Bánh Mì Khong (Bánh Mì Bread)

Bánh Mì Khong’s (Bánh Mì Bread’s) tender crumb and shatteringly crisp exterior is perfect for making bánh mì sandwiches.

Overhead view of 6 banh mi bread loafs
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

It's easy to focus on the boldly flavorful fillings in a bánh mì sandwich, but the namesake bread is just as important as what's stuffed inside it. Unlike a classic baguette, with its well developed crust and golden, wheaty crumb, bánh mì bread is light and tender like white sandwich bread on the inside, while the crust is paper thin with a satisfying crispness that should flake all over your shirt while you eat it.

Side view of a banh mi loaf split in half with two other loafs
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

I grew up in New Orleans East, a neighborhood that has, among other things, Dong Phuong Bakery, which is well known throughout the South for its bánh mì khong. The bread is very similar in texture to New Orleans po’ boy bread, and both, it's worth pointing out, are remnants of French colonial influence. Locals and out-of-towners alike regularly wait in line for this beloved bánh mì bread.

How to Achieve Bánh Mì Bread’s Tight and Tender Crumb

To get bánh mì bread's soft, white bread–like texture, you need to develop a stretchy, gluten-rich dough that is slightly sticky, so it can hold all of the air bubbles the yeast will make. There are two main strategies for this: good gluten development and multiple proofs.

The higher protein ratio in bread flour (12 to 14 %) ensures that the dough is strong enough to stretch without tearing as air bubbles form and develop inside during fermentation. Meanwhile, proofing the dough multiple times and punching it down after each proof forces larger air bubbles to both deflate and redistribute more evenly in the dough—it's the exact opposite strategy of a no-knead dough, which is famous for the much more uneven crumb structure that is produced when bubbles are allowed to form and grow freely.

View inside of standmixer with banh mi dough
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

To further enhance the formation of the bread's crumb, I add a small amount of lime juice to the dough. While lime juice is a less common ingredient in most home-baked breads, its vitamin C (ascorbic acid) helps strengthen and stabilize gluten in the dough while also speeding up its formation (ascorbic acid is often used in large-scale bread production for this reason).

Proofing and shaping the dough multiple times not only knocks out the larger air bubbles to form smaller even ones, it also helps the loaf hold its final shape, ensuring you don't end up with bánh mì bread that looks like it lost all its air and went flat. Once again, this is thanks to all those efforts to strengthen the gluten in the dough prior to baking—strength in the dough is the name of the game.

Water and Oil Do Mix: How to Get the Perfect Bánh Mì Bread Crust 

When baking this bread, it is important to spray the exterior of the shaped loaves with some fat (a neutral oil spray is my favorite) and water. The combination of water and fat on the surface of the bánh mì bread is what contributes to the signature crackle effect on the outside of the loaf: The fat helps it brown and shine while the water helps it get crispy. 

Beyond that surface treatment of fat and water, we also want to bake the bread with a good amount of steam in the oven. When breaking into a finished loaf of this bread, you can see all of its layers and hear its shattering crispiness. Steam is key to giving this bread its signature light, airy, and crackly-on-the-outside shell. To create steam in your home oven, you simply need a spray bottle of water to spray the inside of the oven when placing the loaves inside to bake. I also like to keep a tray of water in the oven while it is preheating, to create the perfect humid environment for the bánh mì bread.

Six banh mi bread loaves in a line
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

You don't have to eat bánh mì bread only as part of the famed sandwich. The bread is often enjoyed all on its own. While I love a good bánh mì stuffed with all the fixings, what I really love is to tear into a fresh loaf of bánh mì bread and dip it into hot Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk, or slathered with a Vietnamese aïoli made with egg, oil, fish sauce, and spices. With the recipe, you don't even need to choose just one option—do them all!

In a stand mixer bowl, whisk flour, yeast, and salt to combine. In a liquid measuring cup or bowl, whisk water, oil, lime juice, and sugar until sugar is dissolved.

Two image collage of whisking flour mixture in a stand mixer and mixing yeast mixture in a measuring cup
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Fit stand mixer with dough hook, and on medium-low speed, slowly pour water mixture into flour mixture and mix until a shaggy dough forms, about 2 minutes. Increase the speed to medium and continue to mix, scraping down bowl and dough hook as needed, until the dough is smooth and stretchy and clears the sides of bowl, but sticks to the bottom, about 5 minutes.

Two image collage of adding yeast mixture to flour in stand mixer and dough formed in bowl
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Using clean hands, transfer dough to a lightly oiled work surface and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball, about 30 seconds. Place dough seam side down in a lightly greased large bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at warm room temperature (75°F/24°C) until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Two image collage of folding the dough by hand and dough expanded in size in bowl after it has proofed
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Transfer dough to a lightly oiled work surface. Using your hands, punch dough down to deflate, then form it into a taut ball, and let rest, covered, for 20 minutes.

Overhead view of punching down in bowl
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Divide dough into 4 even portions for longer banh mi loaves or 6 dough portions for shorter loaves (see notes). Lightly spray the dough portions all over with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 15 minutes.

Overhead view of spraying dough triangles with cooking spray
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Working with one dough portion at a time, pull edges of the dough towards the center, pinching ends together, to create a tight ball. Set dough ball seam side down on work surface, then cup dough beneath your palm and work it in quick circular motion to form a smooth ball. Repeat with remaining portions of dough. Let rest, covered, for 15 minutes.

Four image collage of overhead view of folding and forming 6 dough balls
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Flip each dough ball so that the seam side is on top. Working with one dough ball at a time, use your fingers to press down and deflate two-thirds of the ball; the remaining one-third of the dough ball should still be airy and plump with an elongated football shape.

Overhead view of flatten ball
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Using a small, lightly oiled French tapered rolling pin or other small rolling pin, roll the deflated side of dough until it is evenly flat and fans outward (for smaller loaves about 10 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick; for larger loaves, 12 inches wide and 1/8 inch thick), while keeping the inflated portion of the dough untouched (this ensures the center of each will be full and fluffy). The rolled out portion of the dough should be longer than the still inflated portion of the dough.

Overhead view of dough being rolled out
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Using both hands and starting with the still-inflated portion of dough, gently roll the dough over itself to form a log; continue rolling until a longer baguette forms with tapered ends (you should have a tapered baguette measuring about 1 1/2 inches thick in the middle that is about 8 inches long for smaller loaves and 10 inches long for larger ones). Gently press and pinch seam closed along the length of loaf.

Two image collage of overhead view of folding dough into loaf shape and pinching the seam sealed
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Transfer shaped loaf, seam side down, to a perforated baguette tray that has been lightly coated with cooking spray (see notes). Repeat loaf shaping with remaining portions of dough, then spray the loaves evenly with cooking spray and loosely cover with plastic wrap. Let rest until the dough springs back slowly when pressed lightly, about 45 minutes. 

Overhead view of spraying banh mi loaves with cooking spray
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Meanwhile, adjust oven racks to the upper-middle position and the lowest position. Place a large baking dish on the bottom oven rack and fill halfway with boiling water. Preheat oven to 475°F (246°C). 

Overhead view of filling tray with boiling water
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Holding a bread lame concave side up, with handle oriented at a 30-degree angle to loaf, make one 1/4-inch deep slash along the centerline of each loaf, using a single swift motion from one end to the other, but leaving 1/2-inch uncut at each end.

Overhead view of slicing banh mi loaves down the center line
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Using a spray bottle of water, mist the surface of each loaf. Working quickly, place loaves in the oven, then mist the inside walls of the oven with water. Bake loaves for 8 minutes, then rotate the tray and bake 4 minutes longer. 

Overhead view of misting dough loaves with water
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Reduce oven temperature to 400°F (205°C) and continue to bake loaves until golden brown all over, 6 to 8 minutes. If the bottoms of the loaves have not achieved the desired color, flip loaves upside down and bake until bottoms are golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer loaves to a wire rack and let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Two image collage of overhead view of banh mi bread resting on wire rack and a close up of one loaf
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Special Equipment

Stand mixer with dough hook attachment, French tapered or other small rolling pin, perforated baguette tray (preferred) or rimmed baking sheet, bread lame, spray bottle of water

Notes

Take care: instant yeast is not the same as active dry yeast. We prefer it for its longer shelf life and the fact that it does not require blooming before using in a recipe (read more about different types of yeast here).

Bánh mì loaves are typically smaller in size for individual sandwiches, which is what 6 portions of dough will produce, but feel free to make slightly larger ones by dividing into 4 portions instead.

A perforated baguette tray will produce the best results, but if you don't have one you can use a rimmed baking sheet, though the breads will need to be formed very well to bake into the proper shape.

If baking 6 loaves: Most baguette trays you should be able to to fit two 8-inch loaves in one channel to bake the full batch at once, but if for some reason your tray can't accommodate all 6 at once when making the smaller size loaves, set 2 aside and bake after the first round.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Dough can be made ahead, covered, and refrigerated overnight to bulk proof in step 1. Let dough sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before shaping.

Baked loaves can be stored in paper bags at room temperature for up to 2 days. If the bread's crust becomes soft, moisten the entire loaf with water before reheating in a 375°F (190°C) oven until hot and crispy.

Bún Bò Huê (Vietnamese Spicy Beef Noodle Soup)

Bun bo hue is a spicy, flavorful noodle soup from Hue, a city in the central region of Vietnam. This recipe simmers meat and bones in broth to tenderize the meat and deepen the broth’s flavor.

Overhead view of Bun Bo Hue
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Bun bo hue is a spicy, flavorful noodle soup from Hue, a city in the central region of Vietnam. Hue is the former capital of Vietnam, and was the home for all of the rulers, emperors, and dynasties. That is why this regional cuisine tends to have more variety, as well as dishes that are more labor-intensive, like bun bo hue. Personally, this is my favorite city to eat in when visiting my motherland, as the food leans a little more vibrant and spicy.

Overhead view of building bun bo hue bowl step by step
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Pho is the golden child of noodle soups in Vietnam. Everyone knows it and loves it―it is usually the gateway dish for foreigners to Vietnamese food. Bun bo hue, on the other hand, is that cool, dark, and mysterious cousin that everyone would actually rather hang with. Spicy, funky, and super flavorful, this beef noodle soup requires a few steps and different types of proteins, but the depth and flavor will have you overlooking pho every time you see this dish on a menu.

In my family, both of my parents cooked, but each of them had dishes that they excelled in. My dad really mastered making bun bo hue and he geeks out on all the steps that are required. This recipe is inspired by my dad’s version, but it has a few shortcuts to save time and a couple extra ingredients to make the flavor pop. 

The Keys to Great Bun Bo Hue Broth

Bun bo hue means “beef noodle soup from Hue,” but it isn’t only made with beef; it also contains a fair amount of pork. The bowl is usually garnished with fresh ham hocks, steamed pork sausage, and coagulated pork blood cake, alongside soft, succulent beef shanks. The broth is a mixture of beef, pork, and shrimp paste, which may sound like a bit much, but each protein complements the others. Beef is very savory, pork adds some sweetness, and the shrimp paste lends a subtle salty, funky note that brings it together. 

Broth-making in Vietnam requires that the bones get some special treatment. Ideally, a broth for any Vietnamese noodle soup should be clear, delicate, and flavorful. I normally soak beef and pork bones in cold water for 30 minutes before cooking to allow any blood in them to seep out, so that it doesn’t cloud the broth later while simmering. After soaking, I blanch them in boiling salted water for about 10 minutes, or until foam floats to the surface of the water, skimming off any impurities. Lastly, I rinse the bones thoroughly, rubbing off anything still clinging to them. Only then are the bones are ready to make the broth.

Overhead view of rinsing bones
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The broth itself starts with infusing oil with annatto seeds. This step creates a red oil that floats to the top of the soup and enhances the flavors of the broth. Although it isn’t traditional, I like to bloom the aromatics by cooking the onion, chile flakes, and lemongrass in the annatto oil until fragrant, then I add all of the remaining broth ingredients except the shrimp-paste broth (which I prepare while the main broth is simmering).

I also add makrut lime leaves, which enhances the citrus-like flavor of the lemongrass. It is crucial to season the broth at the beginning. Since we are simmering the meats in the broth that will later garnish the final soup for serving, we want that meat to be well seasoned. A long simmer develops flavor and ensures the beef shank’s connective tissues break down throughly, for the juiciest, most succulent beef. The ham hocks in the recipe do not require a long cooking time, so be sure to pull those out once fork-tender, but not yet falling off the bone. 

Once the meat and broth is simmering away in the pot, it’s time to make the clarified shrimp-paste broth. Since a transparent broth is desirable, it is important to bring the shrimp paste and water to a boil, then let it sit on the stove off of the heat so that the sediment settles to the bottom of the pot. This usually takes 20 to 30 minutes. After it settles, scoop the clear liquid from the top and add it to the main pot. Taste the broth before adding it, then taste it afterwards to make sure you can appreciate the difference.

Now, not all shrimp pastes are the same. If you can find one that says “mam ruoc hue’’ opt for that one, as it is specifically from that region and is closest to the original. Otherwise, “mam tom” from the Lee Kum Kee brand is one I like to use.

Overhead view of adding shrimp paste mixture to broth
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To Pineapple or Not to Pineapple

A lot of bloggers making bun bo hue will say that their secret ingredient is pineapple. I can verify that in Hue, I did see some stands including this fruit in their broths. My family did not add pineapple to the broth when I was growing up. So when my dad heard that my recipe called for pineapple, the traditionalist in him was not too happy about it. But then my father’s wife made it once with pineapple, and I think he is now converted. Not only does the pineapple brighten the broth with acidity and subtle sweetness, but it also contains enzymes that help tenderize the meat (which is why in general you don't want to marinate meats for too long with pineapple juice, lest they become mushy).

Assembling a Bowl

Unlike most bun dishes in Vietnam, bun bo hue calls for a thicker rice noodle, about the size of spaghetti, which is necessary for this dish to stand up to the more assertive broth. Rice noodles soak up flavor, and the thicker they are, they more they can soak up! This particular noodle is not very popular in Vietnam and is only used for this dish, though I have seen that it is a very popular noodle in the Yunnan region of China. 

Overhead view of noodles in a bowl
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The garnishes or veggies that accompany bun bo hue vary from place to place, but you’ll usually see mint, cilantro, bean sprouts, chile, lime, and shredded fresh banana blossoms. Personally, I like it with shredded cabbage instead of the banana blossoms, as it’s crunchier and sweet, and also a lot easier to find.  

Besides the beef shank and ham hocks, the other meats that are usually in this bowl are coagulated pork blood cake and cha hue (a steamed sausage in the Hue style, made with peppercorns). I can usually find these two ingredients at my local Asian grocery store. I think that the cha hue is a must-have, and the pork blood cake is best store-bought. (I’ve tried to make it a few times and it never turns out as silky as store-bought). 

Side view of bun bo hue with accompaniments
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

This dish is a labor of love fit for a king, but I'm confident that if you make it, you'll see it's also fit to challenge pho for the throne as the greatest of all Vietnamese noodle soups.

For the broth: In a stockpot, add beef shanks, beef bones, and ham hocks, and add enough water to cover by 1 inch. Let soak at room temperature for 30 minutes to draw out any blood. Drain, rinse, then return meat and bones to the same pot. Add fresh water to cover by 1 inch, then bring to a rolling boil over high heat. Cook for 10 minutes (there should be foam and cloudy proteins that float to the top.) Drain and rinse meat and bones well, transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.

Four image collage of cleaning and boiling meat and bones
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

In the same large pot, heat oil and annatto seeds over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until oil becomes bright red, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove and discard seeds. Add onion, lemongrass, and chile flakes to the annatto oil and cook, stirring often until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

Two image collage of heating annatto seeds and adding onion, lemongrass, and chile flakes to pan.
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Add lime leaves, salt, sugar, fish sauce, MSG (if using), and pineapple (if using), along with prepared meat and bones and 5 quarts (4.7L) water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a simmer, and cook until ham hocks are fork-tender but not falling off the bone, about 1 hour. Transfer ham hocks to a large bowl, let cool slightly, then cover and refrigerate.

Two image collage of ingredients and meat in a pot and meat removed from pot and added to a bowl to cool.
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Continue to cook broth until beef shank is fork-tender, 2 to 4 hours longer. Remove beef shank, transfer to cutting board, let stand until cool enough to handle, then slice beef shank 1/4 inch thick and set aside. Strain broth, discard solids, then return broth to pot.

Overhead view of meat being sliced on a cutting board
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Meanwhile, in a small pot, combine shrimp paste with 2 cups (475ml) water, and bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, stir, and let sit for 30 minutes. Using a laddle or large spoon, transfer shrimp-paste liquid to the broth, being careful to leave any shrimp paste sediment behind. Season to taste with sugar and/or fish sauce. Hold broth warm over low heat until ready to serve.

Four image collage of adding shrimp paste and combing with broth and fish sauce
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For serving: Rewarm ham hocks in the broth. In each soup bowl, add 7 ounces (200g) noodles, top with 5 or 6 slices reserved beef shank, 1 ham hock, 1 slice pork blood cake, and 2 or 3 pieces steamed ham, followed by a handful each of green onions, yellow onion, and cilantro.

Two image collage of removing meat from broth and assembling bun bo hue bowl
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Return broth to a boil, then ladle enough hot broth into each bowl to cover noodles.

Overhead view of ladling broth into prepared Bun Bo hue bowl
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Serve immediately with a plate of fresh mint, banana blossom or cabbage, bean sprouts, chiles, and lime wedges alongside, as well as extra shrimp paste if desired.

Overhead view of finished Bun Bo Hue
Serious Eats / Vy Tran

Special Equipment

Large stock pot

Make-Ahead and Storage

This is a dish that keeps getting better as it sits, but you should only cook the noodles the day you serve them, because they will become brittle once refrigerated.

All of the garnishes can be prepped up to 4 hours in advance and refrigerated in airtight containers.

The broth can be strained and refrigerated in airtight containers for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 3 months. The beef shank can be refrigerated in a container with some of the broth (so it stays juicy) for up to 5 days.