Monday, September 8, 2014

Cooking Momofuku's Bo Ssäm – Korean Roast Pork

This story is about cooking food rather than growing it. The story starts last October, when I enrolled in Tricia Wheeler's 30-week French cooking class at The Seasoned Farmhouse. This was a classically focused hands-on class that met once per week for three hours. There were six people in the class, and each week we cooked an elaborate lunch based on some fundamental cooking technique (e.g., emulsified sauces or braising). During this course, Tricia, our instructor and the owner of The Seasoned Farmhouse, organized a three-day gourmet food tour of New York. It would take several paragraphs to describe the wonderful meals we ate and the baguette baking class we took, but one meal in particular stands out. It was probably one of the top five meals I've ever had, and we ate it at David Chang's Momofuku Ssäm Bar. This meal was an elaborate multi-course meal that had the most wonderful pork shoulder roast as the main course. This dish is called Bo Ssäm, which consists of slow-roasted sugar-glazed pork shoulder served with a number of condiments, all wrapped up in a leaf of Boston Bibb lettuce. The recipe is in David Chang's Momofuku cookbook, and this week I attempted to reproduce the restaurant dish at home.

Salt & Sugar Rubbed Pork Shoulder
Finished Pork Roast
The preparation started with a beautiful 10 lb bone-in pork shoulder roast from Huffman's Market. The meat was rubbed with a mixture of salt and sugar (1 cup each) and allowed to rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Excess rub was scraped off and the pork roast was baked in a 300 °F oven for six hours, basting with the pan juices. It was pulled from the oven and allowed to rest for an hour, and then was glazed with a rub of brown sugar and salt in a 500 °F oven to provide a crispy caramelized crust. After all this oven time, the pork roast literally fell apart into tender morsels.

Ssäm and Ginger-Scallion Sauces
The pork was accompanied by ginger-scallion and ssäm sauces. The ginger-scallion sauce was a mixture of thinly sliced scallions and minced ginger plus small amounts of oil, soy sauce, and sherry wine vinegar. The authentic ssäm sauce was a bit more involved. The two main ingredients in this sauce are a fermented soybean-chili paste (ssamjang) and a fermented chili paste (kochujang), both of which I found at a great Korean market in town (Arirang Oriental Market on Bethel Road). These two ingredients are combined with sherry wine vinegar and oil. I found the lack of garlic in either of these sauces surprising, but it was more than made up for by the garlic in following recipe.

Homemade Kimchi
Another critical ingredient in bo ssäm is kimchi, chili-spiced fermented cabbage. This year we grew Chinese cabbage, which did wonderfully and produced giant heads of beautiful cabbage. As with the ssäm sauce, kimchi requires several unusual ingredients, and once again, the Arirang Korean market came through with special chili powder (kochukaru) and jarred salted shrimp, tiny little shrimp preserved in brine that provide the umami flavor of kimchi. The recipe for David Chang's version of kimchi can be found here, so I won't repeat the process or ingredients. His version ferments for several weeks in the refrigerator before it is ready to eat, and I had made two quart jars of kimchi a month or so ago. Kimchi has a pungent smell, partly because it's fermented cabbage (think sauerkraut) and partly because it contains a boatload of chopped garlic. It supplied all the garlic flavor needed for the bo ssäm.

Bo Ssäm
The pork was shredded and we made little sandwiches of the pork, rice, kimchi and the two sauces using a Boston Bibb lettuce leaf wrapper. I can't say whether it was as good as David Chang's, but experiencing the meal at Momofuku Ssäm Bar the East Village in Manhattan certainly helped his version. They were fantastic.

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