In Vietnam where it originates, the term banh mi is simply used to describe bread, or more specifically a light and fluffy, single-serving, French-style baguette. In Western cultures however, the meaning of the term has been expanded; we think of banh mi as a meat-filled sandwich on this same style of banh mi, or bread. The term is even loosely used in reference to the toppings on this now westernized sandwich, such as a “banh mi style slaw,” even though the word really has nothing to do with pickled vegetables whatsoever.
While the meat that frequently fills this yummy sandwich ranges from pork to chicken to tofu, even all the way to headcheese, the toppings generally remain traditionally Vietnamese, including pickled vegetables, fresh cucumber, chili sauce, and of course plenty of fresh cilantro.
Meat, bread, and a few veggies. Seems like a pretty simple sandwich, right?
Maybe. Potentially. It could be. If we rolled that way.
But the Banh Mi Sammy at Porter Road Butcher is nothing close to simple. From start to finish, this sandwich takes 48 hours to prepare. Sure, assembling the sandwich takes only 3 minutes to do once the components have been prepared, but our lunch chef David really has to plan in advance if he wants to put this bad boy on the menu.
The process begins by showing a little lovin’ to a big ole pasture-raised pork butt, as David rubs a cure of pink salt and sugar all over that voluptuous hunk of meat. He then allows it to cure for 24 hours before popping the butt into a screaming hot oven for roughly twenty minutes, just searing the outside. When the twenty minutes are up, the sugars from the cure are beautifully browned and caramelized and that butt looks like it’s ready to be pulled and devoured.
Au contraire. Still more or less raw on the inside, this piece of pork is heading to the oven—this time on an extremely low temperature—to hibernate and slow-cook for a solid 12 hours, generally overnight while the butchers are resting their weary heads.
David first wraps the seared pork butt about a gazillion times in oven-safe cling film, and then finally swaddles it with a layer of aluminum foil, making sure there are no holes or escape routes for any of the deliciousness to leak out. This heavy insulation keeps all of the juices and fat locked in, which keeps the meat juicy and tender. When the twelve hours are up, he pulls the butt out of the oven and allows it to cool before pulling the pork by hand.
While the pork is busy cooling, David is busy preparing the slaw. Very busy. Instead of using a mandolin or shredder or something equally as efficient to trim his veggies down into matchsticks, David hand-cuts the cabbage, carrots, radish and jalapeno that make up his slaw. “I’m not very trusting with a mandolin, and I find I get a more consistent cut when I just do it myself,” he explains. Rice vinegar, fresh ginger, and a few other Asian-style ingredients give this slaw a Vietnamese flare, and after pickling for at least a day or two, add a delightful crunch and tang to the banh mi.
Finally, the last time-consuming component to this complicated creation is the pâté spread. Pasture raised pork liver, Belle Meade Bourbon, Hatcher’s cream, Willow Farm eggs, fresh thyme, and two hours under the press make this pâté so incredibly outstanding, but when we thin it down and turn it into a luxurious spread—which we dubbed Pâté Mayonnaise, a nod to our favorite yellow-haired hunny from Nickelodeon’s cartoon show, Doug—it turns into a perfect, rich and creamy accent.
Plus, how fortunate are we than Bobby John Henry has perfected the art of baking that banh mi style roll? Even in the final step of wrapping your sandwich in an insulating layer of tin foil, David takes care in maintaining the bread’s original form: no smashing. “I learned from a Vietnamese woman that keeping the bread fluffy is what can ‘make or break’ your banh mi” said David. “She told me mine was the best in Nashville, so that was an incredible compliment.”
While the active time on this sandwich doesn’t amount to anything to terribly daunting, the planning ahead, the eternal waiting, and the preparation that go into making the seemingly simple banh mi are what make this sandwich a true labor of love. No shortcuts are taken, no corners are cut, and only the best products are used.
It’s just a shame it will most likely disappear into your belly in roughly two minutes. Bon appétit!
Banh Mi Sammy $12 – Pasture raised pork butt slow roasted with a brown sugar glaze, house made Thai slaw, pork pâté spread, Asian chili sauce, and fresh cilantro on a BJH bun