This monthly cooking series features husband and wife team Barry and Kelley Courter.
BARRY SAYS: A sandwich is a sandwich is a sandwich, right? I've eaten BLTs, PB&Js, ham and cheese, Cubans, whatever. I like them all, and often, I've discovered, simple is better.
Since my wife, Kelley, discovered the Vietnamese banh mi in a New York Times food section, it has become an obsession in our household. She's become like an alchemist, determined to study the ingredients until she understands it on the DNA level, and we, the rest of the family, are happy to be along for the ride.
I think we've had six versions of this sandwich -- ground pork, pork mixed with sausage, grilled pork and, now, pork done in the slow cooker, Southern style. We've also changed up the bread each time, so the mathematical variations are beyond my simple ciphering.
The end result is that every single version is miles ahead of nearly every other sandwich I've had in the flavor department. This is a delicious sandwich. I heard the other day that each one of us tastes cilantro differently. It's probably true of jalapenos too, so out of the gate this sandwich is special.
The bread, whether hard or soft, chewy or crunchy, sweet or floury, makes a difference. So does the crunch and tartness of the vegetables.
This latest version was similar to a French dip with a spicy attitude. I preferred an earlier version, but like I said, each of us had a clear opinion.
KELLEY SAYS: Growing up, I could always put away two or three cheeseburgers at one sitting. I had a healthy appetite. But I can also put away two or three of these little gems. They are by far the ultimate sandwich for this girl. I would really like to know what a genuine banh mi tastes like. I have only read and researched, but the beauty with this is it can be a little different each time. Yes, we have tried several versions of the filling in our household, and I must say I love them all. The key is to get the right marriage of the bread, filling and vegetables. It's always important to add that little extra kick of Maggi seasoning and sriracha on top.
I wanted to try this in a slow cooker just to get a little bit more juice with the meat. It worked, and I will do it again. For the quick version, using ground pork is an excellent alternative. The recipe that I've included today is an adaptation of my Southern take on the banh mi.
2 tablespoons unseasoned rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 bag slaw mix
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup thinly sliced hot house cucumber
2 thinly sliced radishes
1 minced jalapeno pepper
2 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro
Dissolve vinegar, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add remaining ingredients and chill until ready to use.
3 pounds Boston butt pork roast, trimmed of excess fat
1 to 2 teaspoons peanut oil
6 shallots, sliced
6 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large onion, sliced
1/3 can green curry paste
6 lime leaves
2 tablespoons Asian fish sauce
2 cups water
Freshly ground black pepper
Slice meat into 1-inch portions. Sear the meat in a skillet with peanut oil. Once the sides begin to have a nice crispness to them, place meat in slow cooker. Remove most of remaining oil from pan, and sauté shallots, garlic, onion and curry paste until onions are tender. Add lime leaves, fish sauce and water, scraping up any brown pieces from the bottom of the skillet. Pour this mixture over the meat. Sprinkle with black pepper (we like a lot), cover the pot and cook on high heat for 5 to 6 hours or until tender. Remove meat from pot, and shred into small pieces. Return to pot, and leave until ready to assemble sandwich.
Mix 3/4 cup mayonnaise and 1/4 cup sriracha sauce.
We made two versions of this sandwich with two breads. One was a hollowed-out German brotchen, purchased at Bluff View Bakery. The other was a Mexican bolillo purchased at a local Latin market.
We heated both breads, then slathered on the mayo sauce, followed by the meat. At this point, we added the Maggi seasoning, which is a version of soy sauce. Next we topped the sandwich off with the slaw, along with extra sliced jalapenos and fresh mint. The final item is a good squirt of sriracha sauce.
Both sandwiches turned out the way I had hoped. Cooking the meat in the slow cooker gave us more juice. This especially worked well for both of these breads, but we all agreed that the brotchen was the better option.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...