Thursday, March 28, 2013

Ssäm of these days


It’s probably fair to say to say David Chang, founder of the Momofuku empire, is probably the most influential figure in the food world. When I think about some of the places I’ve eaten at in the last few months (like A-OK foods and OddSeoul here in Toronto or Talde in New York) or big name places I haven’t (Mission Chinese Food, Pok Pok PDX), it is difficult to imagine them even existing if Chang had blazed a trail for hipster takes on Asian fusion cuisine. Heck, you'd certainly have to give Chang a fair amount of credit for the ubiquity of pork over the past few years.
While in New York last month, I snagged a copy of the Momofuku cookbook, featuring recipes from his first three restaurants: Noodle Bar, Ssäm Bar and Ko. It’s a great read, which is always nice in a cookbook. The backstory is as interesting as the recipes themselves, which is a good thing since many of the latter involve ingredients or techniques that would probably put them out of reach for the average home cook (and I am a very average home cook). Still, there’s enough in there that piqued my desire to try something that at least evoked the spirit of the thing. I decided on ssäm, a Korean lettuce wrap and bane of pigs everywhere.

I managed to find a very small piece of pork belly at the local meat market that would easily feed two people. Marinated in a spicy bulgogi sauce and slow roasted, this would be the centrepiece. From there it was simply a matter of pulling together a couple of sides and condiments. The whole thing actually took me two days (I made the pork and the plain rice the day before serving), but one could manage this whole thing in a day with a few shortcuts. This was a lot of fun to make and eat (I had a friend over and we ate standing in the kitchen with a few cold beers) and I’d definitely do it all over again. But it also made me want to get out and try the real thing. Thank goodness there’s Momofukus in Toronto now.

Pork belly ssäm
1 pound piece of pork belly (skinless)
For: marinade
2 tablespoons gochujang (Korean red chili pepper paste)
½ teaspoon red chili flakes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or mirin
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Add marinade ingredients to a bowl and stir until well combined.

Score fat side of the pork belly with a sharp knife. Coat with a generous slathering of marinade, cover and refrigerate for four hours or overnight.

Take belly out of the fridge and let sit for an hour before cooking. Preheat oven to 450F, place pork on a rack on a rimmed baking sheet or shallow roasting pan and roast for 15-20 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 250F and let the pork cook for another hour or so until the internal temperature is 145F. Remove from oven. If serving immediately, allow pork to rest for 10 minutes before slicing. Otherwise, let cool and refrigerate to be sliced and reheated in a hot pan.

Momofuku’s ginger scallion sauce (makes about 3½ cups)
2½ cups thinly sliced scallions (greens and whites; from 1 to 2 large bunches)
½ cup finely minced peeled fresh ginger
¼ cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1½ teaspoons soy sauce, preferably usukuchi (light soy sauce), found in Asian markets
¾ teaspoon sherry vinegar
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Mix together the scallions, ginger, oil, soy, vinegar, and salt in a bowl. Taste and check for salt, adding more if needed. Though it's best after 15 or 20 minutes of sitting, ginger scallion sauce is good from the minute it's stirred together up to a day or two in the fridge.

Kimchi fried rice

1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup kimchi, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon gochujang (or more, if you like it spicier)
1 cup cooked white or brown rice, preferably leftover
1-2 teaspoons soy sauce
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over high heat. Add the kimchi and gochujang and stir-fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute, until hot and fragrant. Add the rice and soy sauce and stir-fry for 1-2 minutes, until hot. Taste and add more soy sauce or salt if needed.

Push the rice over to one side of the pan and pour in the egg. Scramble into soft curds and mix into the rice. Drizzle with sesame oil and mix well before serving.


Cut the pork belly into slices or chunks, depending on your preference. Take the whole leaves from one head of washed butter lettuce and pile with the pork belly, rice, scallion sauce and drizzle with reserved marinade or a bit of sirracha.

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