Friday nights I'm usually home-bound; I'm tired after a full week of working and writing and I just want to sit on the couch with a glass of wine, watch Masterchef and eat something that's half-treat, half-comfort. Lately, my Mum has been joining me for Friday night masterclass action and last Friday night we had a casual Vietnamese dinner of bánh mì and bánh gan - and it was awesome, as you can see.
First of all, how good are meatball sandwiches? When we were younger, my brother and I became obsessed with them watching Point Break (2001); here's the reason. Though to tell you truth, I don't think I'd ever had one - except for those Vietnamese rolls with those delicious (lukewarm) pork meatballs that are probably a bit dangerous, but are so, so good. I was always tempted to ask for only meatballs, but they seemed so special that I didn't think this was a possibility. Turns out that making them at home was the answer.
These meatballs have so much flavour that they're killer snacks just on their own. But encased in those super-light Vietnamese/French baguettes and garnished with sweet vinegary carrot and daikon pickles, hot chilli mayo and fresh sprigs of coriander, these are near on perfect.
But what to eat afterwards? We tried not to be piggies and had smaller rolls for dinner, but only so we could fit this in. In another culinary triumph of Vietnamese/French fusion, I bring you bánh gan, or the coconut creme caramel - so perfect after something spicy. Half the milk or cream of the regular flan is replaced here with coconut milk, resulting in a pudding that is silky and refreshing and not too sweet. I also swapped the brown sugar in the custard recipe here for grated palm sugar and was very glad I did: the sweetness was even more subtle and nuanced than I'd expected. And these two dishes went down so well together that now I find it hard to imagine making one and not the other. Oh oh...
Bánh mì - Vietnamese meatball sandwiches
Adpated from Bon Appétit Jan 2010
For the hot chilli mayonnaise:
2/3 cup mayonnaise
2 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot chilli sauce (I use sriracha)
For the meatballs:
500g pork mince
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Thai basil (or regular basil)
4 garlic cloves, minced
3 spring onions, finely chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha or other hot chilli sauce
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons cornflour
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
For the sandwiches:
1 cup julienned or coarsely grated carrots
1 cup julienned or coarsely grated peeled daikon (Japanese white radish)
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon sesame oil
4 10-inch-long baguettes (preferably from a Vietnamese bakery)
Thinly sliced jalapeño chiles
About 16 large fresh coriander sprigs
1. To make the hot chilli mayonnaise, stir all ingredients in small bowl. Season with salt. Cover and chill.
2. To make the meatballs: line a baking tray with plastic wrap. Gently mix all meatball ingredients in large bowl. Using moistened hands, roll scant tablespoons of the meat mixture into 1-inch meatballs. Arrange on baking sheet. Cover and chill.
3. For the rest of the sandwich, toss the first 5 ingredients in medium bowl to make the pickles. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour, tossing occasionally.
4. Preheat oven to 180°C. Heat sesame oil in large pan over medium-high heat. Add half of meatballs and sauté until brown and cooked through. This should take around 15 minutes - be careful not to burn! Transfer meatballs to another rimmed baking sheet. Place in oven. Repeat with remaining meatballs.
5. Cut each baguette in half, not quite all the way. Spread hot chili mayo over both cut sides of rolls. Fill each with 1/4 of meatballs and pickled vegetables (drained), jalapeños and coriander to taste. Eat over a plate, as these can get gloriously messy.
Bánh gan - coconut creme caramel
Adapted from Good Taste 2007
225g (1 cup) white sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) water
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
375ml (11/2 cups) milk
6 eggs, lightly whisked
100g (1/2 cup, firmly packed) grated palm sugar sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
1. Preheat oven to 160°C. First make your caramel. Combine the white sugar and water in a medium saucepan over low heat. Cook, stirring, for 2 minutes or until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to high and bring to the boil. Boil, without stirring, occasionally brushing down side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in water, for 3-4 minutes or until beautiful golden. Watch out, because this burns easily at this stage! Pour the caramel mixture evenly among eight 160ml (2/3-cup) capacity ovenproof ramekins. Set aside for 5 minutes or until set.
2. Whisk together the coconut milk, milk, egg, grated palm sugar in a large bowl until well combined. Scrape in vanilla bean and whisk again to combine. Strain through a fine sieve into a jug. Carefully pour this over the caramel mixture in the ramekins.
3. Place the ramekins in a large roasting pan. Boil your kettle and pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake in oven for 35-40 minutes or until the custards are just set. Transfer to a baking tray and set aside for 1 hour to cool. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 6 hours or overnight to chill.
4. To serve, run a flat-bladed knife around the inside edge of the ramekins and carefully turn onto serving plates. I didn't have any on hand, but recipe suggest sprinkling with toasted shredded coconut and lime rind to serve.