I think the expectation of formality is the potential recoil of the home cook.
When someone who does not cook for groups of people very often suddenly has to, they place an automatic burden on themselves that their guests expectations will be higher than they actually are. People start to conjure images of shiny silverware, ice white linens, three courses, and then they’ll score them on the taxi ride home. My friends know better than to expect this with me.
There is nothing more freeing for the cook (and the guest) than a DIY meal. We may have been conditioned to think that when cooking for others we should be presenting them with perfect plates, but who decided what perfect was anyway? Ignore them. Why isn’t a table groaning under the weight of simple to make and social to eat DIY food that welcomes active participation and cross-table shenanigans considered perfect?
My version of perfection? The banh mi sandwich.
I first had a banh mi in Las Vegas just outside of Caesar’s Palace. It was a Prawn Banh Mi and was served with some prawn crisps and a small pot of fish sauce. I’d never had one before but made a vow to myself I would order something I had never tried by the end of the week. I hit the floor.
A banh mi is a Vietnamese baguette stuffed with meats, pate and pickled vegetables. It’s sensational. It has this gutsy heart to it because the pate provides this round, earthy punch to it but it is totally countered by the sour pickled vegetables. But despite their picklage (not a word, it is one now) does not lose the crunch.
I’ve made several version of a banh mi. I’ve made a prawn version, which follows the same recipe as below, the prawns cooked in the sauce until pink. I’ve also done it with thick slices of chicken thighs, which I fully cook in a pan before adding the ingredients for the sauce – both are terrific. But I wanted to share this jackfruit version, because I found it caters to all parties (fish sauce omitting, of course) and I don’t feel flavour is compromised at all in the absence of prawns or chicken.
And of course, for the pickles, I must direct you here for you to assemble your own for the party that is this sandwich. You can omit the pate if it’s not your thing, but please, I beg of you, don’t omit the pickles.
To serve, I just lay some newspaper down on the table, and scatter salted crisps all over it. I then dot little bowls of hot sauce and the pickles around the table, putting the buns and jackfruit in the middle for my guests to communally reach and stretch across at their own free will. No plates necessary. And let me tell you, you will be grateful when at the end of the night, instead of cleaning dishes, washing a tablecloth and wiping down a table, all you will have to do is scrunch up the newspapers and put them in the recycling bin.
And if you wanted to know how perfect these are for a party, let me tell you that I cooked this recipe for the first time for my dog Waffle’s 5th birthday party. Yes. I am that owner.
Don’t you dare judge me.
Serves 6 – 8
1 x 410g can jackfruit – drained
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 fat thumb sized piece of ginger (peeled)
1 fat clove of garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon fish sauce (optional)
1 tablespoon soft brown sugar
1 tablespoon of hot sauce (I use a fiery red Vietnamese sauce)
For the sandwich
Pickled Cucumbers and Pink Pickled Onions here
As many baguettes as you need
As much pate as your heart desires (optional)
A handful of fresh coriander (chopped finely)
As many bags of salted crisps as you like
- Just before you’re ready to eat, assemble everything you need for your sandwich feast, because the filling comes together quite quickly.
- I’d suggest something like this – lay some newspaper on the table, slice your baguettes down the middle so that they open up like a book, and place on the table. Spoon the pate (if using) into little serving bowls and put on the table. Roughly chop the coriander and put on a plate – you can never have too much coriander in a banh mi. Place the pickles on the table, and then open up your crisps, and just empty the bags all around the newspaper, filling any gaps with crisps.
- When you’re ready to eat, make the sandwich filling. Put your drained pieces of jackfruit in a large bowl and using two forks, shred the fruit into thin, pale strands, so that it resembles shredded chicken. Leave the fruit in the bowl while you prepare the sauce.
- Warm the oil on a medium heat in a large frying pan before grating in the ginger, garlic, and zest of the lime with a fine grater. Fry gently for about 3 – 4 minutes so that the ginger and garlic are hot and sizzling, but not brown.
- Now add in the juice of the lime, the soy sauce, the fish sauce (if using), the brown sugar and the hot sauce, stirring on a medium heat, until the sauce starts to bubble, and leave to simmer for 10 minutes until the sauce has slightly thickened and is conker shiny.
- Tip the shredded jackfruit into the sauce, add a little salt and pepper, and toss in the sauce for 3 – 4 minutes until the fruit is coated in the gloss and piping hot.
- Tip the jackfruit into a serving bowl and bring to table for people to fill their baguettes with the fruit, the pickles, the coriander, and then devouring.