While in San Francisco I attended a launch party for The Banh Mi Handbook, the new book from Andrea Nguyen of Viet World Kitchen. This gave me the opportunity to ask her a couple of questions about bahn mi preparations which I’ve fretted about in previous posts as well as probe for hidden bahn mi secrets.
First, the mayonnaise. She uses plain old mayo, preferably homemade, occasionally dressed up with some sriracha. She shakes her head at the folly of those who say it must be Kewpie, a Japanese product. And how do they get the mayo so delicious and sweet at my favorite place, Saigon Sandwich on Larkin? “They like to use sugar.”
More important, the bread. The recipe on the Viet World Kitchen website until recently was for a simple wheat loaf, with very well developed dough. This surprised me because I did not see how it could yield the shattering crust characteristic of a well made bahn mi loaf. I have added rice flour in my own experiments but Andrea said in Vietnam rice flour is used solely to counteract the high humidity.
The new formula in her book (learned from an old banh mi baker from Vietnam she encountered in a Chicago kitchen) calls for a little crushed Vitamin C as a dough conditioner, the addition of vital wheat gluten, and a very long proof so the bread is almost fully risen when you put it in the oven. This makes sense in theory because the very high gluten content would give the bread strength to hold its shape, instead of collapsing, when fully proofed. I will have to try this one.