Korean pork butt lettuce wraps! David Chang, chef-owner of a flurry of New York City Korean (and Asian)-inspired restaurants, brings you this recipe for bo ssäm from his Momofuku cookbook and adapted by Sam Sifton at The New York Times. The result is pork butt (fun to say) bringing a sticky-crusty exterior with juicy, sweet and salty deliciousness on the inside. But this one's really about the total pork butt package (still fun).
A couple of ingredients in the recipe you might not know (we didn't the last time we had it) and it may make you ask, "Where the heck am I going to find that? Screw it! This is too much work!" Ssamjang is a fermented soybean paste and kochujang (gochujang by another name) is a chili paste. And get this. They make ssamjang with kochujang! Sort of incestuous if you ask me. But easy-peasy to find. Gohyang Food Market, a tiny and friendly little shop on Lincoln and California has both for $3 each.
Kimchi. You know kimchi. Urban Belly kimchi is perfect and only $4. Urban Belly is closed on Mondays. We ate this on Monday. Gohyang Food Market kimchi is an adequate substitute but a substitute nonetheless. Garlicky as all get-out. Stick to Urban Belly kimchi. Deep flavor, yet oh-so refreshing. Cleans up like ginger does with sushi.
So...you have to prep the pork butt the night before and roast the pork butt for six hours but this isn't a whole lot of active cooking time. You know, the stuff where you get your hands dirty, break a few things, tell the dog to get out of the kitchen 12,000 times and just get all-around annoyed with the whole process. Shove it in the oven, chop and mix a few things, stand around, maybe go buy a Christmas tree (we did), take it out, lay out a buffet of Korean goodness and go to town. Extra napkins help.
Food: Pork butt, ginger-scallion sauce, ssäm sauce, Boston lettuce Alexia sweet potato tots (Yep. We did that.) and kimchi
$12 Whole Foods pork butt ($4/lb). Crusty, caramelized wonder on the outside (finish off with the brown sugar rub in the last step of the recipe - critical), juicy and porky sweet on the inside. Ginger-scallion sauce is like a delicate onion wonderland of burly onion flavor. Ssäm sauce is liquidy not thick, to be drizzled all over the top of your lettuce wrap construction and offers a great edge to temper the scallion sauce. Throw some kimchi in if you want, though not recommended with garlicky kimchi as it's just too much! Take a bite, let the juice drip all over the place and taste Korean joy. Get the right proportion of accompaniments and you hit a realm of perfect food balance. Salty, sweet, spicy and juicy with a taste that plays long and hard from the lips to the gullet. Alexia sweet potato tots to starch up the plate. Pass. Tough work week necessitated an easy starch solution. Go with Jacques Pépin scallop pancakes if you have the time, more dollars and much-needed patience. Broadened out the meal last time for us.
This is spicy food but not spicy-hot food. The rawness of it all freshened up the entire profile of every bite, never letting the ssäm sauce overpower or even take the lead. So while a touch of sugar with the wine pairing seems like it should be warranted because this is Asian food and that's a thing, it's not needed here. It's chenin blanc for us with this food, now and probably forever.
Wine: 2009 Vigneau-Chevreau Vouvray Sec Cuvée Silex ($20 - Fine Wine Brokers on Lincoln)
[Last had a 2007 Vincent Carême Vouvray Sec ($22 - Wine Discount Center on Elston) with bo ssäm. Lovely.]
2009 was an excellent year for chenin blanc in the Loire according to people who know about such things. Wine Spectator gave Loire's chenin blanc crop a 93, matching 2002 and 2005 in quality during the aughts. 2010 is supposed to be even better.
But many also warned not to expect a fruit-forward expression, at least not right now, for 2009 when it came to chenin blanc in the Loire. That's we we got here. Dry. Ginger and honey in beeswaxy form led the way with a dried white flowers and dark spice undertone mixing with honeydew-pear-quince grab bag of fruit that was simply in no hurry to show its face. Showed more talky fruit with some air but this one was really about what makes Vouvray so good. It was like an traveling Broadway show of all the weird and wonderful Vouvray flavors that make Vouvray sooooo Vouvray - ginger, honey and minerals backed up by a strong backbone of acid that never says, "Look at me! I'm going to de-STROY your mouth!" Maybe we didn't see the original Broadway actors with this bottle and this showing but this one showed almost backward in the best way. Could have easily been a cheaper Savennières on many sips. Needs a bit of time as we cracked it right at the starting line of the drinking window according to many but much to like here.
Vigneau-Chevreau does a fine job delivering most of what great Vouvray can offer for a few bucks cheaper. They make a fine demi-sec sparkling (pétillant) that's on restaurant menus all over town while being an entirely reasonable $18 retail.
There's not a uniformity of style to Vouvray. Those cranky winemakers do what the heck they want, everyone else be damned. That means seemingly every Vouvray you pop is different. You know it's chenin blanc but it doesn't taste in the least like the last chenin blanc you had. I'm partial to Domaine Hüet, particularly from the Clos du Bourg vineyard. In fact, I didn't know the vintage report when we last had the 2009 Clos du Bourg (at Semiramis on Kedzie - chenin blanc, particularly Saumur, has been a big success with Lebanese vittles, especially their hummus). A revisit may be in the hopper.
Pairing: Yes, please. I'll take a dozen to go
Drinking the wine by itself revealed just how strong the backbone of acid for this wine was, informing us even more as to how well it mixed and mingled with the food. Big acid presence alone, but wove into the food beautifully, letting its best expression come to the front and belt out a tune. Great pauses in the wine as well with a bite of food, extending out the ginger-honey-flower deliciousness just long enough to not make me want to take another bite too quickly. And with a stripped-down version of just pork, ssäm and lettuce, the sweetness of the pork jumped with a a sip of wine. Enjoyed it muchly.
A chilly, less sweet Beaujolais might be nice here as well.
Total cost for the meal: $50. That includes the 'start-up costs' of the pastes and you won't be eating three pounds of pork butt (pffft!). That's too much butt for one sitting. Use the pork for green bean stir fry, use the pastes for dak bulgogi, which is Korean happiness-in-a-bowl that matches beautifully with a Vouvray demi-sec (now is the time to bring some sugar - that dish is a hot one). The freezer's your friend. Three meals (six total) for about $30.
On a side note, opened a 2006 Ludwig Neumayer Riesling Rothenbart Austria ($10 close-out at Wine Discount Center) because a lil sugar might still be The Truth here. We thought we were eight years old again, our dad gave us $20 to run rampant through K-Mart and we got lost, wandering into the newly-built summer beach aisle. The thing smelled and tasted like flip-flops.
On a side-side note, these will be shorter.
Thanks for reading. Thoughts are always welcome.