Smoked Turkey Banh Mi
The first time I hit up a new-to-me barbecue spot, I like to bring a crowd in tow so I can order as much of the menu as possible in one fell swoop. When I attempted to do this at Blood Bros. BBQ, the menu was so vast that ultimately a few things had to be left to the wayside. One of those was going to be their smoked turkey banh mi, but in a last minute change of heart, I tossed it into our already lengthy order. With such heavy items like Thai peanut butter ribs, peach habanero pork belly burnt ends, Thai green curry boudin, jalapeño cheddar sausage, plus sides, I wasn't sure if the banh mi would even get eaten, but with a light touch among the otherwise fatty smoked meats, it ended up being favorite of the family that day. It's been a few years since that trip to Blood Bros., but I never forgot that excellent banh mi and finally made my own version at home, similarly offering it up as the lighter option after courses of ribs, wings, and sausages.
All banh mis I make have to start with the creation of the required pickled daikons and carrots. Making a batch of these matchstick veggies that get quick pickled is always exciting because having the jar of them in my fridge means I'm going to be having more banh mis and Vietnamese dishes in the near future to use up an amount that is always more than I need for one recipe.
That Blood Bros. banh mi tasted like it used a Texas-styled smoked turkey breast, which utilized a minimal salt and pepper rub. I decided to go all in on the Vietnamese flavors in my version though and put together a lemongrass marinade that I most commonly use on grilled pork chops. It's a particularly flavorful combination of lemongrass, shallots, garlic, white pepper, and palm sugar that's worked into a rough paste in a mortar and pestle, then mixed with oil and fish sauce.
For the turkey, I picked up a frozen boneless breast roast that my grocery store always seems to have in stock. It comes in a webbing because this roughly three-pound roast is usually two breast halves held together by the twine web.
The fact that it comes this way makes prep super easy because once the meat is defrosted, you just need to season and go. In the case of this recipe, that meant putting the turkey in a bag, adding in the marinade, and letting that sit in the fridge overnight.
Smoking the turkey the next day was also very minimal work. I already had my smoker running at 225°F with apple wood tossed on the coals for cooking ribs, so I merely tucked this turkey roast behind those ribs, inserted a probe thermometer, and let it smoke until the temperature hit 150°F.
I then removed the turkey, let rest for a bit, and cut slices about 1/8-inch thick for use in the banh mis which were constructed on a fresh French baguette with mayo, cucumber, turkey, pickled daikon and carrot, jalapeño slices, and cilantro.
The version of this sandwich I made turned out with an even lighter touch than the inspirational dish from Blood Bros. That was all thanks to the turkey that had a ton of savory, lemony, and herbal flavor, but was still more mellow than a lot of heavy handed black pepper. Kind of like that day I worried no one would eat the banh mi in a sea of other barbecue, I had the same fear when I put these out as they were the last dish I offered up to the crowd. At first there was a little hesitancy from the already full stomaches to dig into a sandwich, but after a couple folks grabbed some and confirmed there was still sufficient room for a banh mi, they almost all went. I, myself, couldn't help but down the one remaining one at the end of the evening after I finished cleaning up—no matter how full I am, I always seems to have space for the combo of the fresh veggies, meat, and balancing tart pickles. I only ended up using about half of the turkey at the actual cookout, and I was happy to find out that the leftovers were just as good cold, enjoyed as deli meat for sandwiches during the week that followed.
Smoked Turkey Banh Mi
- Yield 8 servings
- Prep 30 Minutes
- Inactive 1 Hour
- Cook 2 Hours
- Total 3 Hours 30 Minutes
- For the Pickled Daikon and Carrots
- 2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 medium daikon radish, peeled and cut into matchsticks
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 3/4 cup rice vinegar
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 4 teaspoons kosher salt
- For the Turkey
- 1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns
- 4 stalks lemongrass, bottom 4 to 5 inches only, outer leaves discarded, tender core thinly sliced
- 100 grams palm sugar or light brown sugar (about 1/2 a cup)
- 1 medium shallot, peeled and roughly chopped
- 6 medium cloves garlic, peeled
- Pinch of kosher salt
- 1/3 cup fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 boneless turkey breast roast, about 3lbs
- For the Sandwiches
- 8 Vietnamese-style baguettes, or 4 French baguettes cut into 10-inch portions
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 1 seedless cucumber, cut into 1/8-inch slices
- 4 small jalapeños, sliced
- 2/3 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro
- To make the pickled daikon and carrots: Place daikon and carrot slices into a large glass jar. In a small saucepan set over medium-high heat, whisk together water, vinegar, sugar, and salt until solids are completely dissolved. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Pour liquid into a jar with vegetables until they are completely submerged in liquid, cover jar, and let cool to room temperature. Place in refrigerator and store until ready to use.
- To make the turkey: Place peppercorns in a mortar and pestle and lightly crush. Add in lemongrass, palm or light brown sugar, shallot, garlic cloves, and salt and work into a rough paste. Transfer mixture to a small bowl and whisk in fish sauce and oil. Place turkey in a large resealable bag, pour in marinade, seal bag and toss to evenly distribute marinade. Place bag in refrigerator and let marinate for 1 hour to overnight.
- Fire up a smoker or grill to 225°F, adding chunks of smoking wood when at temperature. When the wood is ignited and producing smoke, place turkey in smoker or grill and cover. Smoke turkey until an instant read thermometer registers between 150-155°F when inserted into thickest part of meat, about 2 hours. Transfer turkey to a cutting board and let cool for 10 minutes. Remove any butcher twine or webbing. Cut turkey into slices between 1/8-1/4-inch thick.
- To make the sandwiches: Spread mayonnaise on each half of baguettes. Line bottom halves of baguettes with cucumber slices and top with turkey slices followed by jalapeño slices, cilantro, and pickled daikons and carrots to taste. Serve sandwiches immediately.