Bo ssäm (roasted pork butt wrapped in lettuce)

by Ben on September 3, 2010 · 38 comments

in Dinner Party, Gluten Free, Index, Korean, Meats, Seafood

I grew up eating a fair amount of salad. Not that I particularly liked it back then. The way my mom always made it, it had tons of raw onion, which was a bit overwhelming for my kid palate. But salad was a fact of life in our household. My father once said, in his characteristically unselfconscious way, It’s like greeeease for the body. (Thanks, Dad.) But there were times when my mom, rather than make a salad, would simply set out a plate of romaine lettuce alongside what my sister and I refer to as “ghetto salad dressing,” or soy sauce mixed with mayonnaise.

We would most simply dip the lettuce in one of the sauces and have at it. Other times (and this was particularly the case when we had a leafier lettuce, like red leaf lettuce) we would get all fancy and stuff the lettuce with rice, meat and kimchi before slathering on some ssäm jang and sending it down the hatch.

I always thought my mom just did this, as she sometimes admitted, because she was too lazy to make salad dressing. (Hell, sometimes she couldn’t even be bothered to put the soy sauce in.) I had no idea that the thing we were eating had a name, that it would one day become one of the most fashionable dishes in New York, and that it was called ssäm.

* * * * *

My sister was recently in town, and was flying solo for the first time in years. As much as I love my two nieces and brother-in-law, I was eager to have some alone time with my big sis. In particular, I was tremendously excited to think about what might go down in our kitchen during Daisy’s visit. In the past, she’s always taken the lead with cooking. And people who know what’s good for them generally let that happen. Like the classic play drawn up by Doug Collins: Just give the ball to Michael, and everyone else get the f**k outta the way. But this being Daisy’s first visit to SF since the genesis of Babychili, we naturally discussed who might be the alpha cook during her stay. In particular, I had planned to host a dinner party for my sister and her Bay Area friends, as well a few of my foodie locals. We diplomatically agreed that it would be a collaboration, but for whatever reason (Boredom? Fatigue? Morbid curiosity?), Daisy more or less handed me the reins.

By now, you know that I can’t take a shit without going off on how great David Chang is. Ever since reading about it in asian jewish deli, I had really been wanting to try the Momofuku bo ssäm, and predicted (accurately) that it would be an uncontroversial choice for our dinner party. Non-Koreans, Non-New Yorkers, and those unfamiliar with the cult of Chang may fairly ask: What the fuck is a bo ssäm? As I mentioned above, ssäm refers to food that’s wrapped in something, usually lettuce. Bo ssäm is a popular dish in Korea that consists of lettuce wrapped around boiled or steamed pork belly, kimchi, and inexpensive oysters (sometimes spiced to mask their dodginess). It is typically consumed with some cheap-ass beer and some cheap-ass, freezer-cold soju. (In Korea, craft alcoholic beverages are best left to others—the Japanese, for instance.) Make no mistake. Bo ssäm is some delicious-ass anju, or drinkin’ food.

Tip: grapefruit masks cheap liquor.

Leave it to Chang to seriously dress up this classic bar-food dish by stepping up the quality of all of the ingredients: Slow-roasted pork shoulder instead of boiled belly. Oysters suitable for a raw bar. Sauces tweaked to be richer and bolder. Heck, you can even forgo the cheap booze and rock a nice riesling. If you’re in NYC, you can reserve this much sought after dinner for 6 – 10 people at Ssäm Bar for $200. Or, you can (quite easily) make it yourself. And that’s what we did.

* * * * *

DINNER

First course was a classic ceviche that I started the previous night (at about 10PM, intending to have a late-ish dinner and forgetting that it needed 4 hours to marinate).

The second course was also a bit of a bonus: I had asked for volunteers to supply oysters, and our good friend Caleb was more than happy to oblige. The thing is, I never told him how many to bring. Another beautiful thing about preparing this meal at home: At Momofuku, the bo ssäm dinner comes with a dozen oysters. For the same number of people, we had four dozen.

Oysters were purchased from legendary SF fishmonger, Sun Fat Seafood. Their home page charmingly reads:

*** Good news for Oyster Lovers.  We are currently had a varieties of oysters.

Yes, u haz! Caleb brought a dozen of each:

Beau Soleil (CAN)
Kumamoto (CA)
Hama Hama (WA)
Coromandel Bay (NZ)

We shucked and ate the first 2 dozen, and left the remaining oysters for our main.

Daisy was in charge of the third course, which consisted of 50 of her ridiculously delicious pan-fried mandu. We at this with David Chang’s ginger scallion sauce, which, as many of us agree, makes virtually everything taste better.

Then came The Main Event. A 7-pound pork shoulder from Magruder Ranch that I slow-roasted and served with bibb lettuce, rice, and four garnishes: kimchi (that I bought from First Korean Market), puréed kimchi (a first for me), ssäm jang, and, of course, ginger scallion sauce. What really put this over the top, however, was the oysters. To demonstrate, I carefully loaded a lettuce leaf with rice, pork, and a sprinkling of each condiment. As I readied a meaty, teardrop-shaped, Hama Hama oyster belly, our friend Cecil exclaimed:

You put that on TOP of the pork?
Yes.
Oh, DEAR GOD IN HEAVEN!!!

A silence fell over the room, soon to be replaced by sounds of lip-smacking and swooning. The assembled bo ssäm was an insane marriage of umami and acid, creaminess and crunch, sweetness and salt. People actually stressed over whether there would be enough pork (there was, barely). To call this “the best bo ssäm of my life” doesn’t do it justice. This was flat-out the tastiest dish I’d eaten in a long, long time. My sister called me a “genius” for the overall success of the dish. I wish I could take credit for it, but the truth is that it’s absurdly simple to make.

* * * * *

Bo ssäm
from Momofuku

the pork
1 whole 8- to 10-lb bone-in Boston pork butt (skin off)
1 C granulated sugar
1 C plus 1 T kosher salt
7 T light brown sugar

In a roasting pan that snugly fits the pork shoulder, rub a mixture of the sugar + 1 C of salt all over the meat. (If you’re into this sort of thing, you can see footage of Martha Stewart getting really into rubbing down a pork butt.) Discard any excess sugar and salt, cover meat loosely with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, but ideally overnight.

Preheat oven to 300F. Pour off any liquid that has accumulated around the pork, and cook the meat, fat side up, for around 6 hours until fork-tender (it took mine 8 hours to reach this state). During cooking, baste the meat with pan drippings every hour. When done, remove pork from the oven and let it rest for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Immediately before serving, rub pork all over with the brown sugar + 1 T salt and cook in a 500F oven for 10 – 15 minutes, until the sugar has caramelized and formed a beautiful, pig-candy glaze. Serve pork with

the accompaniments
at least 1 (but possibly 2 – 4) dozen raw oysters, shucked
1 C kimchi
1 C coursely puréed kimchi
1 C ginger scallion sauce
1 C ssäm sauce
2 C high-quality (we like the Nishiki brand) short-grain white rice, cooked
2 or 3 heads of Bibb lettuce

ssäm sauce
1 T ssäm jang*
1/2 T gochujang*
1/4 C sherry vinegar
1/4 C grapeseed oil

*Ssäm jang is a relatively thick paste that (along with gochujang) can be purchased at any Korean market. Typically, this paste is diluted with water or oil. Chang’s version of the sauce gives it added heat and acidity.

Eating instructions: Grab a lettuce leaf. Wrap around any combination of meat and accompaniments. Bite, chew, swallow, repeat.

Dessert was strawberries with fresh basil and balsamic vinegar. (Thanks, Cecil!)

* * * * *

(Yes; Caleb is wearing a SpongeBob band-aid.)

The fabulous Miss Akua.

riceandwheat shrinks from the paparazzi.

Her husband, however,

… does not.

Food sis and food bro.

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36 comments… read them below or add one

Speakeasy Kitchen September 3, 2010 at 4:59 am

Splendid porky, oystery goodness shared among friends… what a good life!

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Ben September 3, 2010 at 12:40 pm

Thanks, Charmaine. It is, indeed. And welcome to our space! Saw you on TV a while back. Nice to connect!

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LeeAnn September 3, 2010 at 6:07 am

*swoon*. This looks SO amazing – the food and the people!! Miss you guys and wish I could have been there. Really really bad.

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Ben September 3, 2010 at 12:44 pm

We do, too!

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Charlotte September 3, 2010 at 6:47 am

Wow, and wow again.
Wonder if I could replicate this with tofu?

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Ben September 3, 2010 at 12:49 pm

Hi Charlotte,

Absolutely nothing wrong with making ssam with tofu. I would make domino-shaped steaks of firm tofu and sear/pan-fry. You want to get browning and add seasoning to compete with all the other stuff going on.

However, if you could replicate BO ssam with tofu, you can go ahead and buy airplane tix to Stockholm to collect your Nobel Prize. :)

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amy September 3, 2010 at 7:13 am

Hama hama hamina hamina! This looks fantastic! The pureed kimchi sounds interesting…I’ll have to try it.

Also, how do you like First Korean Market? Nice little market, isn’t it?

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Ben September 3, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I know, right? The puree puzzles Koreans more than anyone. But it’s pretty cool, an unexpected texture. I had an awesome puree @lazybearsf where he did it superfine with pickled nectarines and forced it thru a tami. Very creamy and smooth.

First is a nice little shop. Not as full service, obviously, but better fresh food like you said. Thanks for the tip!

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michelle @ The Domestic Mama September 3, 2010 at 7:40 am

Aw, looks like so much fun- I love your photographs. It feels like I was there. Can I come next time? Please? I will bring some cookies….macarons? :)

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Ben September 3, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Thanks, Michelle. We will certainly keep you in mind next time we pork it up!

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angi September 3, 2010 at 10:01 am

If I’m remembering correctly, Cecil also compared the pork+oyster combo to “finding Jesus”. If that’s not the highest form of praise, I don’t know what is.

Truly an amazing meal – we’re so lucky to be in your foodie crew! ^_^

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Ben September 3, 2010 at 12:54 pm

Ooh, I get the kitty-con—high praise, indeed! We’re lucky to *have* a foodie crew. :)

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Foodie in Berlin September 4, 2010 at 5:21 am

I am swooning over your post. Your food choices for the evening were top notch, that pork shoulder looks like it’s melting on the plate. Yum, yum, YUM!

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Ben September 4, 2010 at 9:52 am

Hi, Suzan. I do love the slow cooked meats! You could have practically eaten that pork with a spoon. Thanks for reading!

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Liv Wan September 4, 2010 at 8:32 am

Wow…What a great dinner party. I love your photos as well. :P

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Ben September 4, 2010 at 9:54 am

Thanks, Chef! I have been drooling over your site for some time, now. Thinking about trying to tackle Chinese/Taiwanese for Challenge #2, if I make it that far. A little intimidated, though. :)

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David Barzelay September 4, 2010 at 12:00 pm

For next time. You can use fresh peaches instead of pickled, but you may need to add more acid.

Kimchi and Pickled Peach Puree
575g kimchee
150g brown sugar
185g kimchee base
35g lemon juice
15g lime juice
325g pickled peaches
10g ultratex 3 (thickener–optional)

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Ben September 5, 2010 at 1:29 am

Awesome! I’ll definitely play around with that next time. I did think kimchi + straight-up pureed kimchi was a little redundant. Couple questions:
(1) I’m certainly no expert on Korean cooking, but I’m not familiar with kimchee base. Are you adding this to adjust thickness/viscosity, or are you looking for particular flavors out of it?
(2) Recipe for the pickled peaches?

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David Barzelay September 5, 2010 at 8:43 am

Raw Peach Pickle

685g distilled white vinegar
455g water
300g sugar
60g kosher salt
80g fresh jalapeno, thinly sliced
75g fresh ginger, thinly sliced
15g black peppercorns
15g cinnamon sticks, unrolled
10g dried coriander seeds
10g szechuan peppercorns
1g whole cloves
5g powdered citric acid
5g powdered ascorbic acid

Combine all ingredients in a stockpot, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for five minutes, then turn off the heat and let steep for an hour. Strain through a chinois, discarding whatever stays in the chinois, then chill the brine to room temperature. Peel and slice the peaches into whatever shapes you want. Pack them into some sort of container, then pour the brine over them. Give it a shake to get any remaining air out. Make sure all peaches are submerged. Weigh them down with something if you have to. Refrigerate. They’ll be ready in about two days, but will last at least a couple weeks. Despite the jalapeno, they won’t get spicy because there is no fat or oil to dissolve the capsaicin. It’ll just get the flavor.

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Ben September 6, 2010 at 8:07 pm

Sorry, Q1 probably sounded obnoxious. Mostly wondering (out of laziness) whether I could get away with using the juice from the kimchi instead. Otherwise, I am going to J-town!

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David Barzelay September 6, 2010 at 10:37 pm

Oh, I just forgot to answer that question. Kimchee base provides a lot of the flavor for kimchee. Though you can make your own kimchee base, kimchee is most often made with kimchee base + cabbage + time. It’s spicy and savory and sweet. So when you use kimchee base in a recipe other than kimchee itself, it’s typically because you want to boost the kimchee flavor of the recipe without uses tons and tons of kimchee. In this case, if you only use pureed kimchee, the flavor won’t really be as concentrated as I wanted. Nijiya carries kimchee base. Do you know of any Korean groceries in town, by the way?

I should mention, also, that I used Sean Brock’s kimchee puree recipe as a starting point for mine.

Also, I made bo ssam from the Momofuku book yesterday, though I left out the oysters. It was great.

Jean September 6, 2010 at 11:01 am

What a fun time and what awesome food. I bought the Momofuku book a few weeks ago and can’t wait to dive in when I get back. Thanks for the posts so I know which recipes to try first. :-)

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Ben September 6, 2010 at 8:06 pm

I cannot believe you are reading this crap when you are in PARIS. Is this your version of “beach reading?” :-p

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Jean September 6, 2010 at 11:26 pm

Hey, I’ll have you know that this is the only blog post I’ve read since arriving here. Had to take a break. Busy, busy! :-)

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Ben September 6, 2010 at 11:30 pm

Well, in that case I’m honored. Can’t wait to read about your trip. Are the French cool with DSLR’s tableside? Something tells me no…

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Ben September 6, 2010 at 11:25 pm

@David Jesus, you HAVE to try it with the oysters it’s pretty insane.

It’s somewhat of a matter of pride for Koreans to make kimchi home-brew; thus, I have never tried the base. That said, I have, of course, never made kimchi myself. ;) The base definitely sounds intriguing, and I’m very curious to learn what it tastes like. It’s interesting though, b/c I feel that a lot of the flavor (both acidity and heat) comes from the fermentation. So I’m imagining it would taste more like a got-chorri (unfermented kimchi) which tends to be quite mild by comparison. If they don’t have the base at Sakura, I’ll definitely go to Nijiya to check it out.

Re: Korean groceries
The big player is Kukje in Daly City. It’s a very large supermarket and carries almost anything you could imagine. However, I have lately been unhappy with the quality of their fresh produce and prepared foods. Also, I bought some germinated brown rice there, only to find that it had expired 2 years ago. I think if you mostly need non-perishables, it’s definitely the place to go. Last couple times I have shopped at First Korean Market in the Richmond, recommended to me by Amy Kim of What’s for Dinner. It’s more of a fruit-market-size of shop, but was much better for what I needed. Their fried chicken is pretty good, too.

I really like the kimchi they have at Kukje, though. The one that comes in the plastic square containers with color-coded labels to sort by # of days fermentation.

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maybelles mom September 12, 2010 at 7:06 pm

thanks for stopping by and the compliment. what a great blog you have–right down to the name (people say that to me all the time, when they see our girls eating indian food.) I have added you to my reader.

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Ben September 12, 2010 at 7:30 pm

Likewise, thanks for visiting. And for completely psyching me out about PFB. Wish I had read your beautiful post AFTER finishing mine. *smacking forehead*

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Casey Angelova September 15, 2010 at 11:14 pm

You are very luck to have such a wonderful relationship with your sister. Being able too cook together is a real bonding experience. I love the Bo ssam, but I will need at least a month of shopping and scouting around Bulgaria to find the ingredients if they exist here at all. Thanks for sharing and best of luck in the PFB competition!

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Ben September 16, 2010 at 2:55 am

Hi, Casey. Thanks for friending me on Foodbuzz. I’ve been enjoying your blog; it’s a great concept, and it sounds like you’ve had a very interesting journey!

Regarding the bo ssam ingredients, I’m willing to bet that you can find the ssam jang and gochujang online. I bought mine in vacuum-sealed containers that look like they would ship well. The kimchi you might need to make yourself, and the thing that would be hardest to get would be the Korean chili powder (kochugaru), which you could also probably buy online. There are many great recipes out there. My friend Amy recently posted one based on her Mom’s, who specifically had to make do with the ingredients she had: http://bit.ly/aUucbg

The salted shrimp in this recipe is added to help the fermentation process. If you can’t find it, you could substitute some raw oysters, shrimp or squid. Good luck, and I would love to hear/read about it if you make this recipe!

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Lawyer Loves Lunch September 19, 2010 at 7:53 pm

Love your blog’s title! We don’t even have kids yet and my husband has already declared that he will feed our future babies all kinds of food, starting off with his favorite Zachary’s stuffed pizza from Oakland! I can’t let him see this meal post because undoubtedly, he’ll want to feed our future babies ssam jang!
PS: Love the blog- I’ve added you to my ready :)

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Ben September 19, 2010 at 8:16 pm

Thanks, Azmina. That’s what we said about our baby too, but so far I am pretty much still cooking 2 menus a day. :) I’m hoping things will get better as Esme gets old enough to understand more, help in the kitchen, etc. I was pretty darn picky eater myself until about high school. Anyhow, nothing wrong with feeding babies ssam jang as long as they agree to eat it!

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Daisy October 21, 2010 at 7:24 am

what am I doing right now? Right now?
Rubbing my butt with salt and sugar.
Oh bo ssam how I love you.

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cathy May 21, 2012 at 11:44 am

Loved the whole story and the recipes. Could have done without the “I can’t take a shit without going off on…” Unpleasant image in the middle of a food blog, to say the least.
Your writing is fun, personal, and exciting to read. Sorry you feel the need to slip in those zingers and others like you’re talking to high school gang bangers.

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Ben May 22, 2012 at 9:16 am

If you can believe it, I’ve also received complaints that I’ve subsequently reduced my cursing. {shrug} Thanks for reading.

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cathy May 22, 2012 at 9:27 am

I guess I’m just an old fogey! Thanks for the reply :)

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