My parents are both in their 70s and despite their concerns over maintaining a healthy diet and low cholesterol, they manage to splurge every once in a while on fatty pleasures such as crispy roast pork. We typically get it from a Chinese barbecue shop and tell the butcher we want a lean cut. I realize that that is somewhat of an oxymoron when it comes to roast pork but perhaps going lean lessens the guilt a bit. When we buy the pork from a Chinese barbecue shop located in a Vietnamese community, the shop usually sells a few accompaniments for the rich indulgences, such as fine rice noodles (banh hoi) and freshly baked baguette.
I’ve written about eating rich grilled foods with banh hoi rice noodles but a roast pork banh mi – well that is something rather visceral in the Vietnamese culinary consciousness. The primary reason is that it is fast. Get the pork cut up from the barbecue shop, grab a baguette, slit the bread open and stuff it with the warm, crisp, juicy pork. That’s instant gratification. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve brought roast pork (thit heo quay) home to my parents and my mom drags out the baguette. We sit around the table and eat our sandwiches and my parents grin from ear to ear, as if they are kids again in Vietnam – refreshed in body and spirit. What a pleasure to witness and share.
Yesterday, after having picked weeds for hours in the front yard, I needed a rewarding pick-up. I decided to make a pork belly banh mi from last week’s leftovers. My roasted pork belly was obviously not freshly roasted so I had to revive it somehow.
Returning the belly to a rich crisp. Warming the pork belly in the oven seemed to take too much time and there was no assurance that the skin would crisp nicely. My work-around was this: Slice the belly and lightly fry it up in a skillet. I fried the skin pieces, which has turns a little chewy in the refrigerator, into cracklings of sorts. As with frying bacon, I poured off some of the fat if too much accumulated in the pan. That encourages steady, even cooking. (You can certainly apply this technique to reheating store-bought pork belly, which dries out easily when reheated in the oven.)
The result was a cross between roasted pork and bacon. I had some Mexican bolillo rolls (used for torta sandwiches, the light bread is a worthy substitute for Vietnamese baguette) so I made a regular banh mi with the cucumber, cilantro, pickled daikon and carrot (do chua) and jalapeno. I went light on the mayo as the belly was rather rich. But I definitely had a few shots of Maggi Seasoning sauce. The belly and skin bits went in the sandwich, with the skin functioning as a crunchy crouton.
My finger tips were a little tender from picking the weeds but they had no problem holding onto the sandwich as I savored every mouthful. The pork had a savory depth that was as equally delicious as when it first came out of the oven, but it was enhanced by the crunchy, tart sweet vegetables and salty-spiciness of the Maggi and jalapeno. After lunching on the pork belly banh mi, I was recharged enough to attack more weeds. I worked all told for 6 hours, fueled on pork belly. The backyard is up next so I’ll have to ponder how to reward myself next time!
Are you a fiend for roast pork belly banh mi? Where have you had it and how do you like it?
- Crisp roasted pork belly recipe (thit heo quay)
- Master banh mi sandwich recipe
- Homemade Vietnamese baguette (banh mi)
- Easy mayonnaise recipe (sot mayonnaise)
- Daikon and carrot pickle recipe (do chua)
- Vietnamese Noodles 101: Banh Hoi fine rice noodles