[one_half][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.
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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)
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?
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.
* * * * *
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
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
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!)
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(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.