The after-turkey sandwich worth waiting for
Banh mi takes leftovers to a whole new level
Sitting around the Thanksgiving table each year, watching my family tuck into their turkey and dressing, I’m usually content to just sip Champagne and nibble on some veggies. Maybe I’ll have a bit of turkey, but by this point I have been living and breathing this meal for some time, and it feels like every fiber of my body has been infused with the aroma of sage and onion. I am happy to simply sit back and enjoy the people I love, watch traditions live on and new ones take hold.
Honestly, what I’m really waiting for is a sandwich.
When I was a child, we always would go for a walk after Thanksgiving dinner, then reconvene for a movie, turkey sandwiches and pie. I loved this chapter of the holiday as much as the actual feast itself, and still do today. The tradition remains mostly unchanged, but when I discovered turkey banh mi, the sandwich component was taken to a whole new level.
Born out of the time when the French occupied Vietnam, banh mi are a perfect fusion of culinary traditions. A light airy baguette is slathered with rich egg mayonnaise, then piled high with an array of meats, lemongrass-infused patés and sausages, sliced chilis, pickled radishes, and herbs like cilantro, mint and basil. The bracing greenness of the herbs and the characteristic funk of the pickled radish highlights the heat from the chili, which is in turn tempered by the bread and mayo. The fillings used in banh mi are wide-ranging and can include simple roasted turkey, chicken or pork, spiced sausage, and can be made vegetarian or vegan with eggs or marinated tofu.
There are a few key components essential to making a banh mi, and beyond those you can vary it to suit your own taste.
The bread should be light and airy. This is not the time for crusty artisan-type loaves with a hearty texture. I like to use Italian-type loaves that are sold in most supermarkets, slightly crusty, but not the type to tear up the inside of your mouth. Heat the loaf briefly in the oven to crisp it lightly. Let it cool briefly before slicing it in half. I like to scoop out some of the inside of the bread to make room for more fillings.
The next step is to slather both sides of the loaf with egg mayonnaise (like Duke’s or Hellmann’s) that’s been fortified with Maggi sauce. This sauce can be found in most supermarkets located next to the soy sauce. This umami-rich sauce was developed in Switzerland, but has become a staple ingredient in many Asian cuisines. A little goes a long way, so add about half a teaspoon to ½ cup of mayonnaise when mixing it for a banh mi.
Layer on protein and vegetables as you like. This is where the dish really becomes customizable. I like to add sliced cucumbers and jalapenos, thin strips of carrot, and chopped green onions to my sandwich, along with a combination of cilantro and mint.
The final component essential to a banh mi is pickled radish. Daikon radish is traditional, and really any type of radish works. I like to use vividly hued watermelon radishes that are often available from local farmers this time of year. The pickle is simple to prepare and keeps in the fridge for about a week.
The flavors in a banh mi are impossibly bright yet perfectly balanced, which is why they are perhaps so welcome after spending time elbow deep in the holiday aromas of butter, sage and cinnamon. Turkey is perhaps not a protein that would have been used to make traditional banh mi, but it’s a delicious way to mix up the flavors of your holiday weekend. For more banh mi inspiration, check out The Banh Mi Handbook: Recipes for Authentic and Delicious Vietnamese Sandwiches by Andrea Nguyen.
Radish Pickle Recipe
not just for banh mi, this pickle is delicious on burgers or with grilled fish
• ½ pound carrots, sliced onto very thin rounds or matchsticks
• ½ pound radishes, sliced same as carrots
• 3 cups water
• 1/3 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
• 1/3 cup sugar
• 2 tablespoons salt
Combine the water, rice vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
Pack the sliced carrots and radishes into jars, then pour the warm pickling liquid over them to cover. Let marinade for at least one hour before serving. Keep refrigerated and used for up to a week. Pickles will become more sour with each day.
Lemongrass Turkey Pate
While not an essential component of a banh mi, this turkey liver paté is simple to make and is delicious served with rice crackers or sliced baguette.
• ½ pound turkey or chicken liver
• 1 cup milk
• 2 shallots, diced
• 6 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon grass
• ½ cup white wine
• Zest and juice of 1 lime
• 1 tablespoon fish sauce
• ½ cup softened butter
• ¼ cup melted butter
Trim the liver and remove any fat or membrane. Soak the livers in the milk, refrigerated, for at least one hour and up to overnight.
After soaking, rinse the livers and roughly chop them.
Sauté the shallots, garlic, and lemongrass until fragrant and slightly translucent. Add the chopped livers, wine, fish sauce, lime juice, and lime zest and continue cooking until the wine is almost reduced.
Set mixture aside to cool. Once cool, add the liver mixture to a food processor along with the ½ cup softened butter. Process until very smooth. Taste for seasoning.
Pack the pate into ramekins and pour a small amount of melted butter over the top to seal it. This pate keeps for about 5 days in the fridge and freezes well.
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