Categories
Dinner Party Gluten Free Index Korean Meats Seafood

Bo ssäm (roasted pork butt wrapped in lettuce)

[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.

* * * * *

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!)

* * * * *[/one_half]

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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.

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Categories
Guest Post Index Korean Poultry

Guest post: Korean mandu for an American kitchen

[one_half]THE EVOLUTION OF MANDU

[U]ntil my brother made me write this blog entry, I always made a long apology whenever I prepared Korean food. Depending on what I was serving, my apology would include some version of the following statements: It’s not the way my mom made it. Koreans usually don’t serve x with y. If my mom tasted this she’d smack me. This is definitely not authentic, but…. Naturally, I made similar statements in my early drafts. And my brother, who is by far my biggest fan and my strongest supporter, kept shooting my drafts back to me. Not sure it’s there. And, worse: Good start!

Bewildering, I thought. Why is this hard? Is it because I’ve never written about cooking? Have I lost my touch? If it weren’t Ben, I might have flaked on this assignment and quietly pretended my insecurities never came up. But it’s Ben. So I found myself, over the past several weeks—thinking more about mandu and more about how I think about mandu—than I ever have in my life.

See, when it comes to mandu, I know how it’s supposed to be done. I’ve seen my mom prepare a hundred or so every month ever since I can remember. She begins with a pound of beef tenderloin, which she chops finely with a meat cleaver. She seasons this with fresh garlic, black pepper, soy sauce and salt (because they both season meat differently). Next, she takes a hunk of handmade tofu (I think she used to make it herself when we were really little kids) and squeezes all the water out of it with a linen bag that she sewed up specifically for this purpose. (Cheesecloth doesn’t work.) She seasons the crumpled tofu with sesame oil and salt. She lets the tofu and the meat sit in separate bowls, absorbing seasonings at room temperature, while she approaches the vegetables. It’s a different vegetable every time because mom cooks seasonally, but my favorite mandu vegetable was always Korean squash from her garden. This she juliennes, salts, drains, and seasons. Then she chops a small handful of her own kimchee, which she’s always made with less salt (doesn’t last as long, but it tastes fresher), onions, ginger, and sweet shrimp. When the moment feels right to her, she mixes everything in a large bowl, binds it with one or two egg yolks, and then sits at the table to stuff the mandu.

When we were really really little, she made the dough for mandu too, by mixing flour, water and salt. I don’t remember this myself, but my dad, who prefers homemade dough, tells me about it repeatedly on mandu making days.

Mandu is the only dish that my mom ever bothered acting humble and polite about, because she knows flat out that she makes the best. I tried to follow the legacy, and throughout my adulthood, I fixed mandu all the time. Of course, I’d try some shortcuts. I hate dishwashing, so I’d try to season everything in the same bowl (why not? It all ends up in the same bowl anyway). I’d use store-bought kimchee. I always bought meat that was ground in the store. None of my shortcuts worked. My mandu tasted flat, watery, or muddy.

So I gave up and started trying to make mandu the way my mom did. I asked the Korean market to call me on tofu delivery days. I made sure my mom made kimchee for me whenever she came to visit. And when I finally thought I might be able to make it the way it was supposed to be done, I prepared mandu for my parents. That afternoon, the butcher handed me a package that he ground up himself right then and there. “That there’s tenderloin with some prime rib thrown in,” he said. “Your momma’s gonna love that.” I even made the dough, which made my dad sigh as he watched me flatten and stuff each little round. Mom ate my mandu with a completely neutral look in her eyes. “How is it? Is it the way it’s supposed to be done?” I asked. “Sure,” she said flatly. “Delicious.”

I was missing something, and it drove me crazy. Like so many foods I tried to replicate from our childhood, my mandu just wasn’t there. It was boring. It was an occupant on the table that added nothing to the meal. I had the right ratios of crunchy, savory, sweet, and salt. What did it lack? Whenever our church prepared a meal, cooks always asked my mom to taste and correct every dish before it was served. Like her mother before her, our mom was Chef to five neighborhoods. But when I asked her to test my mandu, she shrugged. “It’s good. It’s fine.”

So I sat down with my dad, the theorist. (It doesn’t make sense to talk to my mom about theories.) And together, we came up with a few mandu principles that seemed to be Pretty Good Truths.

  • Meat plus tofu. If you’re Korean, the meat is likely very lean, grass-fed beef. Tofu serves to moisten the texture of the beef, by softening it and adding a marrow-like consistency that ostensibly adds richness. By removing some of the water from the tofu, and seasoning it with sesame oil, tofu can mimic fat and gelatin.
  • Vegetables. If you’re my mother, the only reason to add vegetables is for Good Health. If you’re my father, you believe the vegetables are there to add texture, flavor, and color.
  • Kimchee. We’re Korean. That’s reason enough.
  • Mandu dough. Here’s where my mom and dad take surprising turns. Mom buys organic Nasoya wonton wraps from Safeway, or “good ones” from the Korean market. Same difference. Why? Because it’s easier, and it tastes great. My dad remembers handmade dough and just can’t get past its incomparable, light texture. He’s right. I’m sure I’ll start making this again when my children stop wanting to play with wasp nests and fire.

Here are the problems I had with these principles:

  • Meat plus tofu. As nice as my dad’s theory sounds, tofu just doesn’t replace marrow, fat or gelatin. And despite what everyone says, tofu has a strong soybean flavor, and it doesn’t, as some may assume, simply absorb the flavor of beef. It tends to take in initial flavors and retain them. It also has a high water content and a tendency to toughen into grainy crumbles when crushed and cooked at a higher temperature. If you mix tofu into ground beef in the same way that folks create meatloaf mixtures, what you get is a soggy mixture that retains the metallic tang of raw blood, even after it’s cooked.
    This is why my mom drained and seasoned the tofu separately, and tossed it gently into the beef, so that there were small lentil-sized pieces of beef mixed with small lentil-sized pieces of sesame oil-flavored creamy tofu. But even with gentle tossing, you still get some odd texture/flavor challenges.
  • Finely chopped (but not ground) vegetables and kimchee follow mom’s approach of preserving the integrity of individual flavors. I think this is a great principle, as long as the flavors work together to present a glorious whole. Otherwise, you just have a bunch of disparate stuff. I’ve tasted mandu made with various leftover stuff from the fridge, and this random approach, mixed with the raw blood problem above, can produce the impression of garbage.
  • Mandu dough. I could probably make time to make these, but right now in my life I know I don’t want to.

Given the above, this is what I did:

  • Ground chicken. Store-bought, hormone-free, vegetarian, free-range chicken that has been ground by your butcher offers the right texture, flavor and fat content. We use dark meat. (My BF makes mandu with ground pork, and that’s also fabulous.) The minute I went with a higher fat content meat with a naturally tender texture, I challenged the whole idea of individual nuggets of flavors, and went instead for what I perceived to be the ultimate goal of meat + tofu: richness, tenderness, subtler meat flavor. To shift away from ground meat’s tendency to get rubbery or bouncy, I also added a small amount of fine white breadcrumbs.
  • Good quality frozen spinach. There are a lot of situations where fresh blanched spinach is so superior to frozen spinach leaves that it’s appropriate to sneer when frozen is suggested. This is not one of them. I chose spinach because there is something lovely that happens when wilted spinach leaves are entangled in the golden, garlicky chicken. Kind of the same way that there is something lovely between pork and caramelized cabbage. Another bonus is that the frozen leaves won’t go bad if I decide on too many last minute tickle fights or soccer games.
  • No kimchee. I know: freaky. I know this means I might get my Korean card taken away, but there you have it. I like kimchee when it’s stewed, and I like it fresh. I’m just not crazy about it when it’s lightly steamed inside a nugget of meat. To me, that bright, spicey, tart flavor just kind of goes limp and sour in there. (So how did my mom do it so well? I don’t know. Possibly magic.)
  • Yangnyum soy sauce. Yangnyum, usually used as a dipping sauce, creates deeper flavor in meat that is essentially just steamed. Yangnyum cuts the grittiness of spinach, brings out the round savory capability of chicken, and supports the caramelizing of the mandu.
  • Mandu skins. See above.

And from all this thinking and rewriting arose some personal discoveries:

  • Be the mandu. Mom makes amazing mandu, and trying to achieve greatness in mandu is a worthy journey. But maybe trying to exactly replicate her inimitable style doesn’t make sense. Whatever happens in her kitchen, with her tools, and her magical touch is as particular as her thumbprint. Maybe knowing how mandu is supposed to be done is going to come down to how I apprehend, understand, and interpret the mandu I was brought up knowing. I don’t have a sunny, cement-walled backyard where Korean squash and shepherd’s purse grow rampant with sharp, sweet green onions. I don’t use the same warped wooden cutting board, or make the same musical cutting sounds with my knife. Maybe that’s why mom treats me like I’m stupid every time I tried to make them exactly the way she does. It’s her way of pushing me out into the culinary world and saying, Take what you know … and then go get ‘em honey.
  • Deliciousness can come at any price. Or rather, as my brother quoted from Momofoku, “… deliciousness by any means.” Ground chicken and frozen spinach are lowly ingredients, and it feels somehow unglamorous not to be using something exotic or difficult. But put them together, seasoned properly, in mandu, and something glorious happens. Browned in a pan, they come out golden, rich, complex, and full of umami. I have yet to meet anyone who didn’t try to eat at least of dozen of these in one sitting. Have I tried making them with lobster or oyster mushrooms, or chestnuts? Yes. Are they as delicious as the chicken ones? No.
  • Time is an issue. Like my brother, I have never been afraid of taking time to make good food. Make my own condiments? Drive across town for a single ingredient? Practice pulling noodles by hand? All good things that I have done and loved. But once children came into my life, cooking moved to occupy a lesser portion of my daily life. So, also like my brother, I focused on creating uncomplicated dishes efficiently and well. With this approach to mandu, I can make 50 yummy mandu in about 20 minutes. That’s important to me.

So what does this all mean? Well after having written this blog several times over, I think the bottom line is that mandu—like all dishes—is supposed to move gracefully through time and generations. (I say gracefully because as open as I try to be, there are still ingredients that I feel might take mandu to a bad place, like cheese spread or ketchup.) Edification can be a form of cherishing, but it can also restrict natural evolutions that take place from kitchen to kitchen. So no more apologies. Right?

Right. Still, the real test came when my parents were visiting us, and we found ourselves having to slap together a fast meal. Mom foraged around and found a bag of my quickie rogue chicken mandu in my freezer. Despite myself, I had a quiet anxiety attack. She’s going to know I cheated. She’s going to think I’m an unfit mother because I can’t make mandu the real way while still keeping my children safe and engaged in fun algebra exercises. Instead, for the first time in my life, my supertaster, critical, talented mom gave me unqualified praise. “WOW delicious!” she exclaimed, totally surprised. “Tell me how you made this! Write it down! I want to make that for Esme!”

* * * * *

HOW I MADE THAT MANDU
(according to my BF Leeann, who watched me, and then wrote it down for me, and my 6-year-old daughter Jinju, who took the above picture)

Mandu (Korean dumplings)
1 T dark brown sugar
1 tsp fresh crushed garlic (I use a mortar and pestle)
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 C finely minced scallions, sautéed until bright and fragrant, cooled to room temperature
1/2 tsp fresh ginger juice
2 T toasted sesame oil
1/5 C (scant) soy sauce
1 extra large egg, separated
5 oz frozen, good quality spinach leaves, thawed, lightly drained (don’t squeeze it so much that all you have left is fiber)
plain, fine white breadcrumbs
1 lb ground chicken
1 package wonton or gyoza wrappers
olive oil or grapeseed oil*
water

Yangnyum dipping sauce
1 T dark brown sugar
1/2 tsp crushed garlic
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 T minced scallions
2 T toasted sesame oil
1 T ground, toasted sesame seeds
1/4 C soy sauce

*My mom and I use these two oils for Korean cooking. Mom never uses canola or soybean oils because she thinks they taste nasty (I think they are fine). I never add sesame oil to my cooking oil because I think that intense, direct heat adversely changes the flavor (Mom thinks I’m crazy to think so). Olive oil adds a lovely richness to Korean cooking. Grapeseed oil preserves clarity. Those two we agree on.

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the first 6 ingredients. Mix in the ground meat and spinach. Add egg yolk to bind, and mix (reserving egg white in a separate bowl). As my BF puts it: add bread crumbs until moisture is something you can only sense (and hear) in the mixture rather than see.

The wonton wrapper will have one side that looks more floured than the other. Drape half of the wonton wrapper across the top of the egg white so that only half of the floured side is moistened. Place about a teaspoon and a half of the filling mixture in the center of the wonton wrapper on the moistened side. Fold wrapper in half over the mixture. Seal the edges and gently flatten the filling to press out air bubbles and allow for more even cooking. It takes a little practice to figure out the proper amount of filling to use, but once you do, the assembly moves fairly quickly. I usually place the assembled mandu on a large piece of waxed paper. Repeat until filling mixture is gone. Makes about 50.

At this point, you can freeze them, on a cookie sheet lined with wax paper, as long as the mandu are not touching each other and the skins are not too damp (if you find yourself making damp ones, just sprinkle cornstarch on the wax paper). After they are frozen solid, you can store them in a large zippered bag until you’re ready to cook. Never defrost frozen mandu. Simply follow the directions below, which are the same for fresh or frozen.

To make yaki mandu (potsticker style) heat about 2 T of oil over medium heat in a nonstick frying pan. Place mandu in the frying pan (leaving enough space between them so they can breathe, which means you will have to cook them in batches). When the mandu starts making a tchka tchka tchka sound, add a few tablespoons to 1/4 C of water to the pan and cover until the top of the mandu are steamed through, slightly translucent and wrinkly. The filling should feel firm to the touch. Bottoms should be golden brown. Transfer to serving plate, and repeat until all are cooked. Serve with dipping sauce.

These are also yummy in soup. Bring homemade stock or broth to a light boil, and season soup with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of freshly crushed garlic. Cook mandu until they float up to the top, and then finish with minced scallions and a few dots of sesame oil. Warm until the scallions are bright green and the sesame oil is fragrant.

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open mandu with filling

closing mandu

uncooked mandu on cutting board

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Categories
Fusion Index Japanese Meats

Sunday Dinner, Part II: Coke-braised pork shoulder

[one_half][I]t’s been a long time since I’ve regularly read The Onion. But when thinking about this post, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the numerous Coca-Cola-related articles I’ve read over the years. Particularly considering that the beverage happens only to be available at my local grocery store in an unwieldy size. Given my directive to avoid feeding the family junk, was I really doing anyone a favor by acquiring multiple liters of high-fructose-corn-syrup-water? Believe it or not, I actually grew up in a household where sugared soda of all kinds was, in all practical terms, in infinite abundance. My father was once a minister of a Korean church, which (if you lived in LA) meant that as a family we received odd gifts from the congregation in astoundingly vast excess. Around the holidays, it wasn’t uncommon for our family (of four) to take physical delivery of several crates of apples, mackerel, funeral flower arrangements, or whatever a religious small business owner might have on hand. There were several deacons who owned convenience stores, so we regularly had cases of soda stacked about ten high in our basement. And not just the regular stuff. My favorites were Cactus Cooler, Mexicola, and a long since decommissioned apple soda called Aspen. To top things off, my mother (who is, shockingly, somewhat of a bargain enthusiast) always bought soda. Give her a double-coupon and a $0.05 net price on two liters of 7 UP, and it was against her principles not to buy it. We were, of course, discouraged from drinking it. To this day, my non-soda-drinking mother always has cans of 7 UP and Diet Hansen’s in her second refrigerator, along with her kimchee, bulk greens, and the occasional entire pumpkin pie from Costco.

So when my sister mentioned the existence of a coke-braised pork, it sounded … magical. I’m uncertain on the origins of this dish, but we first learned of it from a recipe that appeared in Bon Appetit in 2004. What struck me about the Bon Appetit recipe was that it differed quite a bit from my expectations. For some reason, when I heard, “coke-braised pork,” I instantly thought shoulder, and not the country-style ribs called for in the recipe. Also, when I read ginger and green onions, I immediately assumed that the dish would be spicy, since that’s the type of food I tend to associate with those flavors. But there wasn’t the least bit of heat, despite the fresh ginger. Nonetheless, the dish as is compels me to pour it over rice and drink whatever broth remains. But ultimately, I still wanted to make a dream coke pork. My coke pork. So I put together what I’ve learned about braising and took a stab at it. The results may be habit-forming.

* * * * *

Coke-braised pork shoulder

4 lbs pork shoulder (I used a boneless Boston butt, but I think a picnic shoulder would also be great)
kosher or sea salt
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 jalapeno pepper (buy 2 or 3 to make sure you get a spicy one), trimmed, seeded and coarsely chopped
1 T vegetable oil
2 C of non-diet cola (Caffeine-free Coke may have less bitterness, but I used Classic)
1/4 C soy sauce
about 1 ounce of fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
about 2 lbs daikon radish, peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks
1 bunch of green onions, trimmed and cut into 1 inch pieces
freshly cracked black pepper

Preparing the pork  Could I, in good conscience, advise you to braise a piece of meat without salting it down first? Of course not. When it comes to things like this, my experience tells me that Judy Rodgers knows what the heck she’s talking about. The pre-treatment of the pork shoulder that I prescribe here is similar to what she calls for in her “mock porchetta.” First, trim any obviously thick chunks of fat from the pork. This may sound counterintuitive coming from me, but trust me that there is plenty of  fat in this dish. What you want is to prevent too much melted fat from accumulating in the pan in the subsequent browning step. As it turns out, there were actually very few chunks of fat in the cut of meat I bought, so it may be worth watching your butcher to ensure that you’re not paying for a lot of weight in solid fat.

Next, unfurl the meat into a continuous, branched strip. This is done by carefully separating the muscles along their natural seams with the tip of a knife and your hands. The goal here is to generate more surface area for your seasoning, but you don’t want to cut the meat into separate pieces. Rub the unfolded meat evenly with 1/2 tsp of salt per pound. Spread the garlic and jalapeno pepper on all surfaces of the pork, as well. You may wish to use more of either. If you know me very well, you can see that I really checked myself on the garlic (“The ketchup of intellectuals”). The amount of jalapeno is also your call. I always taste a small piece before using it. It should deliver a distinct kick of heat in the back of your throat, but sometimes it tastes like nothing. So it’s good to have backup—you could also use a (hotter) serrano chile, if you prefer. When I made this, I used 1/2 of a spicy jalapeno. I ended up with meat that definitely tasted of jalapeno, but wasn’t very spicy. I’ll add more in the future.

Finally, reassemble the meat into its original shape. Tie it tightly and uniformly with 5 – 6 pieces of 16-ply cotton string, with at least one long piece tied around the length of the pork. Cover loosely and refrigerate for 1 – 3 days.

Browning the meat This step takes approximately 15 minutes. Add oil to a skillet or dutch oven and gently brown the pork over medium heat, evenly and on all sides and ends. I use large, slotted spoons or turners to rotate the meat. I don’t like using tongs because they tend to tear things. I also don’t use forks for this, because they pierce the meat and cause fluid loss. It’s important to avoid scorching the meat. Trim any pieces that are overly browned.

Assembling the braise Preheat the oven to 325. Remove meat from the pan and discard all but about 2 T of drippings. Add coke and soy sauce to the pan and deglaze. If you used a dutch oven to brown, put the meat right back in. Otherwise, you could transfer everything to a large, earthenware baking dish. Add the ginger and surround the meat with daikon radish, crowding the vessel. If you’ve used a dutch oven or sauce pan, bring to a simmer on the range. Otherwise, add 30 minutes to total cooking time below.

On the daikon radish: I’ve found that radishes of this variety can truly transform both themselves and the braise. I actually prefer to use Korean radishes (mu), but suggest daikon since they are generally more available. Particularly, fresh daikon radishes are much easier to find than fresh mu. When selecting the daikon, choose firm, unsprouted radishes, and generally take the smaller ones. Incidentally, other vegetables would also do quite well in this braise—for example, carrots, onions and parsnips. But I would definitely include asian radishes in the mix.

Braising the meat Transfer vessel to the oven and cover tightly (with foil, then the lid). After about 2 hours, turn and check for doneness. Check again about every 1/2 hour until the meat is fork tender. In my case, it took a total of 3 hours, starting from a simmer.

Finishing the sauce and serving Remove the pan/dish from the oven and raise the heat to 450. Remove the meat and set aside. Remove vegetables and set aside. Thoroughly skim fat from the remaining liquid, and strain. Bring braising liquid to a low boil. Taste and reduce, if desired. Correct seasoning with salt and black pepper. Add green onions, cooking until tender but still bright green. Return the meat to the oven and brown for 10 minutes, until nicely glazed. Recombine meat, braising liquids and vegetables. Serve with rice.

Note that this dish, as most braises, tastes even better when it has been cooled and reheated at 300 (which happens faster if you bring to a low simmer while you are preheating the oven).

* * * * *

And one more picture taken by my talented wife. Nicely shows off the effect of the final glaze. See you next week!

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cutting strings off of pork

braised daikon

braising liquid and scallions

coke braised pork

coke braised pork

pouring grave over coke braised pork
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