two slices of pate topped with 1/4 pound of beef.
- Next, top that with cucumber slices, do chua, and finish with the cilantro leaves.
- Place the top of the baguette on the other sandwich ingredients. If desired, cut the sandwich in half on a bias.
- Serve immediately and enjoy.
Do Chua Method:
- Combine the carrot and daikon radish matchsticks in a mixing bowl and add the teaspoon of kosher salt.
- Rub the salt into the vegetables to soften their texture and to release some of the water in the vegetables.
- Continue to rub until the vegetables are softened, two to four minutes depending on your technique.
- Wash the vegetables and drain them in a colander.
- Combine the hot water, granulated sugar, and distilled vinegar in a bowl and whisk until sugar is dissolved.
- Transfer the vegetables into a pint-sized mason jar and top off with vinegar/water mixture, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace.
- Cap the jar and refrigerate six hours to overnight then enjoy.
- Store in refrigerator for up to four weeks. If daikon is “smelly” when you open the jar, allow it to sit for 15-20 minutes to air out the smell.
- Yield: 1 mason jar of pickles
Lemongrass Beef Method:
- Marinating the beef:
- Combine the first nine ingredients listed above under "Lemongrass Marinade Recipe for Beef" in a bowl and whisk until combine.
- Pour the marinade into a quart-sized Ziploc-type bag and add the beef.
- Seal the bag, removing the extra air as you do so. Marinate the beef in the refrigerator for at least two hours.
- Remove the beef from the fridge 30 minutes before cooking to allow the beef to get to room temperature.
- Cooking the beef:
- When ready to cook, remove the beef from the marinade and gently pat it dry with paper towels.
- Over high heat, heat the remaining teaspoons of oil in a large skillet until the oil and skillet are very hot.
- Add beef in a single layer and cook about one minute per side. Do not overcook — the beef will toughen.
- Set aside the cooked meat in a clean bowl or container and work in batches until you’ve cooked all of the beef.
- When all the beef is cooked, cut it into thin strips, about 1/2” wide and replace it in the bowl or container until it’s time to assemble the sandwich.
- You’ll find the remainder of the sandwich assembly instructions higher up under the “Banh Mi Sandwich Method” section header.
Prep:45 minutes (Active); 6 hours (Inactive)
Total:1 hour (active); 6 hours, 15 min (total)