Vietnamese Sandwich with Braised Pork Belly

Bánh mì (“bread” in Vietnamese”) sandwich is fusion at its best, as it combines Vietnamese-Asian flavors with French ones. It became a popular street food in Saigon around the 50’s, and from there its popularity spread around the world.
The sandwich consists of assorted meats or pâté, mayonnaise, cucumber, cilantro, chili and pickled carrots and Daikon radish – all layered in a crusty baguette. All these ingredients together create a mouthwatering combination of textures and flavors. Every bite combines sweet, savory, tangy and hot flavors, along with the freshness of cucumber, cilantro and pickles – and the result is totally addictive.
My go-to version for this tasty sandwich, was one with braised pork belly, which was served in a small restaurant in Manhattan. Alas, the chef has left, and what is now served there is no longer what I crave. Other places I’ve tried were also not as pleasing.
So, I had no choice but to try to create my own version, and you can see the result here. While this version is definitely not authentic, it still worked well for me. Try it and enjoy.

* Daikon radish is a mild flavored white radish, which looks like a large parsnip. It is used often in Asian cuisines, both fresh and cooked. It can be found in Asian markets, and in some supermarkets.
* Admittedly, as is the case with other types of radish, Daikon radish produces a somewhat unpleasant aroma when pickled. However, as it is an important part of the combination of flavors in this sandwich, I urge you to look beyond that and still make it.
* Chicken thighs can substitute the pork belly. In this case, cooking time should be shorter.
* While many versions suggest spreading the bread with mayonnaise, I prefer not to use it,  as the filling is quite fatty as is. However, feel free to use it if you wish.

Pickled Carrots and Daikon Radish
Makes: 4 cups
Prep time: 15 minutes
Marinating time: 3 days and up to two weeks

4 cups water
2 Tbs salt
3 Tbs sugar
¾ cup rice wine vinegar
2 cup packed julienned carrots (from about 3 medium)
2 cups packed julienned Daikon radish (from 1 medium)

1. Boil ½ cup of the water; add the salt and sugar, and stir to dissolve. Add the rest of the water and vinegar, stir well and keep at room temperature until using.
2. Peel and julienne the carrots and radish, and transfer into pickling jars. Pour the marinade liquid on top and seal. Keep in the fridge for at least three days before using, and up to two weeks.

Braised Pork Belly
Makes: 4
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour
Marinating time: overnight

0.9 Lbs (400 grams) pork belly
1 Tbs oil
1 Tbs sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, sliced
1” (2.5 cm) ginger, sliced
2 Star Anise
2 tsp each: Hoisin sauce, Gochujang (Korean sweet and spicy sauce), date syrup (or brown sugar)
A few drops of hot sauce to taste
¼ cup rice wine vinegar

1. Cut the pork belly into large cubes and pat dry. Heat the oil in a large pan over medium-high heat, and fry lightly on all sides. Transfer to a plate.

2. Discard most of the fat in the pan, add the sugar and let caramelize. Add the water and soy sauce, and mix until the caramel dissolves.

3. Add the rest of ingredients, mix well and add the meat. Bring to a boil, cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for about 1 hour, mixing occasionally, until the meat is tender and the sauce thickens. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed.

4. Bring to room temperature and keep in the fridge, covered, overnight.
5. When ready to use, discard the fat layer that accumulated on top, and reheat over medium heat.

For assembling the sandwich
1 fresh baguette, cut into four and sliced open
Braised pork belly
Chopped jalapenos
1 cucumber, sliced thin lengthwise
Pickled carrots and Daikon radish
Washed and dried cilantro leaves

1. Toast the baguette lightly in a hot oven to crisp it up.
2. Divide the pork belly, with some of the sauce, between the baguette pieces.
3. Top with chopped jalapenos, sliced cucumber, a generous handful of the pickles and cilantro. Serve immediately.

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