Prep time: 15 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
for the Viet pickle:
1 pound daikon, or 2 8-ounce purple-top turnips or watermelon radishes
1 (6-ounce) carrot
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons granulated sugar, plus 1/2 cup
1 1/4 cups distilled white vinegar (preferably Heinz)
for the char siu chicken:
1 3/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large garlic clove, put through a press or minced and mashed
1/4 teaspoon Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons honey, preferably amber colored
brimming 2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon ketchup
scant 2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
for the bread (choose one):
small French baguette or Bolillo roll
hand-span section of French baguette
Any light, airy bread
for the fat (choose one):
mayonnaise (regular or flavored)
salted European-style butter
thin avocado slices
for the seasoning (choose one or more):
Bragg liquid aminos
Maggi seasoning sauce
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
for the sandwich:
3 or 4 thin slices medium-hot chile, such as jalapeño or fresno
4 to 6 cucumber strips, rounds, or ovals, a scant 1/4 inch thick
1 to 2 tablespoons coarsely chopped or hand-torn cilantro sprigs, mint leaves, or basil leaves
1. Make the Viet pickle: Peel and cut the daikon into sticks about 3 inches long and 1/4 inch thick (the width of an average chopstick). Peel and cut the carrot into sticks a little skinnier than the daikon.
2. Put both vegetables in a bowl and toss with the salt and 2 teaspoons sugar. Massage and knead for 3 minutes, or set aside for 20 minutes, until you can bend a piece of daikon so the tips touch without breaking. They will have lost about a quarter of their original volume.
3. Rinse the vegetables with water, drain in a mesh strainer or colander, and press or shake to expel excess water. Transfer to a 4-cup jar.
4. In a medium bowl, stir together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar with the vinegar and 1 cup water until dissolved. Pour enough of the liquid into the jar to cover the vegetables, discard any excess, and let sit for 1 hour. Use immediately, or refrigerate for up to 1 month.
5. Prepare the char siu chicken: Pat the chicken thighs with paper towels to remove excess moisture, then trim and discard any big fat pads. If the thighs are large or super uneven in thickness, butterfly each one. Lay the thigh, smooth-side down, on your cutting board. Wielding your knife horizontally, slash the big mound of flesh to create a flap of meat, stopping just shy of cutting all the way through. Fold back the meat flap that you just created. The thigh should now be about 50% longer and relatively even in thickness. If the result seems awkwardly large, cut it crosswise into two smaller, square-ish pieces. Set aside.
6. In a large bowl, stir together the garlic, five-spice powder, honey, hoisin, soy sauce, ketchup, and sesame oil. Remove 3 tablespoons and set aside for glazing the chicken. Add the chicken to the bowl, coating the pieces well. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes, or refrigerate up to 24 hours (return to room temperature before cooking).
7. Lightly oil a cast-iron stove-top grill pan and set over medium-high heat. Add the chicken and cook for 6 to 10 minutes, turning several times. To test for doneness, pierce the flesh with the tip of a knife; the chicken is cooked when clear juices flow out. During the last 2 minutes, when the chicken feels firmish, baste with the reserved marinade to freshen flavor and add sheen. Transfer to a platter and let rest for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
8. Make the sandwich: If the bread is soft, rub the crust with wet hands to moisten and then crisp in a 350°F oven for about 7 minutes. Otherwise, bake it at 325°F for 3 - 6 minutes. Let it cool a few minutes, then use a serrated bread knife to slit the bread open horizontally, maintaining a hinge, if possible. Hollow out some of the inside to make room for the filling.
9. Spread your chosen fat on the two cut sides of bread, covering all the way to the edges. If using avocado, lay down thin slices and mash them so they adhere to the bread. Season as you like, layer the chicken on the bottom half of the bread, and top with the vegetables and pickles. Close and cut crosswise or keep whole to eat.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This recipe has been reprinted with permission of the author from Vietnamese Food Any Day: Simple Recipes for True, Fresh Flavors.