Last week on the Viet World Kitchen Facebook page, Jeff Brennan challenged me to create a mayonnaise that contained the flavors of Vietnamese banh mi sandwich. It should be good enough to use for a grilled burger, he wrote. I keep a running list of recipe requests and get to them as my schedule permits. Scott’s seemed doable and quick. Plus, I had some grass-fed hamburger leftover in the fridge. So I tackled the Vietnamese-American burger over the weekend.
Plenty of banh mi vendors create special mayonnaises with garlic, Sriracha, and even yellow-food coloring! How could I distill the elemental flavors of banh mi into mayonnaise? While there are many ingredients that make banh mi what it is, I narrowed it down to cucumber, chile, cilantro and Maggi Seasoning Sauce.
I’d have to liquefy the solid ingredients before add them to the mayonnaise. However, I wanted a little texture so I opted to chop the chile. The trick was to avoid thinning out the mayonnaise too much. The colored drops of seasoning in the photo at the top represent the central elements.
I made two versions, an elegant rendition (at the top, below on left) and a quick-and-coarse one.
For the elegant banh mi mayo, I pureed cucumber skin, a bit of flesh, and cilantro. Then I extracted their green juice. For the chile heat and pickled vegetable effect, I marinated chopped fresh chile in rice vinegar and added that to the mayonnaise. Then it was a matter of adjusting the flavor with Maggi Seasoning Sauce and this and that. The result was lovely and smooth, with the subtle flavors of banh mi. Here’s the recipe for the elegant banh mi mayonnaise:
Elegant Banh Mi Mayonnaise
Makes a generous 1/2 cup
1 tablespoon finely chopped medium-hot red chile, such as Fresno, Holland, or Jalapeno
About 1 1/2 teaspoons unseasoned rice vinegar
1/2 ounce cucumber skin (use a peeler to remove from an English, Japanese, Korean, or Persian cucumber), coarsely chopped (2 1/2 tablespoons)
1 to 1 1/2 inches cucumber flesh, coarsely chopped (use less with the fatter English cucumbers)
3 to 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro stems and leaves
1/2 cup full-fat mayonnaise, storebought or homemade
Maggi Seasoning Sauce
1. In a small bowl, combine the chile and vinegar. Set aside to marinate for 10 to 15 minutes.
2. Put the chopped cucumber skin and flesh into a small food processor. Add the cilantro and two pinches of salt and sugar. Strain the marinated chile over the processor to add the spicy vinegar to the mixture. Replace the chile in the small bowl.
Run the machine, pausing as needed, to scrape down the sides, until a compact wet mixture emerges. Strain the mixture into small bowl to extract the green juice. Discard the solids.
3. Pour half of the green juice into the bowl of chile. Add the mayonnaise and 3 or 4 shots of Maggi Seasoning Sauce. Adjust the flavor with more of the green juice, Maggi Seasoning Sauce, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Use the sugar and salt to avoid thinning the mayonnaise too much. Let the mayonnaise sit for 5 minutes before using. Refrigerate in a container for several days.
Quick-but-Coarse Banh Mi Mayonnaise
While the elegant version was nice, I wondered what would happen if I made it unplugged and just stirred stuff together? I got a new cucumber and scraped it on a Japanese grater to quickly produce a puree of sorts:
Then I combined it with other ingredients for this simple banh mi mayonnaise, which lacked elegance but had a rougher texture and flavor:
Makes 5 to 6 tablespoons
1 tablespoon grated cucumber flesh and skin
1 1/2 teaspoons minced cilantro leaves and stems
1 to 2 teaspoons Chile Garlic Sauce (tuong ot toi), purchased or homemade
1/4 to 1/3 cup full-fat mayonnaise, purchased or homemade
Maggi Seasoning Sauce
1. Combine the cucumber, cilantro, and chile sauce in a small container. Stir in the mayonnaise.
How did the mayonnaises fare with the burger?
Well, both were a bit thinner than regular mayonnaise. They were more like salad dressings. I chose to use brioche hamburger buns, which were very rich tasting. Our local grass-fed ground beef is intensely beefy. Truth be told, the mayonnaise’s banh mi flavor disappeared in the hamburger! Like, you didn’t take a bite, chew, and say – “Hey I taste banh mi in my burger!”
My husband suggested having the mayonnaise on the side to drizzle and dip onto the burger. That amplified the banh mi flavor in the burger but also led me to think this:
What makes banh mi wonderful is the sum of all of its parts – the delicate bread, fattiness of the mayo, punchy flavors of the Maggi Seasoning Sauce and fresh chile slices, refreshing cucumber, pungent cilantro, and tangy-crunchy pickled daikon and carrot.
You get hits of the different elements in every bite whereas in the banh mi mayonnaise, everything is combined. The variation in flavors and textures is no longer there. It’s sorely diminished.
Guess I’m old school but I love the mayonnaise, ketchup and pickles in my hamburger. And I like my banh mi as it is. Sometimes crosspollination does not always work.
On the other hand, both of these banh mi mayonnaises are good and can be used as a salad dressing, tartar sauce for fried seafood (shrimp, oysters), or accompaniment to poached or grilled fish (salmon). [Update on 10/27, the mayonnaise is great with crunchy shrimp balls!]
The experiment wasn’t a waste of time! Thanks, Jeff.
Have you tried something like this? Got ideas for making banh mi mayonnaise? Or, maybe you have an opinion on what makes a sandwich a sandwich? Share your thoughts.
Master banh mi recipe
Homemade Vietnamese baguette (banh mi)
Easy mayonnaise (sot mayonnaise)
Daikon and Carrot Pickle (do chua)
Chile Garlic Sauce (tuong ot toi)
Grilled lemongrass pork (thit heo nuong xa)
Meatball banh mi sandwich (banh mi xa xiu)
Quick Char Siu Pork (on Asiandumplingtips.com, my other site)
Roasted Pork Belly sandwich (thit heo quay)
Canned Sardine in Spicy Tomato Sauce Banh Mi
Check the recipe index for more filling ideas!