The Bo Ssam Miracle: Living Up to the Title

It was a big mistake to click through the New York Time’s food section during lunch at work a few weeks ago. When you’re woofing down a tepid melange of roasted vegetables, a hunk of old cheese, and some stale crackers, you can’t help but dwell on just how satisfying a huge platter of crispy, caramelized pork, forked off and swaddled in fresh lettuce with a trio of dipping sauces and pickled vegetal accessories might be. This daydream of a meal hovered all week, until on Friday I parted with $25 for some local, farm-coddled Boston butt. Not going to apologize – the recipe’s siren song instructs “go big or go home.”

The pork shoulder marinated overnight in a mountain of kosher salt and white sugar, then went into the oven for most of a chilly Saturday. As it cooked, we walked to the Asian market a few blocks away to find jars of ssamjang and kochujang hidden in shelf after shelf of exotic pastes, sauces, syrups, and oils.  And porcelain tea pots, whole wriggling fish, and mung bean noodles. It took an hour, but we finally left with the necessities, plus an armful of garlic scapes and an enormous jug of fish sauce that is currently fighting the blender for counter space.

Later in the evening, the pork was slathered in sugar and a little more salt to form a crust under high heat. We assembled the sauces, plated everything up, and dipped to satiety…plus some.

This is a meal to share with friends with taste buds that welcome the extremest of salty, sweet and spicy flavors, and who are comfortable seeing you with dripping fingers. You in turn must derive pleasure from their special satisfied smiles, the ones that come with consuming a substantial amount of pork fat.  If there are leftovers, do it again the next night, or shred the pork into a frittata with some grated sweet potato.

Though we’ll probably only make it once a year, we’re holding onto this recipe.  It’s a worthy indulgence, and one that lives up to its newspaper anointed title.

Momofuku Bo Ssam
David Chang’s Recipe adapted and printed in the New York Times

1 whole bone-in pork butt or picnic ham (8 to 10 pounds)
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 soy sauce
1 scant teaspoon sherry vinegar (we used apple cider + white wine, for lack of sherry)
½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

Ssam Sauce
2 tablespoons fermented bean-and- chili paste (ssamjang)
1 tablespoon chili paste (kochujang)
½ cup sherry vinegar (we used apple cider + white wine, for lack of sherry)
½ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)

3 heads bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried

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.

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.

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.

Make the ssam sauce. In a medium bowl, combine the chili pastes with the vinegar and oil, and mix well.

Wash lettuce and cilantro. Put kimchi and sauces into serving bowls.

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.