Chicken Bánh Mì

Bánh Mì sandwiches have been an obsession of mine for a while. I could get them at the airport sometimes when I traveled, and while I even have a cookbook dedicated to them stashed away somewhere, I hadn’t really made them often because the very traditional fillings for these quintessential Vietnamese sandwiches didn’t really appeal and seemed more involved (patés, and the like). I love, love the roasted pork fillings (I’m a bit obsessed with Cubano sandwiches too!), but I really got hooked on the chicken version.

After receiving the Cravings 2 cookbook from my niece (thanks Jilli!), one of the things I’ve gone back to is the formula for the quick pickles in Chrissy’s Bánh Mì sandwich recipe, though I often switch them up. I love daikon radish in the quick pickles, but carrots are required for crunch, plus other veggies are good options too. The version in the book is using grilled pork tenderloin as the filling. My version used chicken thighs instead – and wow, that worked perfectly.

The pickles are simple, and only need about an hour to marinate, though they last for several days as well. I usually use a combination of 1-2 carrots, grated; about the same amount of daikon radish, grated; and then anything else – cucumber, shallots, red onion, red pepper – to end up with around 1.5 to 2 c. of veggies, loosely packed. I place these in a pint mason jar, waiting on the brine. For that, it’s 1/2c. rice wine vinegar, 1/3c. sugar (I use granulated, but raw is also nice), 1 t salt. From there, if I have them handy, several black peppercorns and/or about half of a hot chilé such as jalapeño or serrano. This gets heated in a small saucepan for a few minutes to dissolve the sugar, then cooled for another few – then poured over the vegetables in the jar. Close it up and refrigerate for at least 1 hour (though I’ve been known to eat them sooner).

For the filling, I used 1.25 lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs, put them in a small ziplock bag as is (you could cut them up, but I think they are easier to grill when they are whole – there’s plenty of surface to absorb the marinade). In a small bowl, I combined 1/2c. brown sugar (again, you could use raw sugar), 3 T each soy sauce and vegetable oil, grated zest of lime, 1-2 T lime juice, 1 T fish sauce, one shallot (I used freeze dried, since it’s what I had), 2 cloves of garlic (I used crushed), 1-3 t Sriracha and 1/4 t ground white pepper. This marinade gets poured over the chicken, then plopped into the refrigerator for at least an hour, and up to 4 hours. Note: this is actually more marinade than necessary, so next time, I’m sure I’ll use a bit more chicken, since it’s awesome, and the chicken makes great sandwiches the next day too.

I heated the barbecue grill to medium-high, drained the chicken from the marinade, and then grilled the chicken until the edges were browned and nicely caramelized, and the chicken cooked through but still juicy – maybe a total of about 10 minutes. After removing from the grill, I let the chicken rest while I prepped the sandwiches.

This recipe makes 4 sandwiches so for each, you’ll need a roll – I use Bolillos, as they are the soft French-type bread often used in the southwest for Mexican sandwiches and griddled toast (and are perfect for those Cubanos too), but I’ve also used French rolls, hogie rolls, or whatever is available fresh at the store – the important thing is that they should be soft on the inside and chewy on the outside.

The rolls are cut in half, then slathered (yes) with mayonnaise, squirted with Sriracha to taste (alternatively, thinly sliced jalapeños are terrific), drained pickles on the bottom, filled with the sliced up chicken, and about 1/4-1/2c. of fresh cilantro leaves topping it off (or to taste).

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This was such a great sandwich! The chicken was perfect, super juicy and flavorful, and the other components only add to the final product. The Sriracha really adds a great counterpoint, though I still love the fresh jalapeños I sometimes add. I could see using some different herbs, perhaps some basil – or even a combination – potentially including fresh mint too. The marinade for the meat could be altered as well – maybe some hoisin, ginger or sweet chili sauce? It would take it farther out of the traditional realm, but would still be delicious. I love that this is actually fast, too. Sure, there is an hour of marinating (or more, if that’s easier), but it’s unfussy, and super simple, even if the list of ingredients is longer. 

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