May 30, 2016
Star Crossed Sandwiches
Sandwiches have always been, and continue to be, one of the most popular items on most any menu in the western world. Sandwiches cross every time zone and every day-part— from a Croque Monsieur or soft-shell crab po’ boy, to a lamb gyro or late night PB & J— anything you can pick up that resembles a sandwich has the potential to be a winning menu addition.
Coming up with new sandwich ideas still presents a challenge to every Chef during the menu writing cycle. How to mix things up? How to keep things fresh? How to re-invent things? Most importantly, how to come up with another winner?
Earlier, I wrote a piece on steamed buns and it occurred to me—what a great springboard to creativity! It turns out that some of the newest answers to the age-old question, “where to find that next, great sandwich idea”, might actually be a little over 2,700 years old! Though not typically known to us in the West as a source of sandwich ideas, the Far East deserves our attention. There are two sandwich ideas that come to mind: the aforementioned steamed buns and Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich.
Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwich is of course not as old as steam buns and Bao Buns, having been a more recent result of the French colonization of Vietnam and the popularity of inexpensive and readily available baguettes. Perhaps it started with a simple slice of home-made liver pate and some mustard smeared between two slices of baguette, but it quickly became much more than that. According to Richard Johnson, author of Lonely Planets: The World’s Best Street Food, the Vietnamese Banh Mi ranks as the best sandwich in the world. National Geographic magazine ranks the Banh Mi as one of the Top 15 most delicious sandwiches in the world.
With the Banh Mi approaching ubiquity, let’s talk about combining these two ideas into something new. Steamed Bun Banh Mi is a natural. With a little roasted pork, pickled vegetables, fresh cilantro and some spicy sauce— you’re off to the races. It just takes a seasoned protein, a vegetable component with a lot of flavor, and a tasty sauce of course! Finish with a highly seasoned or crunchy garnish, fresh herbs and a drizzle of an accompanying sauce and your next big sandwich idea will just fall together naturally. Once you start experimenting, it’ll be no time before you’re into sesame braised pork belly, sliced thin with house-made kimchi and lime pickles.
So forget the basic BLT, unless you’re thinking about crispy duck bacon with wasabi-iceberg and seared tuna with a spicy sweet chili mayo and toasted sesame seeds!