Sandwiches are curious foods. While leavened bread has been eaten with food since 4000 BCE, the sandwich wasn’t conceived until the 18th century. Its predecessor was presumably a fresher open-faced version of the English trenchers, where slices of meat and butter were placed atop stale bread “plates.” The story goes that John Montagu, 4th Earl of Sandwich, England conceived of the food as a convenient way to eat without skipping a hand at cards (Hawaii was also originally named The Sandwich Islands after the Earl).
Since its introduction to America as a hefty dinner option in the early 20th century, the sandwich has been a staple of our diet. Spins of the concept have reached the farthest corners of our melting pot. A sandwich is not to be trifled with. Origin stories for Grilled Cheese, Sloppy Joe, PB&J, and BLT are highly contentious, and New York best of lists of the Cuban, Soft Taco, Roast Beef, and the Panini have been fought over since their inceptions.
Whether inspired abroad or on New York soil, we are constantly looking to chart the new when it comes to the sandwich. Love it or leave it, this trendiness has produced a lot of good and bad lunches. A cool wave of bánh mì shops has recently infiltrated the great triangle of trends, East Village, Lower East Side, and Williamsburg. Always last in line, The New York Times declared 2009 the “Year of the Bánh Mì” while New York gives a rundown of their favorite street shops, including friends of ours An Choi on Orchard Street. The bánh mì is a result of the French colonial empire in Vietnam, drawing from the French baguette with pâté and butter and adding local flavors of spicy pepper, fish sauce, pickled carrots and cilantro. Back in 1996, the Daily News reported the sandwich’s lack of sticking power. Pho Viet Huong owner Billy Chau was quoted as saying New Yorkers “think it’s a cold-cut sandwich and don’t want to order it. When they taste it, they know the difference.” The New York Times reported back in 2008 “To make it here, a sandwich has to work overtime, being portable, filling, interesting and tasty.” While not at first a hit, the recent trends of using fresher ingredients, recipes with more complex flavors, and surge of Asian eateries has brought the bánh mì to the fore, and an influx of new recipes and shops to New York.
Popularity aside, lets talk about this sandwich for a moment. While the bread takes its inspiration from the baguette, the Vietnamese version uses rice flour and produces a chewier, almost Italian loaf that lends better to crunchy veggies. Once you get passed its rugged exterior (i.e. crust), you are rewarded with some tender meats, a spicy sauce to catch in the corners of your mouth, a smear of pâté, and dare we say a winning combination of vegetables. Sweetly pickled carrots and daikon, fresh slices of cucumber, and whole sprigs of cilantro to be exact.
My last bánh mì was at Nicky’s a month ago. Heat waves tend to make you think of crunchy, refreshing foods. When it comes to trends, I generally like to make my own. So we kiddies made some sandwiches on Sunday. They were fabulous the first day, but by the second morning the bread had gone stale, the chicken was tough, and the vegetables had lost some of their crunch, making it clear this sandwich must be made fresh or not at all. Love ‘em already or waiting for the next crave, the combination of spicy, crunchy, sweet, and savory opens a lot of doors.
Chicken Bánh Mì
Recipe from Food & Wine with some changes
1/2 cup Asian fish sauce
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup sugar
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
In a bowl, whisk the fish sauce with the lime juice, sugar, garlic, Thai chiles and salt. Add the chicken and cover in the fridge for 3 hours, not more than 8 or the chicken will become tough.
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of crushed red pepper
3 large carrots, julienned
1/4 pound daikon radish, julienned
In a small saucepan, bring the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and crushed red pepper to a boil. Transfer the brine to a large bowl and let cool to room temperature. Add the carrots and daikon and cover to keep them submerged. Refrigerate the vegetables for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days.
1 Organic egg yolk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup peanut or other mild oil
2 tablespoon freshly squeeze lemon juice
3 tablespoons garlic pepper sauce
A handful of cilantro sprigs, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Combine the egg, mustard, and some pepper in a bowl. Whisk. Pour the oil in slowly, in a steady stream and whisk vigorously. Once the oil is incorporated, whisk for another 30 seconds. Add in the lemon juice and whisk to incorporate. Taste, salt, and adjust seasonings. Add the chili pepper sauce, cilantro, garlic, and cayenne to taste.
Four 8-inch Italian or other chewy white baguettes, split and grilled
1 cucumber, thinly sliced lengthwise
A handful of cilantro sprigs, washed and dried
2 jalapeños, thinly sliced
Heat a saute pan on medium heat. Remove the chicken and pat dry. Cook 4 minutes to a side until done. Let rest. Slice the chicken breasts. Drain the pickled vegetables. Spread the cut sides of the baguettes with the spicy mayo. Arrange the cucumber slices on the bottom halves. Top with the chicken and the pickled carrots and daikon. Garnish with the cilantro sprigs and jalapeño. Close the sandwiches and ENJOY.
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