Vietnamese bánh mì sandwiches have become so trendy over the past five years that it's almost painful. It's gotten to the point when you see one on a menu that you know before ordering that it's best to stray far, far away from that portion of it. Besides, why order something out that you can make just as well if not better at home. There, I said it. You don't have to be Vietnamese to make a good bánh mì, and it's easy. The basic ingredients for a bánh mì sandwich? Steamed, pan-roasted, or oven-roasted meat and soy fillings like Vietnamese sausage, pork patties, pork liver pâté, and grilled chicken, topped with cucumber slices, cilantro, shredded pickled carrots and daikon, mayonnaise, sliced chiles, and chile sauce.
This simple recipe (really simple, I swear) combines two of the above ingredients — chicken (thigh meat) and chile sauce (Sriracha) — for a moist, flavorful effect. The key to great bánh mì? Moist meat. Adequate distribution. Overall moisture. And is just good bread with a thin crust and strategic layering technique for maximum ingredients and efficient distribution. This recipe was carried out using some really terrific bread baked by Leske's Bakery, a Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, original since 1961, and bought at Chubby Mary's, a new favorite sandwich shop by the Artichoke Basille crew in New York's East Village. What's the big deal about the bread? You don't need to go to Leske's or Chubby Mary's (though you could do much worse), but a really light and airy bread that's crusty outside and still moist and airy inside will be key. (Leske's would be great for a po'boy, too, by the way.)
First step is a quick pickle of the carrots and daikon; in a bowl, soak in the white-wine vinegar for about 30 minutes.
Next, the marinade. Mix together 3 tablespoons of the Sriracha, ponzu, and lemon juice in a medium-sized bowl. Add the chicken and marinate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare a Sriracha mayonnaise to dress the sandwich. In a small bowl, mix together the Sriracha and mayonnaise, then reserve.
Preheat a grill over high heat. Cook the chicken for 3 minutes on each side. Slice the baguette in 1/2, then half again lengthwise being careful to maintain the seam on 1 side. Let the chicken rest while you grill bread (watch carefully and cook for only about 1 minute, just until there are grill marks).
For assembly, take the grilled bread and lather the entire surface of each inside with the Sriracha mayonnaise. Drain the pickled shredded carrot and daikon and lay lengthwise along the bread making sure to cover the entire length of the bread with pickled carrot. Evenly layer the pâté the full length of the sandwich. Cover evenly with the thin slices of cucumber (preferably 2 slices lengthwise side by side).
Slice each chicken thigh in 1/2 along the side so that you have to thin, long pieces of thigh meat. Evenly layer cilantro leaves along the length of the bottom sandwich layer, then top with 4 half pieces of chicken thigh evenly across the bottom half of the sandwich. Repeat to make the other sandwich. Slice each sandwich in 1/2 and serve.