This little sandwich is all that's left of what the New York Times calls the "Bo Ssam Miracle." Bo Ssam, a Korean slow roasted pork dish, is definitely a party pleaser. According to David Chang, the chef behind the recipe, ssam is Korean for enclosed or wrapped. Indeed, after about six hours in an oven set for 300 degrees you get a pork shoulder wrapped in an envelope that is crispy with fat, salt, sugar and is, therefore, crazy delicious.
I made it for seven guests for my husband's birthday dinner and it couldn't have been easier. That is if you read the recipe all the way through before you make it. I didn't do that. But even in spite of a few hiccups, my bo ssam came out perfectly, and left all my guests exclaiming, "best meal ever" as they undid the top button on their jeans.
A few words of advice from my kitchen. (You may want to read the recipe first before reading further).
Don't read the recipe at 6 am, the day you are supposed to prepare it. I woke up the morning of said dinner party, thought to myself, I have to make that pork shoulder today, I probably have to brine it. Brining usually takes a long time.
A look at the recipe revealed that, yes, I did indeed need to "cure" the meat a bit, as David Chang recommends, "over night or at least six hours." (I learned in writing this post that brining is water and salt, curing is just salt).
It was 6 am, the day of the dinner. I leapt out of bed to search for a supermarket open at dawn, hightailed it down the street, procured a pork shoulder, rushed home, and frantically covered it with a mixture of salt and sugar. I cut my fingers (PLURAL!), but I got the pork in the fridge by 6:33 am, which meant it would be ready to cook by 12:30 pm. Would that be enough time for the six hour slow roast?
NO CHOICE. I was cutting it close for a dinner party that started at 7 pm.
START PRAYING FOR THE BO SSAM MIRACLE.
It worked. One thing that helped (TOP CHEF MOMENT ALERT) was that I cut the pork shoulder in half and cooked both halves in separate pans. Another thing that helped, I think, was that when I basted the meat hourly, as the recipe prescribed, I flipped each half over to cook on the other side. Cutting the shoulder in half had another positive result: more sides to the crispy envelope (the best part of the pork, in my opinion)
Back to the cure. So you cure the meat for six hours (or over night) and then you are supposed to put it in the oven to slow roast. I was a little alarmed at how much salt and sugar was on the meat and did a quick search to see if I was supposed to rub it off, wash it off, or just leave it as is. The recipe didn't specify (DAMN YOU David Chang!). I learned from these guys to pat away the salt-sugar mix and then put it in the oven.
How do you know when this glorious piece of meat is ready for "the last blast," the step where you turn up the oven to 500 degrees, rub it in brown sugar (and a tiny bit more salt) and create the crispy fat-sugar envelope that makes this dish one of the most delicious things you have ever eaten? You will know it when you see it. WHAT? Ok. Let's be more specific: the meat easily collapses if you poke it with a fork, hence the phrase "fork tender."
Last piece of advice: during "the last blast" step, make sure you watch your meat. It could be a cooking legend, but I've heard of bo ssams catching on fire at this point, putting an end to any anticipated miracle.
I served the bo ssam with plenty of Korean fixins: kimchi, thinly sliced cucumbers that I pickled with sugar and rice wine vinegar, ginger scallion sauce, bo ssam sauce, rice, lettuce, cilantro, and basil. The sauces are amazing, so don't skip them.
I also bought bao buns. I think these are what totally made the meal. Bao buns are the same dough used to make cha siu bao, the sweet, fluffy Chinse buns that are usually filled with sweet-savory pork and served a dim sum. After searching through a few Asian stores in my area, I found them in the frozen food aisle at Great Wall. All you need to do is steam the buns and serve.
The best thing about this dish is that while it takes a long time to make, most of it is just waiting. Plus everything can be ready to go when your guests arrive, which leaves more time for you to have a glass of wine and enjoy yourself. A miracle, indeed.