Confessions of a Kimchi Addict: Bo SSam - A Kimchi-Centric Menu
Many years ago I found myself sitting on a cushion on the floor with my feet crossed underneath a low wooden table. The aromas wafting out of the kitchen were completely unfamiliar. Then again, I was perched in pretzel fashion in a dining room at a traditional Korean healing center in Boston. Any warm and cozy feelings with all things edible were tossed out of the kitchen with the rice rinsing water. A mere two-hour drive from the lower Cape, it felt like I was on another continent.
My first encounter with traditional Korean kimchi was in this dining room at 8 o’clock in the morning. It was time for breakfast. No scrambled eggs and bacon in sight. Yikes! I don’t mind telling you I panicked just a wee bit when the morning soup was proudly presented on the table. I was already familiar with the importance of kimchi in Korean culture. I had even heard about a museum in Seoul devoted entirely to kimchi, so I knew this was serious business and I had better be careful with my manners. I didn’t want to be rude, BUT this kimchi soup looked really fiery, angry and red. It was bubbling furiously, and the odor…
You’ve got to be kidding! I looked down at the kimchi soup with great hesitancy. I was certain it would tear my insides out and leave me squirming on the floor with volcano-erupting molten lava pain. As my white American girl panic started to spiral into a cultural free fall, it really hit me. The smell. A full-frontal assault of pungent, foul smelling, borderline illegal funkiness raining down upon me. Whoah, I thought. This stuff is downright SMELLY!
Alright, it’s time to man up. The Korean staff was looking at me with a twinkle of amusement in their eyes that I somehow interpreted as a personal challenge to my honor. Right, that’s it. I’m going to eat this smelly little sucker even if it kills me.
Fast forward ten years.
Korean-fusion food is now the latest “it” food. David Chang’s edgy Momofuku empire is growing faster than a genetically-engineered tomato at Monsanto. There are even kimchi taco trucks in cool cities like LA, and pop-up Korean fusion restaurants in San Francisco that appear like a cloud in the sky and then disappear just as fast.
What would you expect when you combine fish sauce, garlic, ginger, intensely hot Korean red pepper flakes, scallions, radish and cabbage, perhaps toss in a few fresh oysters, and then let it sit around on the counter at room temperature while it ferments until nearly bubbling? Simple. The most insanely delicious and addictive condiment on Earth.
There are many variations of kimchi. Whole books are written about this very subject. I know because I read them late at night like mystery novels. Officially on record, there are over 200 variations of kimchi, many of which are seasonally dependent and suited for the occasion, region, holiday or overall meal.
Our favorite is the classic whole Napa cabbage kimchi called Paech’u kimchi. Since translations are not fixed from Korean to English, you’ll see many different spellings of everything from kimchi (or kimchee) to baechu (or paech’u or paechu). B’s are somehow interchangeable with P’s, while G’s are wantonly and promiscuously ready to steal the job of K’s, and apostrophes run absolutely wild and go all free-range.
Our beloved paech’u kimchi is strong, spicy, smelly and searingly hot. It’s quite simple to make, although time consuming, and it yields incredibly complex umami-rich, pack-a-punch-in-your-face, vibrant flavors. Fun kimchi fact: the first written record of kimchi appeared in the Goryeo dynasty (935-1392) in a poem called “Gapoyugyeong” which loosely translates as “Six Songs on the Backyard Vegetable Plot.” How absolutely awesome is that?
Kimchi is traditionally made in large batches in autumn, when the cabbages and large white radishes (which are called “moo”) are at their sweetest. If you want real moo, you’ll have to go to a Korean market in Boston and find someone bilingual to help sort you out. It helps to break the cultural ice and say “Annyeong-haseyo” (pronounced ahn-yohng-ha-say-oh) which politely means hello. Moo is reminiscent of Japanese daikon, but without the spiciness and heat and with much more sweetness. Moo is larger and rounder as well. If you aren’t keen on cultural culinary adventures, then simply use daikon. Or grow your own (hopefully you’ll have better results than this writer, who only managed to grow moo greens which bolted, with sad little wisps of wannabe moos).
After kimchi is made in autumn, the large kimchi pots called onggi were traditionally buried in the ground over the long winter. This method of storage and preservation kept kimchi for long periods of time in the cold season (and made for very cool photographs). These days, stylish kimchi-loving Koreans use large, wide and low kimchi refrigerators, specifically designed to keep kimchi at optimal temperatures at various stages of fermentation year round. A refrigerator made specifically for kimchi makes more sense if you understand the average Korean eats 40 pounds of kimchi each year. That’s pretty good justification for such a specialty electronics purchase. To put this into perspective, 40 pounds is the weight of a 15-foot canoe. Holy kimchi!
A good portion of those 40 pounds might be attributed to kimchi’s widely known reputation for being just the right medicine for a hangover (I’m just saying…) or a cold needing a serious kick in the butt. The only side effect of this folk remedy is a serious case of fire-breathing dragon-breath.
I’ve eaten paech’u kimchi in many forms of deliciousness, from traditional Korean dishes like savory kimchi pancakes, kimchi fried rice and bubbling kimchi and pork stew, to more avant-garde dishes like kimchi-topped burgers and kimchi consommé with oysters. Now I’ve found a new addiction: bo ssäm. Thank you, potty-mouthed chef David Chang.
Bo ssäm is a very popular Korean dish in which pork is nestled into a lettuce leaf (or perilla leaf if authenticity is your game and you prefer yet another adventure in the Korean market) with various condiments, and then wrapped into a little neat package which is eaten with chopsticks if you’re adept, or free-form with your hands if you’re like me.
The centerpiece of Chef Chang’s bo ssäm is a slow-roasted pork shoulder with a crispy sweet and salty crust which melts in your mouth with a riot of flavor. If the pork wasn’t enough of a mouth-watering treat, this tasty package also conceals kimchi, rice (optional), ginger scallion salad, quick pickled cucumber, and a spicy hot pepper paste/miso sauce. The flavors are remarkably vibrant. They pop like fireworks on the fourth of July.
As a local wine merchant goddess, I’m often asked about wine pairings with unusual foods. So here’s the hip sip advice. You could sling back some soju shots (similar to vodka but sweeter) or a few Sapporos (Japanese beer of the Gods) with your bo ssäm. That’s always nice, but a little safe for my audaciously developed taste buds.
Instead, I suggest venturing out on a vinous limb and pairing bo ssäm with Abbazia di Novacella Kerner. This unusual wine is made by an order of Augustinian monks who have been making wine for 850 years in the northernmost region of Italy near the Alps. With its cool climate, this visually stunning area produces a wine that has the opulence to stand up to the weight of the bo ssäm, with inherent sweetness to balance the raucous spice, and a cut of acidity to please even the most jaded wine geek. We conducted a blind wine pairing experiment at our most recent bo ssäm BBQ and the Kerner won first-place hands down.
Many of the bo ssäm recipes here were inspired and adapted from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. The kimchi recipe and scallion salad recipe were taught to me with love and laughter many years ago in a two-day kimchi-making marathon with my wonderful friend, Miss Il Sun Kwon. Thank you Il Sun for teaching me so much about cooking and life. Saranghayo.
When Il Sun taught me how to make paech’u kimchi many years ago, she used at least 20 Napa cabbages twice the size of my head. I have reduced the volume of this recipe so you don’t need to purchase your own kimchi refrigerator. Also, a word to the wise regarding kimchi storage: please be selective about the glass jar in which you store kimchi. It will be haunted for the rest of its useful life with a very special kimchi nuance.
- 2 whole Napa cabbages, coarse outer leaves removed
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1 (8-inch) piece of ginger, peeled and finely minced
- 2 whole bulbs of garlic, peeled and finely minced
- 1 cup kochukaru*
- ½ cup fish sauce*
- 2 carrots, peeled and thinly julienned
- 1 moo (or 1 large daikon), peeled and thinly julienned
- 1 bunch of scallions, cut into 1-inch lengths (green and white bits alike)
Cut each cabbage lengthwise into two pieces, from the root to the end, keeping the root intact. Toss the salt into the cabbage leaves, place them in a very large bowl and cover with ½ gallon of water. Let sit overnight in a cool place with plates on top to keep the cabbages under the salt solution.
Combine the ginger, garlic, kochukaru and fish sauce in a bowl to make a thick brine. If it’s too thick, add water until it’s the consistency of a creamy sauce. Stir in the carrots, moo and scallions.
Rinse the cabbages under water and drain in a colander. Squeeze out as much water as possible. Pat dry. Place the cabbages in a large bowl. Using gloves, stuff the brine and vegetable mixture between the leaves of the cabbages. Place the cabbages in a glass gallon jar. Push them down to remove any air bubbles. Seal the jar. Leave it on the counter for 2-3 days to ferment, until when you taste the brine it seems lively and pungent. Place the kimchi in the refrigerator and allow it to further ferment slowly for two weeks before serving. To serve kimchi, cut it into 1-inch pieces with kitchen scissors.
After approximately one month or longer in the refrigerator, kimchi starts to get even funkier and slightly prickly (in a good, but unusual way) as fermentation starts to hit warp speed. At this point your kimchi is ready for stews and soups, kimchi pancakes, dumplings and kimchi-fried rice. Trust me. You’ll love all these things.
*Kochukaru (a.k.a. gochugaru or kochugaru – see what I mean about those K-gobbling G’s) are Korean hot red chili flakes (available on the Internet or a Korean market). Look for the salty gem known as Tiparos fish sauce at Phoenix Produce in Orleans.
If you’re not careful, this stupidly inexpensive slow-cooked pork shoulder might become your new crack-like addiction. It’s intensely flavored with a crispy crust and a melt-in-your-mouth center. Once you make it you won’t be able to stop. You may even dream about it at night. Every time we make this pork shoulder for bo ssäm (or crazy delicious ramen noodle pork soup with a poached egg, or spicy and sticky American BBQ) our guests inevitable say, “I could eat this every night.” You’ve been warned. There’s no turning back. This recipe is an adaptation from Momofuku, but my husband Kevin cooks the pork in a very different way than Chef Chang does—he rocks it on his über hip Big Green Egg.
- 1 whole 8-10 pound bone-in pork shoulder*
- 1 cup and 7 tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 cup and 1 tablespoons kosher salt
Mix together 1 cup of brown sugar with the salt. Coat the pork with the mixture and discard any leftover rub. Cover the pork with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Bring your grill to a temperature of 250°. Smoke the pork over indirect heat for 6-8 hours or until the internal temperature is 190°. Allow to rest for up to one hour. (Or just go ahead and cook it the Momofuku way in the oven.)
When you’re ready to serve, heat the indoor oven to 500 degrees. Stir together the remaining 7 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1 tablespoon salt. Rub the mixture all over the pork and cook for 10-15 minutes, until the pork has a nice crispy crust (check it often so the top doesn’t char and/or incinerate into oblivion). Serve the pork whole on a platter and allow your guests to attack it with gusto (and/or forks to shred the meat).
*We used a locally raised organic Heritage Breed pork shoulder from Cape Cod Organic Farm in Barnstable. You can also find locally raised pork at Hillside Farm in Truro.
This is an interpreted memory of a recipe taught to me by Il Sun, or perhaps I just made it up. Sometimes things just work that way. Feel free to adjust the amounts to your personal taste.
- 4 tablespoons kochujang*
- 6 tablespoons traditional dark miso
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 tablespoons mirin
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- ⅛ cup water
- 1 tablespoon tan roasted sesame seeds
Combine all the ingredients and adjust to taste.
* Kochujang (a.k.a. gochujang) is Korean hot red pepper paste (available on the Internet or at a Korean market). It’s worth it just to have this fiery paste on hand to spice up many recipes. We prefer traditionally fermented Mitoku brown rice miso (available on the Internet), but Korean miso also works great with its chunky bits of soy beans. Mitoku also makes the most awesome traditionally fermented mirin, but do as you please.
As a natural foods enthusiast, I rarely cook with refined sugar (exception noted in the pork shoulder recipe). This recipe uses organic agave syrup, but über-delicious brown rice syrup* would also do quite nicely (or even sugar if you make adjustments for sweetness). This recipe was adapted from David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook.
- 2 cups of water
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- ¾ cup light-colored agave syrup
- 6 teaspoon sea salt
- 2 medium English cucumbers, or 8 small cucumbers, sliced in ¼-inch pieces
Heat the water on the stove until hot, but not boiling. Take off the heat and add the vinegar, agave and salt. Stir to dissolve the salt and incorporate the flavors. Place the cucumbers and brine in a glass jar with a lid. Refrigerate for several days before use. These pickles are fresh and fun. Everyone LOVES them and there’s so little effort involved.
* There is only one brown rice syrup in my book. It’s called Sweet Cloud and you can even use it for baking. You can find this sublime nectar at the Orleans Whole Foods Store.
Scallions are ubiquitous with Korean BBQ. This scallion salad is a fantastic condiment that appears in nearly every Korean restaurant. It’s amazing with Korean barbeque (beef or pork), but it can be used for nearly anything (think fish tacos). Ginger scallion salad is absolutely heavenly with the slow-roasted pork shoulder. It’s a breeze to make, too.
- 2 cups sliced scallions (thinly, on the diagonal)
- ½ cup ginger, finely minced
- ¼ cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons traditionally fermented soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (tan or black)
- 1 pinch of salt (or more to taste)
Slice the scallions and set aside in the refrigerator, covered. Combine the rest of the ingredients and taste for seasoning. Add a bit of salt or more soy sauce if necessary. Add the dressing to the scallions and let sit for 5 minutes to incorporate the flavors and allow the scallions to wilt ever so slightly. Serve immediately.