8 & $20: Pork Belly Bánh Mì and an Aromatic White

An indulgent yet fresh-flavored Vietnamese sandwich finds its foil in a Pinot Gris
8 & $20: Pork Belly Bánh Mì and an Aromatic White
The richness of the pork is balanced by the fresh vegetables, complex tamarind sauce and a sleek white wine. (Greg Hudson)
May 24, 2016

Eight ingredients, plus pantry staples. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

I’ve been having raging cravings for bánh mì. However, I recently moved and have yet to find a good local Vietnamese sandwich shop. Though I absolutely intend to further research my neighborhood's options, in the meantime, I attempted to satiate the craving at home. The result of my experiments is low effort and high reward.

I wanted really tender pork, so I slow-cooked it in the oven under low heat, cranking it up a bit at the end to caramelize the lightly sweet sauce. Another two minutes under the broiler gave the skin a lightly crisped finishing touch. Though the pork has to marinate and spend two hours in the oven, minimal energy is exerted otherwise, making this a good recipe for a long, lazy weekend or—planning ahead the night before—for letting cook while you take care of other weeknight tasks.

Despite containing relatively few ingredients, the sauce packs a lot of flavor and complexity, thanks to the fruity, slightly sour tang of the tamarind paste, which contrasts beautifully with the richness of the pork belly. Tamarind paste can usually be found in the Asian foods section of your grocery store, as well as online.

These sandwiches produced many sighs of deep satisfaction around our dinner table. They would also be a great option for a party if you portion the bread and pork into smaller pieces or use slider buns. You can complete the majority of the cooking ahead of time, then just crisp and caramelize the skin and sauce and build the sandwiches right before guests arrive.

As is often the case, the hint of sweetness in the sauce posed a bit of a pairing challenge, so I looked for wines with a fruity profile to handle that. I tried a ripe red blend from Portugal’s Dão region, a California Zinfandel and a Pinot Gris from Oregon.

I was hoping to find a red match for these sandwiches; however, despite the unctuousness of the pork belly, the dish’s overall flavor profile is quite fresh, and the reds proved overpowering. The bright fruit in the Dão blend turned sour when matched up, ruling it out. The Zinfandel's fruit held up comparatively well, but the lively wine turned dark and brooding with the perky flavors in the food.

Our white proved the hero. This sleek, round wine had white peach notes that worked well with the flavors in the banh mi, and hints of minerality emerged, cutting through the fattiness of the pork. This wine was at the driest end of what’s likely to work with these flavors, and other aromatic whites, such as Riesling, with a little more residual sugar, should also pair quite well.

Pork Belly Bánh Mì

Pair with an aromatic white such as Elk Cove Pinot Gris Willamette Valley 2014 (88 points, $19)

Total time: 2 hours, 20 minutes, plus marinating time (2 hours to overnight)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Active cooking time: 10 to 15 minutes
Approximate food costs: $13

  • 1/2 cup tamarind paste
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 3/4 to 2 pounds pork belly
  • 1 French baguette
  • Approximately 1/2 cup cucumber slices, for garnish
  • Approximately 1/2 cup shredded carrots, for garnish
  • Cilantro, roughly chopped or torn, as needed for garnish
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

1. Combine the tamarind paste, soy sauce, grated ginger, sugar and a pinch of pepper. Taste sauce and adjust seasoning if needed.

2. Score the pork belly skin with a very sharp knife. (Note: Your butcher can likely do this for you.) Season the skin with salt and pepper. Pour a couple of tablespoons of the sauce into a large oven-safe pan or baking dish. Place the pork belly in the baking dish skin-side up and coat well with more sauce, rubbing it into the scored skin. Store remaining sauce for later use. Cover the baking dish and place in the refrigerator to marinate overnight, or at least 2 hours.

3. Remove pork from the fridge at least 20 minutes before cooking to allow the meat to come to room temperature. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 300° F.

4. Add 1/8 to 1/4 cup of water to the pan, depending on its size. Cover the pan with a lid or foil. Place in the oven and cook pork for 90 minutes. The meat should be tender and yield easily when pierced with the blunt edge of a spoon or fork.

5. Raise the temperature of the oven to 350° F, uncover the pan, flip the pork and cook for another 15 minutes. Then flip and cook skin-side up again for another 15 minutes to help caramelize the skin. If you’d like more crispness and caramelization, you can finish the pork belly under the broiler for about 2 minutes. Remove the pork from the oven and allow it to rest for about 10 minutes.

6. Cut the baguette into 4 portions and slice open. Lightly warm in the oven or toaster oven if desired. Once the pork has rested, slice it into portions, following the score marks in the skin to make the slicing easier. Spread a small amount of the reserved tamarind sauce onto each baguette portion and layer with shredded carrots, cucumbers, cilantro and pork belly slices. Serves 4.

Cooking Pairings White Wines Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio Recipes

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