Garlic-Chile Pork Bánh Mì with Coconut Lime Dressing and the Value of Opinions

To be a successful chef, you need to be able to take criticism. This is definitely a field where everyone has an opinion and social media, being what it is, has made those opinions instant, anonymous and for the most part permanent. Thick skin is a must, as is knowing when to blow off an opinion and when to take it constructively.

At the start of my chef career, I took criticism very personally. The older I got and the more secure I got in my cooking style and profession, the easier it became. I realized there were more people who enjoyed what I did than those who did not. I’ll never make every single guest happy, taste as a thing is too subjective, but if the majority approves, then I’ve done well. Whenever I begin to doubt myself that is what I am forced to remember.

Then there are those instances that galvanize my belief in what I do but make me question the general intention of the average diner. The other evening I had two guests seated at the bar. They wanted a quick drink before making their way home, and after perusing the menu, decided to try one of the appetizers. As I frequently do when I’m in the dining room, I inquire about their satisfaction with the dish, I receive rave reviews and a conversation about the menu ensues. Mainly about the white asparagus dish, the guest loves white asparagus and doesn’t usually find it on many restaurant menus. I let her know that the season has ended and I had just received my last case. If she was interested, it wouldn’t be on the menu much longer. They decide they will try it.

I return a little while later to follow up on the dish… grilled white asparagus with shaved prosciutto, meyer lemon dressing, fried quail egg, grana padano and micro herbs. “It’s very good,” is the reply, “but nothing exciting.” I push for more knowing I’m in dangerous territory. “I just felt like I could have made that at home myself.” And there it is, a virtually indefensible comment. Never, as a chef, have I thought about designing dishes that were unable to be recreated at home. I do not explain to her that I spend nearly two hours a week sourcing the white asparagus ($6.60/pound) and even more time painstakingly peeling each stalk. I do not explain the prosciutto ($17.00/pound) is from Italy and that I need a $900 slicer to shave it paper thin. The Grana Padano from Piedmont is another expensive ($8.25/pound) ingredient that we shave with a potato peeler to order. Never mind the meyer lemons ($5.50/pound) we use for the dressing, the individual quail eggs ($.27/each) or the micro herbs ($18.00/4 oz), all of which is prepared and presented artfully for $9.00 on the menu. This I do not explain. I apologize, I thank her for her patronage and I move on knowing that while this will sit with me for the rest of the night, by morning I will have blown it off.

There is very little that cannot be replicated at home anymore. Most of the equipment used in professional kitchens is also available in consumer models such as stick blenders, fryers, sous vide machines and many of the online resources also make hard to find ingredients available to the home cook. There are definitely items and dishes that require a technical expertise and experience, but that shouldn’t deter you from trying to learn and experiment. Chefs do the same thing when using new ingredients or working on new dishes. This Bành Mi is a perfect example of something I had never done before but with a little trial and error, it ended up on my menu and on my website!

While Bánh mì is a Vietnamese term referring to a torpedo –like bread, it has become known in Western cultures as a sandwich filled with any of several cuts of pork, pates and cheeses. One of the most popular street foods across the globe, it is finding a home on many American restaurant menus, including mine. Here is the recipe we use at the restaurant.

First, we need to prepare the pork for grilling.  I’m using a 1 1/2 lb pork loin.


Trim the pork of all the excess fat













We will wrap the pork in plastic to shape it and give it a partial freeze to aid in the slicing.  We want very thin slices so that it cooks quickly and remains tender.

The freezing will help aid in the slicing by keeping the pork firm enough to easily get a sharp knife through with out having to struggle.




As you roll the loin, pull tightly on the wrap to shape the pork and avoid too many air pockets.





Grip the ends of the plastic wrap and roll the pork until the ends begin to tighten.

Place in the freezer for up to 2 hours.




Remove the pork from the freezer.  If it has sat for longer than two hours, you may want to let it temper for thirty minutes so that it is not rock hard.

Slice the pork into 1/8 of an inch medallions.  Toss the medallions generously with the pork marinade, allow to sit for an hour then grill over high heat.

Pork Marinade

2 cups sweet thai chile sauce
½ cup sambal olek
¼ cup soy sauce

Combine the ingredients and mix well.

Coconut Lime Dressing

1 Tbs. garlic, minced
1 oz vegetable oil
1 can coconut milk (I like the Chaokoh)
2 limes, 1 zested and both juiced
1 tsp. kosher salt

1. Heat the vegetable oil in a small sauce pot over medium low heat.
2. Add the garlic and lightly fry until it begins to stick to the pan and turn golden.
3. Add the coconut milk and zest of one lime.
4. Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer gently for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
5. Remove from heat and add the juice of both limes and salt.
6. Cool to room temperature and reserve for service

For the sandwich

A 24” baguette ancienne cut into four 6” pieces (four 6” French rolls will also work well)
2 cups shredded green cabbage
1 bunch cilantro
Pickled jalapenos, for garnish (optional but it does provide a nice kick on the sandwich)

1. Slice the baguette open lengthwise and remove some of the breading from the top side of the roll taking care to leave the crust intact.
2. Place 5 oz. of the prepared pork on the roll, top with cabbage, 1-2 oz of the coconut lime dressing, the pickled jalapeños (optional) and several sprigs of cilantro.

7 Responses

  1. nita says:

    Hello Chris, I love your interpretation of the Vietnamese sandwich. The sauce sounds amazing and I can’t wait to try it! BTW, banh mi actually does not refer to any sort of specific shaped bread or sandwich. It simply translates to bread in Vietnamese.

  2. @lala I haven’t yet but I have heard it’s good.

    @Manisha I’ve used that dressing on salads as well, grilled shrimp with baby lettuces and cucumber, it’s pretty versatile.

  3. Manisha says:

    I love that you make food that we can recreate at home!

    I had lots of banh mi in Viet Nam and that was a completely different experience from the banh mi here in the US. It is a much simpler sandwich in Viet Nam with fewer garnishes than we load it with here and there is always a descriptor after banh mi to specify what kind of banh mi it is. I enjoy all versions because essentially banh mi translates into “sandwich” and thereby have a canvas to make it your own. I wish we had Vietnamese bakeries here to make the kind of bread they use – crusty but oh, so airy!

    Your coconut lime dressing sounds so flavorful that it’s giving me ideas of what else I could do with it. Thank you for picking flavor and quality in ingredients and making your creations accessible to home-cooks like myself!

  4. @Ellen, glad I could unknowingly help :-)

    @Barb, That’s my one complaint with foodies, being overly critical for the sake of having an opinion. I’m the same, whenever I go out, even if it’s mediocre, I just enjoy someone else doing the work.

  5. Perspective is everything. To be honest, I don’t eat out a lot; simply because I can prepare so many things myself and I love having people over and feeding them. But when I do; when I order something that really suits me, that just tastes wonderful; it’s not about whether I could make it myself. It’s the fact that someone is making it for me, that I’m not doing the work and as much as I love to cook, it’s in that moment of giving myself a break that’s at the root of my experience. Unless I’m served something horrendous…I just enjoy it all!

    I’ve been out with ‘foodies’ that seem to feel their job is to compare and complain more than anything…oh how they spoil the moment for me! I would eat this sandwich in a heartbeat and if you took the time to come over and see if I liked it? I would be in love.

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