LondonHouse Chicago Gives Banh Mi a Chicago Makeover
This summer, the iconic Vietnamese banh mi sandwich soars to new heights, literally, as part of a tartine flight at LondonHouse Chicago’s LH Rooftop. The rare dish photogenic enough to distract from the Downtown views, this isn’t just any banh mi either. Rather, it’s a banh mi inspired in part by grandma and mashed up with a Chicago-style hot dog, all courtesy of executive chef Jacob Verstegen.
As he was conceptualizing the open-faced sandwich flight, one idea that came to mind for Verstegen harkened back to early lunch memories. “When I was a kid, my grandma made this ham spread sandwich that was awesome,” recalls the chef. “My grandma lived on a farm, and she’d always have ham hocks in the freezer, so she’d boil them, whip them and make a spread out of it.” Considering ham hock spread is similar in flavor and texture to the pork pâté traditionally smeared on banh mi sandwiches, it triggered a lightbulb for Verstegen.
Rather than layer his banh mi with conventional accompaniments, the chef opted to put a Chicago-style spin on it, fusing the Vietnamese sandwich with flavors and components from a Chicago-style hot dog. Using a mini poppy seed bun as the base, he fills it with ham hock spread, pickled carrots, pickled daikon, cilantro and chili aïoli. There’s even neon green relish, which he makes by pureeing dill pickles and setting the juice like a jam before folding in pickled cucumbers, preserving that bright green color familiar to local hot dogs. Even the daikon radish gets a neon hue, thanks to an acidic pickling infused with fresh turmeric. “It goes really well with the ham; the acid really balances it all out,” says Verstegen.
“This whole dish is kind of like a combination of all the different styles I’ve cooked,” explains the chef, whose experience includes stints in Japanese cuisine, American fare and classic French training. Combined with a few other open-faced sandwiches as part of a flight, including a cheese bread spread with ‘nduja and a savory “pop tart” made with ham, absinthe and mustard, this neoteric banh mi perfectly exemplifies the eclectic career of an inspired chef.