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. Econ teachers rejoice? 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 and French flavors and techniques. 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.
*Original post on 4/2/2018, updated 7/23/2020*
It’s becoming increasingly likely to find a Taqueria across the street from a 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 on 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 (me).
I’ve made this a few times–usually with thinly sliced pork chops, or cubes of pork loin (seen here)–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, lemongrass, and fish sauce. 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 350 degrees) for 1-2 hours. If you’re using a pork loin, add butter or extra fat to keep it from drying out. For pork shoulder, though, you’re in the clear.
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. Since there isn’t a lot of fat here, go ahead and drop these back in the braising liquid to keep them from drying out before you serve them. See, more French influence.
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. I threw on some arugula this time…because why not? For the update, I had to use regular radishes (the red ones) because I couldn’t find diakon this time. Please forgive me.
So, besides how awesome this is, why did I decide to remake this one? A few of you guys clowned me hard back when I posted the original, skimpy tacos. I never forgot–but it’s all good. I’m listening.
2 lb Pork Shoulder/Pork Loin, cubed
1 Diakon Radish, sliced thinly
1 Carrot, sliced thinly
3 Cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbs Ginger, minced
3 Scallions, sliced thinly
1 Shallot, sliced thinly
2 Tbs Lemongrass, minced
1/2 Cup Cilantro, chopped
1/4 Cup Thai Basil, chopped
1 Jalapeño, sliced thinly
1 Tbs Butter
2 Cups Chicken Stock (unsalted)
1 Cup Soy Sauce
1/4 Cup Dark Soy Sauce
1/2 Cup Cider Vinegar
2 Cups Water
1/2 Cup Mayo
2 Tbs Sriracha
1/4 Cup Fish Sauce
1 Tbs Five-Spice Powder
1 Tbs Sesame Oil
1 Tbs Brown Sugar
Salt & Pepper to taste
1. Combine water, soy sauce, dark soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger, shallots, scallions, lemongrass, brown sugar, 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 casserole dish, cover tightly with foil, then braise in chicken stock 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 5-10 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.