Bo Ssam

Ah, the power of suggestion. Last week, a piece in the New York Times reminded me of one of the best family dinners we had in 2011: a fabulous Friday evening savoring the Bo Ssam meal at Momofuku Ssam Bar. David Chang’s restaurant takes reservations for tables of 6-10 diners, who are served a life-changing whole slow-roasted pork shoulder to pick apart with tongs and assemble in delicate lettuce cups, topped with divine kimchi and other scrumptious fixings, all capped off with fresh slurpy oysters. Pork shoulder and oysters- well, isn’t that just the quintessential Shabbat dinner for every nice Jewish girl?!

The Times’ photo made my mouth water, and as I read the article, I realized that I’ve had the actual recipe in my kitchen for months and months in the Momofuku Cookbook that sits on my cookbook shelf. I’m notorious for buying a cookbook and referring to it only for two or three go-to recipes, rarely venturing beyond to explore some of the other gems that no doubt grace the un-dog-eared pages. Tsk-tsk-tsk. Culinary blasphemy for which I have no legit excuse.

Knowing how much the gang adored the restaurant version of Bo Ssäm, and seeing how ridiculously easy it is to prepare, I couldn’t call my butcher fast enough to order a nine pound piggy shoulder for the weekend. Football and a Korean feast…now that’s a helluva Sunday!

Cooking the pork is as simple as coating it in a salt/sugar rub overnight and putting it in a 300 °F oven for six hours, basting every hour. The condiments are a little more time consuming, but by no means complicated at all (I beg you not to let the length of the recipe intimidate you!). The key is to hit a good Asian market for the ingredients. A long weekend in the Hamptons is fantastic, save for the fact that there is no Asian market to speak of. So I improvised and the results were fine; but I will make it a priority to have the proper authentic ingredients on hand next time.

The pork was exquisite: cracking the crunchy sugar crust revealed moist, insanely tasty and tender meat. I was the Bo Ssäm architect at the table and everyone followed my lead. A bibb lettuce cup was the cradle for a small spoonful of white rice, topped with few chunks of the pork, dollops of whichever condiments I wanted and then an oyster to crown the masterpiece, sprinkled with a touch of sea salt. I rolled it up a little so all the contents would make it to my salivating mouth without falling apart. The explosion of flavors and textures was mindboggling: fresh crunchy lettuce; rich, velvety, slightly salty pork; tangy, sweet, ferment-y condiments; and a slippery, briny oyster. It’s officially one of our favorite meals, and shame on me for neglecting to find the recipe when it’s always been in plain sight!

Bo Ssam

From Momofuku by David Chang & Peter Meehan ©2009

Pork

  • 1 whole 8- to 10-pound bone-in Boston pork butt
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 7 tablespoons light brown sugar

1. Put the pork shoulder in a roasting pan, ideally one that holds it snugly. Mix together the granulated sugar and 1 cup of the salt in a bowl, then rub the mixture into the meat; discard any excess salt-and sugar mixture. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

2. Heat the oven to 300 °F. Remove the pork from the refrigerator and discard any juices that have accumulated. Put the pork in the oven and cook for 6 hours, basting with the rendered fat and pan juices every hour. The pork should be tender and yielding at this point-it should offer almost no resistance to the blade of a knife and you should be able to easily pull meat off the shoulder with a fork. Depending on your schedule, you can serve the pork right away or let it rest and mellow out at room temperature for up to an hour.

3. When ready to serve-sauces are made, oysters are ready to be shucked, lettuce is washed, etc.-turn the oven to 500 °F.

4. Stir together the remaining 1 tablespoon salt and the brown sugar and rub the mixture all over the pork. Put it in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, until the sugar has melted into a crisp, sweet crust.

5. Serve the bo ssäm whole and hot, surrounded with the accompaniments.

Accompaniments:

  • 1 dozen oysters, shucked
  • 1 cup Napa cabbage kimchi (recipe below)
  • 1 cup puréd Napa cabbage kimchi
  • 1 cup ginger scallion sauce (recipe below)
  • Ssäm sauce (recipe below)
  • 2 cups short-grain rice
  • 3 to 4 heads Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, well washed, and spun dry
  • Maldon or other high-quality coarse sea salt

Ssam Sauce

  • 1 tablespoon ssämjang (fermented bean and chile paste)
  • 1/2 tablespoon kochujang (chile paste)
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil

Combine all the ingredients and stir until evenly mixed. Ssäm sauce will keep in the fridge for weeks.

Ginger Scallion Sauce

  • 2-1/2 cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
  • 1/2 cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons usukuchi (light soy sauce)
  • 3/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it’s best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it’s stirred together up to a day or two in the fridge. Use as directed, or apply as needed.

Napa Cabbage Kimchi

1 small to medium head Napa cabbage, discolored or loose outer leaves discarded

2 tablespoons kosher or coarse sea salt

1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

20 garlic cloves, minced

20 slices peeled fresh ginger, minced

1/2 cup kochukaru (Korean chile powder)

1/4 cup fish sauce

1/4 cup usukuchi (light soy sauce)

2 teaspoons jarred salted shrimp

1/2 cup 1-inch pieces scallions (greens and whites)

1/2 cup julienned carrots

1. Cut the cabbage lengthwise in half, then cut the halves crosswise into 1-inch-wide pieces. Toss the cabbage with the salt and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in a bowl. Let sit overnight in the refrigerator.

2. Combine the garlic, ginger, kochukaru, fish sauce, soy sauce, shrimp, and remaining 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl. If it is very thick, add water 1/3 cup at a time until the brine is just thicker than a creamy salad dressing but no longer a sludge. Stir in the scallions and carrots.

3. Drain the cabbage and add it to the brine. Cover and refrigerate. Through the kimchi will be tasty after 24 hours, it will be better in a week and at its prime in 2 weeks. It will still be good for another couple weeks after that, though it will grow incrementally stronger and funkier.

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