Today’s recipe is bo-ssam, a traditional Korean recipe that’s a pouch full of delicious stuff! It’s super-tender flavorful pork, hot red spicy oyster radish, and subtly flavored fermented shrimp wrapped in a crispy pickled cabbage leaf. It’s a dish that many of my readers and viewers have requested, and one of my favorites, too. My version is one that I’ve refined over the years, that took a totally unexpected turn when I lived in Missouri.
The Korean community there held potluck parties regularly, and everybody brought their best dishes. Once a lady brought her bo-ssam, and it had a rich brown color, unusual for boiled pork, and an irresistible, unplaceable porky flavor. I asked her how she did it, and she told me her secret: instant hazelnut coffee. I’ve been using her trick ever since. As it turns out, hazelnut coffee goes well with pork, and mixes well with all the other bo-ssam ingredients.
This recipe is not easy: there are a lot of steps for each ingredient, and you need to take care of all of them. The cabbage needs to be turned over often, the oysters shouldn’t be squeezed, and the pork needs to be tended to while it boils.
But the result is fantastic, and delicious. It’s also one of the recipes that made it into my cookbook. The word ssam literally means “wrapped” and refers to a tradition in Korean cuisine where small amounts of ingredients are wrapped in a larger ingredient (usually a vegetable, but not always) to create a single delicious morsel.
Some Koreans add ssamjang to the recipe, but it’s too salty for me. The shrimp sauce is unskippable, not only because it goes well with the pork, but it helps digest it well, too. If you are really pressed for time and need to leave something out, it can be the oyster salad and the pickled cabbage. Just serve pork, shrimp sauce, kimchi and rice, and maybe some lettuce.
The oyster radish salad in this recipe can stand on its own as a banchan (side dishes), even if you don’t make bo-ssam. Use 15-17 fresh shucked oysters if you can’t find frozen.
- 1 pound napa cabbage leaves, washed and drained
- ¼ cup sugar
- ¼ cup white vinegar
- 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup water
- 3 pounds pork belly (or pork shoulder), rinsed and drained
- 1 large onion, cut into quarters or sliced
- 2 tablespoons ginger, sliced thinly
- 12 garlic cloves
- 2 tablespoons Korean fermented soybean paste (doenjang)
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon instant hazelnut-flavored coffee
- 10 cups water
For oyster radish salad
- 1 pound Korean radish (or daikon), peeled and washed
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons fish sauce
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 8 ounces frozen shucked oysters, thawed out in the fridge for an hour
- ¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons hot pepper flakes
- 1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
For shrimp sauce
- 1 tablespoon saeujeot (fermented salted shrimp)
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes
- 1 green onion, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 tablespoon water
- a pinch of toasted sesame seeds
- Combine sugar, vinegar, kosher salt, and water in a large bowl. Mix well until it turns into a clear pickle brine.
- Add the cabbage and mix well by hand.
- Let it sit for 15 minutes, then mix well and turn it over so the leaves pickle evenly. Repeat this every 10 to 15 minutes for 1 to 2 hours until the cabbage gets soft and withered.
- Squeeze out the excess water and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Add the pork, onion, ginger, garlic, soy bean paste, brown sugar, hazelnut coffee powder, and the water to a large pot. Cover and cook for 1 hour over medium high heat.
- When it boils vigorously, turn the pork over with a wooden spoon or tongs.
- After 1 hour of boiling, turn down the heat to low and cook for another 15 minutes.
- Take out the cooked pork and let it cool down until ready to serve.
For spicy oyster radish salad
- Cut the radish into matchsticks and put them into a bowl. Mix with the salt and let it sit for 10 minutes.
- Squeeze out the excess water and put it back into a bowl.
- Take the oysters out of the fridge and wash and drain.
- Create a seasoning mixture by combining hot pepper flakes, fish sauce, sugar, garlic, and green onion in a bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon.
- Add the seasoning mixture to the radish and mix well by hand. Add the oysters and mix it gently. Add the sesame seeds.
For shrimp sauce
- Combine the fermented salted shrimp, sugar, hot pepper flakes, green onion, garlic, and water in a small bowl. Mix it well with a spoon. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Ready to serve!
- Slice the pork into 1/8 inch thick pieces. Put them on a large platter.
- Add the cabbage, spicy oyster radish salad, and shrimp sauce side by side nicely. Sprinkle with some sesame seeds and serve.
- Koreans often serve with Korean booze: soju, makgeolli, or even beer in a pinch. Children should have Coke. ; )
How to eat ssam-style
- Put a leaf of pickled cabbage on your palm (or on a small plate if it’s easier).
- Add a piece of pork to the leaf, as well as some oyster radish salad, and a tiny amount of shrimp sauce. You should make it small enough so that it will fit into your mouth all at once.
- Wrap the leaf into a small pouch and eat it whole.
- Go back to step 1, and modify the amount of each ingredient, as you like, or not.