Flashback to 2012– it’s my senior year of high school, and we would do anything to rebel against the “powers that be” during the weeks leading up to graduation. After twelve years of waiting in long lines for terrible school lunches, the simple banh mi became an unconventional lunch time status symbol. My school was only a few minutes away from Buford Highway– still one of my favorite, yet embarrassingly under-explored places to eat in Atlanta. A few friends used to make covert drives to Lee’s Bakery to pick up bags full of $2 banh mi that we’d rush to a “friendly” classroom to distribute, and devour. Sure, we were desperate to avoid school lunches, but now I can appreciate how lucky we were to have a local favorite within easy reach. I know what you’re thinking: another “misguided” fusion recipe. Hear me out: the sandwich itself is a fusion of Vietnamese technique, and French bread. Swapping the traditional baguette with a corn tortilla makes sense here, considering the mosaic of different cuisines that have all landed, and thrived around Buford Highway, and other places like it all over the world.
It’s becoming increasingly likely to find a Taqueria across the street from pho restaurant, a Middle Eastern bakery or an African market. Cool things happen when people start sharing food, and since I couldn’t make it to my favorite spot for lunch, I had to draw some of that vibrance to beat the craving. I guess this is what happens when you mix Vietnam, Mexico, Northeast Atlanta, and a food-obsessed Nigerian-American.
I’ve made this a few times–usually with thinly sliced pork chops, or pork tenderloin–but now I think I’ll always use pork shoulder–a cut that’s not totally lean. Since the meat gets braised over low heat, then broiled for texture, having extra fat keeps the meat from drying out. The marinade is similar to the Char Siu recipe I used earlier, but with the addition of shallots, and lemongrass. I left it in the fridge overnight, but you’ll still get good flavor after a few hours. It’s best to add the acidic ingredients closer to cooking time if you plan to let the meat sit for a long time though, since it can start to mess with its texture.
Once it’s marinated, add a small amount of water, cover with foil, and braise at a low temperature (somewhere around 300 degrees) for 2-3 hours. I had just strained out the braising liquid and started to baste and broil the carnitas until they were crispy on the outside, but still fork tender.
The meat takes a while to cook, so there’s plenty of time to make a few classic toppings. A carrot, and white diakon radish for an easy “quick pickle”, chopped up cilantro, and sliced jalapeños tie these tacos back to their source. A little sriracha mayo (that didn’t end up in any of the pictures…) is the final touch.
2 lb Pork Shoulder, cubed
1 Diakon Radish, shaved
1 Carrot, shaved
3 Cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs Ginger, minced
3 Scallions, sliced thinly
1 Shallot, sliced thinly
2 Tbs Lemongrass, sliced thinly
1/2 Cup Cilantro, chopped
1 Jalapeño, sliced thinly
1 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Dark Soy Sauce
1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 Cups Water
4 Tbs Mayo
2 Tbs Sriracha
1/4 Cup Fish Sauce
2 Tbs Brown Sugar
1 Tbs Five-Spice Powder
1 Tbs Sesame Oil
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Combine water, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, shallots, scallions, lemongrass and fish sauce in a large bowl, and whisk together. Season pork lightly with salt and pepper, then add to marinade. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
2. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees. Transfer meat and marinade into a large caserole dish, cover tightly with foil, then braise for 2-3 hours, or until fork tender. Check that all of the water has not evaporated halfway through.
3. Remove dish from the oven, then strain away the liquid, and return meat to a heat-safe dish. Baste with pan drippings, and place under the broiler until the outside is crispy– roughly 10 min. Remove from heat, baste, and and return to the broiler for another 5 min, then cover and rest the meat for ten minutes before serving.
4. Boil vinegar, water, two tablespoons of sugar, and 1 tablespoon of salt in a medium pot. Add sliced scallions, carrot, and diakon, stir, then turn off the heat. The pickles will be ready to use once cooled.
5. Combine mayo, sriracha, sesame oil, and lime juice in a separate bowl, and whisk together.
6. Plate, and serve with desired toppings.