Pacific Banh Mi.
Banh Mi are a culinary mongrel. Most cuisines are littered with them, especially those of colonial decent, but something special happened when the French and Vietnamese threw their cuisines in the same hat.
Ho Chi Minh City has a ridiculously high concentration of perfectly buttery and crisp croissants and the dish Bo Kho seamlessly throws together beef or lamb, yellow bean paste, potatoes, lemongrass and green beans, to be eaten with a warm, freshly baked baguette. The Vietnamese were doing fusion food ever before it became a confusion.
Their greatest hit, though, is Banh Mi. The freshest, tastiest sandwich you could ever imagine stuffing into your face. The term actually refers to the bread, the baguette to be precise, but has come to mean the sandwich as a whole. In a perfect example of necessity being the mother of all invention a Vietnamese genius one day took a French baguette and stuffed it with an array of ingredients at hand. It’s delicious, flexible and easy to eat. No wonder it took off.
The Banh Mi usually contains prawns and some form of pork, which could be roast pork belly, grilled sausage or a coarse pork pate. It should always have cucumber, coriander, mayonnaise and an element of chilli.
It can get seriously messy if you overstuff the baguette but that just makes the beach the perfect place to eat one. Drop some? Who cares? The seagulls certainly don’t. Spill chilli mayonnaise down your front? Have a swim.
I like eating and I like beaches so it’s no surprise that I should seriously enjoy eating on the seashore. Crab curries, whole mackerel poached in seawater, Devonshire scones and mussels cooked on a driftwood fire have all been some memorable favourites.
Luckily for me, my partner also shares this, the simplest of pleasures. We are lucky enough to live on a paradise island in the South Pacific so beaches are ten a penny.
I wanted to seriously luxe up our Banh Mi so instead of prawns, I opted for crayfish or spiny lobster. Regular lobster, crayfish or indeed prawns would all be just as enjoyable and I omitted any pork element to save and savour the delicate flavour of crayfish.
Most chefs would have you believe that the first job of this recipe would be to get your snorkel on and free dive for the crayfish.
I bought mine from a very nice Chinese man at the central fish market who sang while repeatedly dipping his net into the large tank of crayfish as I chirped my chorus of “no, a bigger one, a much bigger one’
Your first job is to cook the crayfish and if you’ve bought a live one, which I hope you have, that means killing it. I put mine into the freezer for twenty minutes. That puts it into a state of deep, hibernation like sleep. Then I drop it into a very large pot of boiling, salted water. The bigger the pot the better and if you’re near a beach, salt water is the best cooking medium for shellfish there is. Perfectly seasoning it every time.
For an average sized crayfish or lobster of around 500g you want to give it seven minutes cooking time.
When done, don’t be tempted to plunge it into cold water to speed it’s cooling process; it is not a green vegetable. The shock of the cold water will most likely toughen the flesh and almost certainly waterlog it. Instead, allow it to cool naturally at room temperature. This advice applies equally to crab, lobster and langoustine. Your supper will be all the sweeter for it.
Crayfish Banh Mi for two.
One live crayfish.
One fresh baguette.
Mayonnaise (I prefer Kewpie)
One tablespoon of fish sauce, squid brand if available.
One tablespoon of olive oil.
One teaspoon of palm sugar or soft brown sugar if unavailable.
One fresh green chilli, shredded and soaked in ice water for an hour or two.
Two spring onions, shredded and soaked in ice water for an hour or two.
A handful of coriander leaves, roughly chopped or torn.
A half a handful of mint leaves, roughly chopped or torn.
Five or six Vietnamese mint leaves, also roughly chopped or torn.
Two handfuls of crisp, crunchy leaves such endive or iceberg lettuce.
Half a handful of red peanuts, toasted and smashed to smithereens in a pestle and mortar.
One beach, empty of all other people and preferably with one setting sun.
Cook your crayfish as per the instructions above, allow to cool then remove the meat from the shell and chop, dice or slice as per your preference. Season with a little salt but not too much, remember, it was cooked in salted water!
Slice your baguette down the middle as if it were a hotdog bun, liberally apply mayonnaise and fill with the crayfish meat.
Juice the lime and mix together with the fish sauce, olive oil and sugar, toss the rest of the ingredients together in this dressing and stuff into the baguette on top of the crayfish.
Cut the baguette into two equal or unequal portions depending on your dining partner.
Eat, enjoy, swim. Repeat as necessary.