Somebody once made a comment to me when I said something about Vietnamese comfort food. They said, "There's comfort food in Vietnamese cooking?" That was about the oddest thing I'd heard since, "I'm really not a very adventurous eater." I thought I'd been sheltered, after all, growing up in a small town in Southern Arkansas where my parents preferred I go to college just an hour away and never venture too far out towards the outside, real world. As if I would let that happen! I just have to say that exploring the world and other cultures are favorites in this red kitchen! What I've learned from reading cookbooks from all over the world is that so many different cultures from Asian to Italian to Polish have many commonalities from soups to sandwiches to sides. Usually it just comes down to different spices, cooking methods, or food combinations.
Take for example, lamb. As far as I know, lamb is often used in Greek, French and Italian cooking, varying in if you serve it with tzaziki, a side of escargot and foie gras (YUM!) or atop a bed of spinaci con Aglio e olio. We don't have too many hard limits in this red kitchen, so incorporating lamb into Vietnamese cuisine is not hard here.
I love a rack of lamb chops, and I love some little lamb loin chops. Here I've used lamb shoulder blade chops bacause my husband says we are on a No - 7 For All Mankind - Jeans kind of budget, which is fine, because I can be perfectly happy with my one pair of True Religions for ever and ever. But staying true to our budget meant I needed to find a more economical cut of lamb to cook until I possibly rejoin the world of working (outside the home). This cut of lamb is meatier, has more bones, and contains more connective tissue, and it's just fine when it's treated with TLC and braised in delicious flavors.
The Vietnamese banh mi is comprised of a few essential ingredients, including a French baguette, reminding us that Vietnam was under French rule for quite some time. My mom was fluent in French when she was younger. But you know what they say, if you don't use it you lose it. I myself speak a little Vietnamese, but only barely enough to know what they're saying about me when I visit a new nail salon other than the one that I usually frequent.
Other essential ingredients include julienned or shredded radish and carrots which are pickled. Luckily, I have a kitchen tool that does that for me. Then the sandwich should have pate to spread on each slice, some cilantro, and other optional ingredients would be thinly sliced cucumber and jalapeno pepper.
For the braised lamb:
- 3 - 4 slices of lamb shoulder blade chops, 1 1/2 - 2 lbs. total
- 1 tbsp shao hsing rice cooking wine
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 2 tbsp tamari, reduced sodium, organic
- 2 tsp sesame oil
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
- Handful of mint leaves, torn
Marinate the lamb with all the following ingredients in a large zipper bag overnight.
For the banh mi (sandwich):
- 1 French Baguette
- 1 lb. daikon radish
- 1 lb. carrots
- 1 c. sugar, natural cane turbinado
- 4 tsp salt, preferably coarse kosher
- 1 c. rice vinegar
- 1 c. water
- Pate, any kind
Braise the lamb:
- Remove the lamb from the refrigerator about 30 minutes prior to cooking. Heat a large pan over medium high heat, then add a tbsp of oil. Sear each side about 2 minutes each.
- In a separate, small saucepan heat 1/2 cup of sugar over medium heat. No stirring needed, just let it melt. Once it bubbles, stir until the color is a nice shade of caramel and all the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat. Add 1 tbsp of fish sauce.
- Add a cup of water to the lamb pan. Next, add the caramel mixture. As it comes up to a boil, reduce heat to low and cover, about 45 minutes.
Assemble the banh mi:
- Tear the baguette at whatever length you'd like it. Cut in half lengthwise. Spread some pate on each slice of the baguette.
- Top a slice with the lamb, which you can cut or pull apart into small pieces. Add cilantro, the pickled carrots & daikon radish, and optional fresh jalapeno and carrot slices.
(Pickled carrots & daikon)
- Julienne or cut the peeled carrots and daikon into thin matchsticks. Add 4 tsp. sugar and 2 tsp salt. Let the moisture seep out for about 5 minutes, then rinse under cold water.
- Drain, then whisk the rice vinegar with 1 c. water, 2 tsp salt, and 3 tbsp sugar. Let stand about an hour.