Pork Meatball Banh Mi

I had never even heard of a Vietnamese sub before I moved to Calgary.

But my introduction to banh mi came soon after I arrived, when I took that first bite of a sate beef version, topped with pickled carrots and various sauces, all nestled into a crusty baguette.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

It was a Saturday afternoon and I was working a reporting shift at the Herald. We were working on a big story and there wasn’t much time to think about lunch, let alone leave the building to get it.

And that’s when a colleague said he was going on a Vietnamese sub run; did I want one?

Yes, yes, I did, though I had no idea what I was agreeing to.

The first few bites had me thankful for the perks of living in a new city.

Now I have my own favourite place to get subs from and I do so often enough that the girls behind the counter recognize me.

It’s that fabulous combination of spicy and sour, salty and sweet – the traditional flavours of Vietnamese cuisine, and others in Southeast Asia – that make these so appealing to me.

The chili heat of the beef, the sweet-sour of the pickled carrots, the slathering of rich mayonnaise, the crusty, chewy bread. It’s all the right flavours and textures coming together.

In the years since, I’ve eaten my fair share (and perhaps more), but never thought about making them at home until I stumbled upon a Bon Appetit recipe for a pork meatball version. It had all the things I was looking for with the benefit of using meatballs instead of slices of beef sate.

But, of course, I made a few adjustments.

I made my meatballs smaller, then jammed a lot of them in to make the sandwich really filling. Feel free to make them larger, though you’ll need to adjust the cooking time slightly. (Ground pork is cooked through when it reaches an internal temperature of 160F or 75C.)

The original recipe also calls for pan frying them first in some sesame oil before finishing them off in the oven. I was looking for something a little less fussy; cooking them in the oven completely left them slightly less golden, but gave me a chance to tidy up at the same time, which is a good thing in my books.

No Vietnamese sub I’ve seen has daikon on it, so I skipped that in favour of more pickled carrots.

The result: Flavourful meatballs, a spicy mayonnaise and a tangy tangle of carrots, topped with basil leaves, all wedged onto a chewy baguette I picked up from a bakery.

Heavenly. And I didn’t even have to work a Saturday shift to get it.

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Pork Meatball Banh Mi

Adapted from Bon Appetit. Don’t be daunted by the list of ingredients and number of steps. Both the mayonnaise and the meatballs can be made a day ahead and kept in the fridge.

Hot Chili Mayo

  • 2/3 cup (150 mL) mayonnaise
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) hot chili sauce (like sriracha)

Stir all ingredients together, cover and chill until assembling sandwiches.

Meatballs

  • 1 lb (500 g) ground pork
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) finely chopped fresh basil
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 green onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) hot chili sauce (like sriracha)
  • 1 tbsp (15 mL) sugar
  • 2 tsp (10 mL) corn starch
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) coarse kosher salt

Gently mix together all the ingredients in a large bowl. With moistened hands, roll scant tablespoonfuls of the mixture, forming them into 1-inch (2.5-cm) balls. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. (If doing the day before, line the baking sheet with plastic wrap, then cover the meatballs with more plastic and refrigerate.)

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Bake the meatballs until golden and cooked through, about 15 to 20 minutes.

Sandwiches

  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup (50 mL) sugar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) coarse kosher salt
  • 3 cups (750 mL) coarsely grated carrots
  • 4 10-inch (25-cm) baguettes (or 4 10-inch pieces of baguette, cut from 2 baguettes)
  • 16 basil leaves or cilantro sprigs
  • 1 cucumber (or 2 short ones), cut horizontally into 4 wedges thinly sliced jalapeno (optional)

In a bowl, mix together vinegar, sugar and salt. Add grated carrots and toss to combine. Set aside and let stand at room temperature for 1 hour, tossing occasionally.

To assemble sandwiches, slice the baguettes horizontally in half, and pull out some of the bread to make room for the filling. Spread hot chili mayo over each bread shell. Arrange 1/4 of the cooked meatballs, drained carrots, basil or cilantro, cucumber and jalapeno (if using) inside the bread.

Serves 4.

This article first appeared in the Calgary Herald. For more recipes and meal ideas, check out the Herald’s food page.

  6 comments for “Pork Meatball Banh Mi

  1. April 7, 2012 at 6:14 pm

    This looks fantastic! Even though I live in an extremely multicultural area, the only Vietnamese restaurants are formal and therefore completely lacking in the banh mi department. I’m more than excited to make my own!

  2. April 7, 2012 at 8:12 pm

    holy cow, i had my first banh mi this week! you could order it with pulled pork or tofu, so i tried the tofu and loved it. there was lots of hoisin sauce on it…not sure if that’s normal or was the restaurant’s twist. i was totally thinking that it couldn’t be that hard to make at home!

  3. Lindsay
    April 9, 2012 at 8:25 pm

    This is my go to banh mi recipe too. I also skip the daikon and end up making the meatballs into little patties so that I can get them crispy and they don’t roll out of the sub. Yuuum! I’ve also had success making my own baguettes using this recipe: http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/French-Baguettes/Detail.aspx

  4. April 10, 2012 at 5:47 pm

    Yes yes yes, looove the banh mi! May just have to make some tomorrow…

  5. April 12, 2012 at 11:44 am

    I love these subs so so much, esp with extra fish sauce and cilantro. I really need to try making them at home. Pinning this recipe for later!

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