At our house that means that time is at a premium in a way that is unlike any other time of year. Trips to the cabin, beach days, BBQs, after dinner swims, the list goes on and on. I find that summer gets us up earlier and into bed later, but somehow there’s no extra time – just more fun packed into long sunny days. How we cook and eat in the summer is the most ideal: fast, easy, fresh. Really, it’s an inspiration for the rest of the year, but there is no busier, fresher and lower maintenance time of year to cook and eat than the summer months. I’m loving sangrias and smoothies these days, and almost anything if it’s in sandwich form – I want that speed, big flavor and the potential for portability, in case plans change, or crop up, and the meal needs to move with you. One thing I’m really digging is the resurgence in popularity of the banh mi, or Vietnamese Sandwich, affectionately called ‘Nam Subs around here. They are a perfect storm of flavor and texture and they can be re-interpreted to suit your taste or what you have on hand.
My version is basic and customized to the tastes of the people I most frequently feed and is not meant to be the picture of authenticity. What is is, however, is mega-delicious.
I’ve made some additions and subtractions from the traditional banh mi, but I think the crowning glory of this sandwich is two-fold: the chicken is marinated and grilled, not chopped and done pate-style as is traditional, and the bread is slathered with an easy to make but deceptively delicious sandwich spread.
Before we get into the details, let’s talk components:
Start with good bread. A crusty outside/soft inside French baguette is perfection but a chewy, airy ciabatta will do. Aim for something more flavorful and toothsome than your regular sandwich bread. As I write this I’m suddenly thinking that sourdough is a must-try.
Marinate your chicken (or tofu, or pork, or whatever ..) I totally cheat for this step. I crack open a jar of green Thai curry sauce (here in Canada I like the President’s Choice brand), dump it onto a large zip-top bag with some boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I had pounded out thin, and let them rest in the fridge while I prep everything else. That’s it. Now, I know that a jar of Thai sauce for a Vietnamese sandwich is hardly authentic, but in terms of flavor, it’s perfect. Alternatively you could make your own marinade with some lemon grass, coconut milk, lime, chilies, etc., but if speed and efficiency are part of the plan, then do as I do and keep your favorite curry on hand for when you want to make these sandwiches.
Next, the veggies. I like to make long, thin julienne of carrot, peppers and cucumber and slices of radish. For this sandwich I want crunch and freshness – daikon is traditional and gives good crunch, but its less flavorful than cucumber and not as readily available, so i usually skip it. Additionally I add a handful of chopped cilantro and several basil leaves for complexity and extra flavor and aroma.
Lastly, the sauce/spread. This is the simplest thing but it makes all the difference. I always make more because it’s great on other sandwiches or stirred into tuna or egg salad as well.
Make as much as you feel you’ll need for the number of sandwiches you’re making. I find that one baguette and 3 chicken breasts makes 5 sandwiches. For that amount I make a cup of the sandwich spread, knowing that I will have some left over:
1 cup mayonnaise (low fat is fine, preferred, actually)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
1 Tbsp sriracha chili sauce
1 tsp honey
1 Tbsp seasoned rice wine vinegar
To put it all together, grill the chicken after letting it marinade at least an hour. Let the chicken rest. Cut the baguette length wise and butter and toast the cut side in a pan or on the grill. Spread the bread with the sandwich spread (one or both sides, to your taste). Stack up chicken (cut into strips), top with veggies and lastly, the herbs. Cut into 5 or more portions, and serve immediately or wrap in parchment paper and take them a long on a picnic. It’s summer – eat well and do what feels good! Enjoy!