Recipe: Vietnamese-style Banh Mi Street Fries
So everyone may be going on about Nigella subverting the spiralizer, but I want to share with you all my tip for getting perfect, restaurant style french fries every time at home. For years my Dad has been on the hunt for the perfect homemade chip. We’ve tried every trick in the book from salting, to soaking to rinsing. It turned out the secret to the perfect at home chip was a new piece of kit: an air fryer. It turns out the secret to perfect at home fries was to buy them from the freezer section (the kind that are just potato and a little oil to stop them sticking together) and to air fry them completely dry, with no added oil. There you have it, a one time investment to perfect (and healthy) restaurant fries every time. It really is that simple.
You can go really fancy and pricy with air fryers, but having tried several different once as a family we can’t really tell the difference between the brands, especially if perfect fries are going to be your primary pursuit. Andrew James recently send me their model which I love, which comes in at £67.99. Look out for Black Friday deals, as this is exactly what you want and need (my kitchen does not even have space for it, so it lives in the basement when chips are not on the menu!)
A few tips on cooking your fries: don’t try and do more than two massive portions at once, because overcrowding leads to soggy fries. Good news for people like me who are not very good at reading the instruction manual before getting our paws on a new gadget, because your air fryer has a chip button that does all the programming for you. Use it. Do take the basket out a few times during cooking to give your fries a good shake so that they crisp up evenly. Finally, if you’re doing chips to go with something like a burger (I’ve got an excellent chicken burger coming up, so stay tuned!) and you want everything perfectly timed, chips take 20 minutes. You can stop cooking them after 15 minutes, then crisp them when you’re ready to eat.
I’ve been fascinated with the concept of a banh mi sandwich for ages. Bright, Asian flavours, punchy and colourful homemade pickles, and perfectly cooked pork, sometimes with a slick of pate, too. I learnt about how the history of the different meats and the French-style baguette came with the different fusions of flavours in Vietnam when it was a French colony when I read My Vietnamese Kitchen (I’m not going to give you a history lesson here because I really do think you need a copy of this book in your life), and I tried my first one from Dot Saigon a couple of years later when I visited First Friday’s on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Los Angeles. However, it was when I read Molly’s recipe for banh mi hot dogs did I realise you could skip the bread and give the Banh Mi treatment to a whole manner of edibles. At the time, I was still mourning that I did not live in Westwood, Los Angeles anymore with easy access to the loaded asian Steak Fries from TLT Food so it was an easy jump for me to make Banh Mi fries. The recipe has been scribbled down on my ‘ideas to make for the blog’ list ever since, waiting for my own air fryer to come into my life.
A word on my choice of pickles. I’ve not given you a recipe for them, because the point is to use whatever Asian-style pickles you have in your fridge, from Asian grocery stores, other recipes where you’ve made extra, I think while not traditional kimchee would also be an excellent addition here. I made the carrot pickles from Nigella Lawson’s book Simply Nigella and radish pickles using the base from my usual homemade sushi ginger. Here are a few more recipes to try: Ginger Pickled Rhubarb, Quick Pickled Peppers, Pickled Chard Stems, Homemade Pickled Red Onions, Quick Pickled Veggies. My measurements below serve two but are easily multiplied, so obviously making pickles you’ll have a lot left over for other things.
Also, a word on my pretty rose gold pickle jars. I got them in John Lewis (I go to that fun one in Canary Wharf with a small home and clothes section above the countries biggest Waitrose) and while they’re lovely, pretty, and I will be getting more of them for storage and serving things like make-ahead terrines, I’d say they’re only 99% watertight, so not too great for pickle making!
- 1 tbsp Light Oil
- 1/2 tbsp Rice Wine Vinegar
- 1 Large Garlic Clove, crushed
- 1 tbsp Fish Sauce
- 1 tbsp Soft Dark Brown Sugar
- 1 tbsp Dark Soy Sauce
- 3 Slices Pork Belly (I buy this one), cubed
- 200g (7 oz) Frozen French Fries (I buy these ones)
- 1 Baby Gem Lettuce, thinly shredded
- Small Handful Fresh Coriander
- Kewpie Mayo (you can find it in M&S, asian grocery stores or online here)
- Sriracha Hot Sauce (you can find it in Sainsbury’s, asian grocery stores or online here)
- Asian Pickles
Combine the 1/2 tbsp of the oil, the vinegar, garlic, fish sauce, sugar and soy sauce and marinade the pork belly for at least two hours, preferably overnight. When you’re ready to cook, cook the french fries as per your air fryer’s instructions. Meanwhile, heat the rest of the oil in a wok over a very high heat. Using a fork or a slotted spoon transfer the pork belly to the wok without pouring all of the marinade in too – this will make the pork boil, not caramelise. Stir fry the pork until it is shiny and has started to caramelise around the edges. To serve, divide the fries between two dishes and top with the lettuce followed by some kewpie mayo and sriracha, the pork, the coriander, the pickles, then a final dash of more mayo and hot sauce. Serve straight away with forks and plenty of napkins – this is both cutlery and finger food!