Bánh Meatloaf: Classic Vietnamese sandwich gets American comfort food treatment

by Terry B on March 13, 2013

Pork and beef meatloaf is flavored with basil, scallions, garlic and Chinese five-spice powder, topped with pickled carrots and daikon, then served with baguette slices for this American take on Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches. Recipes below.

Banh Meatloaf

We love border-crossing cooking. When ingredients and techniques travel across boundaries and cultures, food gets interesting. Vietnamese cuisine is a perfect example. Not only does it share herbs and spices with its Asian neighbors, but it borrows from its culinary past as a French colony.

A family favorite here at Blue Kitchen is Marion’s Vietnamese Beef Stew. The slow cooked, meaty, multi-spiced dish is served with a French baguette instead of rice and eaten with forks and spoons, not chopsticks. Similarly, bánh mì—in the West, delicious, usually meaty Vietnamese sandwiches—are served on baguettes. In Vietnam, the term bánh mì actually means bread or, more specifically, French bread.

Bánh mì—the sandwich—comes in many forms. The most popular is made with roast pork, but beef, chicken, tofu and other varieties are generally available in the sandwich shops that have sprung up in cities across the United States. It is virtually always served with pickled carrots and daikon, a mild white radish popular in the cuisines of Japan, China, Korea, Vietnam and India. It’s often served with sliced peppers too, jalapeño being a readily available choice, and topped with cilantro sprigs.

We first sampled bánh mì meatloaf served as the classic sandwich at The Butcher & Larder, our favorite Chicago butcher shop. Made with their own ground pork (and perhaps beef—I don’t remember), it was delicious. About halfway through, though, we stopped eating it as a sandwich, opening it up and concentrating on the meat and toppings with the occasional bite of bread. And that gave me the idea to dispense with the sandwich altogether and create a mash-up of the Vietnamese favorite and the ultimate American comfort food: bánh meatloaf.

Bánh Meatloaf
Serves 4 to 6

For the pickled carrots and daikon—makes about 2 cups:

pickled carrots daikonMake this at least three hours ahead of making the meatloaf to let the vegetables marinate. Will keep for up to three weeks in the fridge. See Kitchen Notes for a couple of thoughts on ways to use the jalapeño pepper.

1/2 cup warm water
4 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup rice vinegar (or distilled vinegar)
1 cup carrot matchsticks (or julienned or coarsely grated—see Kitchen Notes)
1 cup daikon matchsticks (see Kitchen Notes)
scant 1/2 cup thin slices of jalapeño pepper (optional—see Kitchen Notes)

Add sugar and salt to warm water and stir to dissolve. Stir in vinegar. Set aside and let cool while you prepare carrots, daikon and jalapeño pepper. Combine in bowl with vinegar mix. Set aside to let vegetables marinate at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for at least three hours. For longer than three hours, refrigerate.

For the meatloaf:

1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef (see Kitchen Notes)
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh basil
3 scallions, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fish sauce (see Kitchen Notes)
1 tablespoon hot sauce (such as Sriracha)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
6 tablespoons bread crumbs (I used panko)

cilantro sprigs

baguette slices

A quick note: don’t overwork the meatloaf mix—it will become mealy. To help achieve this, only roughly mix the pork and beef together before adding the rest of the ingredients. Mix the basil, scallions and garlic in a small bowl beforehand; do the same with the pepper, salt, sugar and five-spice powder; this will minimize mixing once they’re added to the meat.

Also, I skipped the loaf pan and baked the meatloaf mixture in a hand formed loaf shape on a flat surface. This allowed it to brown on the sides as well as the top and gave it a pleasing loaf shape. Marion has used this technique in the past; I learned my version of it from Ben Bettinger, executive chef at Portland Penny Diner.

Banh Meatloaf Sliced

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Wrap the top of a wire rack with aluminum foil and set it over a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. With a paring knife, poke slits into the foil on the rack.

Using wet hands, quickly work pork and beef together in a large bowl. Add remaining ingredients and, using your hands, work everything together until just combined.

Form meatloaf into an oblong loaf and transfer to foil-wrapped rack. Bake in the oven until an instant read thermometer inserted in the center registers 150 – 160ºF, about 1 to 1-1/4 hours, rotating once halfway through. Remove from oven, tent with foil and let it rest for 5 minutes.

Slice crosswise and plate, topping with pickled carrots and daikon and sprigs of cilantro. Serve with slices of a crusty baguette (see Kitchen Notes).

Kitchen Notes

Preparing carrots and daikon. It’s easy (if time consuming) to hand slice them into matchsticks—a good knife skills exercise too. You can also use a mandolin or coarsely grate them.

About that daikon. You can find it in Asian markets. They’re often huge, far more than you’ll need. But if you’re lucky you can find smaller sizes. If you can’t find daikon, you can substitute jicama (if you can find that) or white radishes. Or you can skip the daikon altogether and double the carrots. But do try to find it—its spicy crunch is delicious.

Jalapeño options. If you’re totally heat averse, one option is to skip it, or completely remove the heat-bearing seeds and ribs. Adding the jalapeño slices to the vinegar mix will share their heat with the carrots and daikon, but I like what the vinegar does to the pepper slices, making them seem a little less raw. Another option is to put them in a separate small bowl and drizzle some of the vinegar on them. Then, when you’re ready to serve, pass the pepper slices at the table, letting those who like spicy foods add them to their plates.

Beefy choices. The ground pork I got for this recipe was nicely marbled with fat, so I went with less fatty sirloin for the beef. If the pork looks lean, choose chuck for the beef.

Fish sauce, such as nam pla or nuoc nam, is a staple in many Southeast Asian cuisines. It imparts a wonderful umami flavor to  dishes. You can find in in Asian markets and many supermarkets. If you can’t find it—or if any of your diners have seafood allergies—try using soy sauce and a squeeze of lime juice.

Have a sandwich. If you opt for actual bánh mì sandwiches, try to track down Vietnamese baguettes. The crust is thinner. And tear out some of the bread inside the crust to accommodate the filling. If you go the sandwich route, be sure to add a little mayo—you could use the sriracha mayonnaise from this recipe for a little extra kick.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

danielle March 13, 2013 at 12:38 pm

pinning this – I need to try it!

kitchenriffs March 13, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I really enjoy the flavor of bánh mì, but I’m not wild about it as a sandwich for some reason. So of course I think this meat loaf is brilliant! Excellent idea, and it’d be fun to imagine what side dishes I could serve with this. Nice food styling in that top photo. Anyway, thoroughly fun recipe — thank you.

Anita March 14, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I’m sorry, I’m having a bit of a hard time with the paragraph after the photo. Please let me know if I got this paraphrase right… I have the oven rack, on which is set a baking sheet, which is covered with foil, on which is set a wire rack, which is covered with foil with holes poked in it, on which the meatloaf will be placed?

Thanks.

Terry B March 14, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Thanks, Danielle!

Kitchenriffs, with your gorgeous photography, that is high praise. Thank you!

Anita, you want the rack with the pierced foil to rest on top of the foil-lined baking sheet. The rack will hold the meatloaf and let the heat get at it from all sides. The baking sheet will catch any juices and drippings that come through the holes in the foil on the rack, so the meatloaf won’t be sitting in them. The rack should be smaller than the baking sheet (so no juices drip into the oven itself), but large enough to hold the meatloaf. Hope this helps.

Dani H March 15, 2013 at 5:22 am

Since there is just me to cook for most of the time, I’ve gotten in the habit of making mini-meatloaves in large muffin pans and freezing them in individual servings. This sounds like a great recipe to try, just make a smaller amount of pickled carrots and daikon fresh. I haven’t looked for daikon lately, but jicama is a “standard” veggie at all of the grocery stores here in Arizona.

I usually make my own mini baguettes now, freezing the dough until needed. {smile}

Happy almost spring, Terry!

eeka March 15, 2013 at 9:54 pm

Delightful! Yummy food and a mild play on words :)

Terry B March 15, 2013 at 9:56 pm

Dani, your mini-meatloaves sound like a great idea!

Thanks, Eeka!

Şifalı Bitkiler March 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I just had it and it was awesome! Thank you for sharing!

Ed March 22, 2013 at 4:57 pm

I love the Asian kitchen. This seems to be the perfect combination of east and west. I like the idea of Dani and her min meatloaves that she added in the comment. I sometimes com home late at night and have a late dinner by myself and her solution is a great idea.
Will try this one as soon as I have the time. Probably will have a hard time finding the fish sauce.
Thanks for sharing
Ed

danielle March 25, 2013 at 2:23 pm

I wanted to let you know that I featured this great recipe in my “What I Bookmarked This Week ” post – stop by and see!

katie March 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

I was just thinking that I should start exploring the foods of Vietnam – and then I find this. Sounds delicious!

Lynn D. March 29, 2013 at 11:39 pm

This sounds wonderful. The banh mi sandwiches I enjoy have a bit of pate smeared on them. I might just chop a few chicken livers into the meatloaf.

Terry B March 30, 2013 at 3:05 am

Thanks, Sifah! Always glad to hear from someone who’s cooked one of my recipes.

Ed, fish sauce is available in a surprising number of places, even the ethnic sections of some supermarkets. If you can’t find it, try some soy sauce for the saltiness it delivers plus a squeeze of lime juice for the sour note.

Thanks, Danielle! Your blog is lovely, BTW.

Hope you try it and like it, Katie.

Lynn, that is a great idea! I may have to steal it next time I make this.

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