Friday, February 8, 2013

What to serve for Chinese New Year? David Chang’s Bo Ssam, slow-roasted Pork with Ginger-Scallion Sauce, Ssam Sauce, Kimchi and Rice

Center this dish on your dining table and stand back.
        Chinese New Year is upon us.  This Sunday, February 10th is the start of the Year of the Snake. Despite all the negative connotations of snakes and snake-like behavior,  according to Chinese Horoscopes the year 2013 symbolizes action, energy, leadership and vitality. This year, the snake is obligated to do its best for the good of others.  All in all 2013 is seen as a good year.  So there's something to celebrate.  And I can't think of a better way than to serve this phenomenal dish. Not only will it bring Asia to your table for a New Year's celebration, the leftovers can be turned into a decidedly American dish--pulled pork and an Italian one--pasta sauce.  I'll save those recipes for a future post.  Today belongs to Bo Ssam, the brain child of David Chang, everyone’s favorite renegade chef.  
         Chef Chang's tiny Momofuku Ssam Bar, on a decidedly unfashionable strip of lower Second Avenue (207 2nd avenue new york, NY 10003), is perpetually packed.  David is a particular favorite of ours and not only because he loves one of our absolute favorite Montreal restaurants --Joe Beef-- so much (, that he wrote the introduction to its cookbook.  David Chang is inventive, highly skilled and most of all, magnanimous.  If you need proof of that last characteristic, consider his sharing this particular recipe: He has included it in his Momofuku cookbook (Clarkson Potter 2009) even though it is such a hit at his eponymous restaurant that, even at $200, a 6 to 10 person Bo SSam has to be ordered well in advance.  But here’s the incredible thing:  You can make this amazing dish at home for well under $40.00!  Now if that sounds like some kind carnival barker talking, it’s because I was astonished at how good it is and, quite frankly, while I am not a complete skinflint, nothing makes me happier than a great food bargain.  Particularly one that tastes this good.

Momofuku Ssam Bar, home of the $200
Bo Ssam
         Sam Sifton featured the recipe in a recent New York Times Sunday magazine, which is where we found it.  Sifton wrote “This weekend’s dinner is a slow-roasted shoulder of pig, a meal that can be picked apart by a table of friends armed only with chopsticks and lettuce.  A tight and salty caramel crust sits on top of the moist, fragrant collapse of meat…it is pork as pommes soufflé.” Now if that description doesn’t have you high tailing it to the supermarket for this weekend’s dinner, what will?  Perhaps the fact that pork butt cost me $1.89 lb. at Fresh Direct and that this dish, to quote Sifton again, “turns anyone with an oven and a few hours into a chef.”  I’ll drink to that.  While you are picking up your pork, buy the ginger and scallions you’ll need for the sauce.   
A Primer on Korean Pastes...
you want the one on top and the one
on the bottom of this photo
         There are a few ingredients that may not be quite that simple to find and they are pretty well essential to the dish.  These are the Korean pastes, Gochujang, the sweet one and Ssamjang, a spicy fermented soybean paste.  Also recommended to be served with your Bo Ssam is the ubiquitous Korean fermented cabbage, Kimchi, which is showing up all over the place -- I got mine at Trader Joes. As to the pastes, fortunately, New York has an entire Koreatown and I was able to get everything I needed at Han Ah Reum Supermarket (25 West 32nd St. between 5th and Broadway. Tel. (212) 695-3283.)  Having made the trek downtown, I was somewhat chagrinned to find them both at Fairway! But if you can't find them locally, you can order everything you need from this site or search the site for a Korean market close to home. 
         What is it about this dish that makes it worth the effort?  First of all, shopping aside, there’s not a lot of effort involved.  It’s an ideal dish to cook when you’re home for the day, hiding out from the cold. It’s perfect for a Saturday night gathering or a Sunday night you won’t soon forget.    You basically use a salt and sugar rub overnight then the next day, put the pork in the oven for a good long time, assemble the sauces, cook some rice, then at the last moment encrust the pork with a brown sugar and salt mixture, put everything in the center of the table and stand back.  You and your guests will devour this dish, wrapping the unbelievably tender pork in crisp Boston lettuce leaves then topping it with rice, sauces, and kimchi, all at once or in any combination you please.  Please make this sometime soon.  You won’t believe how good it is.  Here is the recipe.

Korean Bo SSam adapted from David Chang and Peter Meehan's "Momofuku"

For the Pork Butt:

1 whole bone-in pork butt or Boston butt (6 or 8 or 10 pounds for 6 or 8 or 10 servings)
1 cup white sugar
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
7 tablespoons brown sugar

Ginger-Scallion Sauce
2½ cups thinly sliced scallions, both green and white parts
½ cup peeled, minced fresh ginger
¼ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)
1½ teaspoons light soy sauce
1 scant teaspoon sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Ssam Sauce
Clockwise from top: Ssam Sauce, Kimchi
and Ginger Scallion Sauce
2 tablespoons fermented bean-and- chili paste (ssamjang, available in many Asian markets, and online)
1 tablespoon chili paste (gochujang, available in many Asian markets, and online)
½ cup sherry vinegar
½ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)

2 cups plain white rice, cooked
3 heads bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
Kimchi (available in many Asian markets, and online).
1. Place the pork in a large, shallow bowl. Mix the white sugar and 1 cup of the salt together in another bowl, then rub the mixture all over the meat. Cover it with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, or overnight.

2. When you’re ready to cook, heat oven to 300. Remove pork from refrigerator and discard any juices. Place the pork in a roasting pan and set in the oven and cook for approximately 6 hours, or until it collapses, yielding easily to the tines of a fork. (After the first hour, baste hourly with pan juices.) At this point, you may remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for up to an hour.
3. Meanwhile, make the ginger-scallion sauce. In a large bowl, combine the scallions with the rest of the ingredients. Mix well and taste, adding salt if needed.
4. Make the ssam sauce. In a medium bowl, combine the chili pastes with the vinegar and oil, and mix well.
5. Prepare rice, wash lettuce. Put kimchi and sauces into serving bowls.
6. When your accompaniments are prepared and you are ready to serve the food, turn oven to 500. In a small bowl, stir together the remaining tablespoon of salt with the brown sugar. Rub this mixture all over the cooked pork. Place in oven for approximately 10 to 15 minutes, or until a dark caramel crust has developed on the meat. Serve hot, with the accompaniments.


  1. Delicious sounding.

    I have never seen grapeseed oil. What other oil is considered neutral>

    1. You know, grapeseed oil is in the same category as sunflower, safflower, peanut and avacado oil. Trader Joe's has grapeseed and sunflower and peanut oils. They are not very expensive -- especially when pork butt is $1.89 a lb. You simply won't believe how much meat you will have and you can use it for pulled pork and ragu. This is a bargain dish for sure!

  2. This is sooo wonderful and such a fun dinner!

    1. It was fun, wasn't it? By the look of things outside our window, might require some slogging through the snow to get the raw ingredients!