In this Midwestern take on a banh mi, we've sandwiched as many up-and-coming food trends as we could manage without violating good taste. We stuffed vegetables, wood flavor, bitterness, real fast food and the Midwest (represented by fried pork, wood-smoked Braunschweiger liverwurst and caraway) into a grand banh mi mash-up. Now if only we could nab it from a passing dim sum cart in a gastropub, our year would be close to complete. If 2014 tastes anything like this sandwich, it'll be an adventuresome and comforting year ahead.
For the caraway pickled cauliflower: Cut the florets into 1/4-inch-thick slices. It's alright if the pieces break apart. Combine the vinegar, sugar, caraway seeds, 1/3 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, whisking until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat, add the cauliflower and carrot and stir. Allow to cool to room temperature. Transfer to a small bowl, cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.
For the garlic fish sauce: Whisk together the fish sauce, lemon juice, vinegar, sugar, garlic, jalapeno and 2 teaspoons water in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F.
For the fried pork cutlets: Lightly sprinkle the cutlets on both sides with salt and pepper. Place the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in three separate shallow bowls. Dredge each cutlet in the flour, dusting off any excess. Then dip in the egg and, finally, coat with the breadcrumbs. Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, fry two cutlets until browned, crispy and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Add the remaining tablespoon oil to the pan and repeat with the remaining cutlets.
For the sandwiches: Trim and discard the bread heels from the baguettes. Halve each so you have a total of four 6-inch pieces. Split each piece lengthwise about 3/4 of the way and press it open like a book. Generously spread the top halves with mayonnaise and the bottom halves with mustard and liverwurst. Arrange the baguettes on a baking sheet and bake until warm, 3 to 4 minutes.
Top the bottom half of each baguette with a pork cutlet (halve the cutlets for fit, if necessary) and some of the cucumber, onion, caraway-pickled cauliflower, watercress and cilantro. Top each with a drizzle of garlic fish sauce and a squirt of Sriracha and serve.
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