Butt Ssäm-wich

March 28, 2012

There is no such thing as an ugly woman.
~Vincent Van Gogh

Ssäm (쌈) simply translates as “wrapped,” and refers to a Korean dish in which larger leafy greens — lettuce, cabbage, seaweed, sesame or bean and pumpkin leaves — are often used to cloak meat such as slow and low roasted or braised pork (belly or butt). But tongue, fish, kalbi, bulgogi, roe, and clams have also lined these luscious roll ups over time. Have to suggest and although this is by no means a directive or ethnically correct, ssäm would be divine with braised sweetbreads. Just a little whimsy.

Some say that ssäm was first savored by certain young women of the Goryeo dynasty, called Kisaeng (euphemistically pronounced kis-sang) or “art persons.” These comfort women emerged in the 10th century and were meticulously trained in music and poetry, but were also conscripted and subjugated as courtesans. Closely regulated as government slaves over time, they were obliged to entertain and offer their sensual wares with local royalty, military officers and dignitaries from China, Japan and other reaches. Sadly, other than rather vague anecdotal references, an unnerving and undeserved, even shameful, cold silence has enveloped the centuries old Kisaeng — likely resulting from repeated sexual abuses, horrid exploitation and degradation, and harsh postcolonial memories in Korea. Japan was particularly complicit in war crimes involving sexual violence with “comfort women” in territories occupied by the imperial military during World War II yet the country continues to ignore and abstain. The atrocious horrors of human servitude and trafficking usually meet with baseless denials and have ever been worse than intolerable. Is there true remorse?

(With a few alterations, this recipe is more than loosely adapted from the phenom chef/owner David Chang from New York’s momofuku restaurants — noodle bar, ssäm bar, ko, má pêche, seiōbo, and the bakery milk bar.) I might add this dish is flat sublime and will no doubt enrapture all around your table.

PORK BUTT SSAM

7-8 lb bone-in pork butt
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C raw sugar
1 C coarse sea salt

1 T coarse sea salt
1/2 C light brown sugar

1/4 C honey

Thoroughly mix both sugars and salt in a bowl. Rub pork with a few smashed garlics then rub the dry sugars/salt mixture all over the pork butt and cover thoroughly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for about 6 hours or overnight.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 300 F

Remove pork from refrigerator, discard any juices and allow to reach room temperature. Place the pork in a large, heavy roasting pan, place in the oven and cook, basting every hour after the first two hours, until meat is tender and easily shredded with a fork, about 7 hours or so. The internal temperature should read about 195 F.  At that temp, the connective tissues have melted, and the pork will be fork-tender and juicy.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, mix together remaining tablespoon of coarse sea salt and brown sugar and then set aside.

Increase oven temperature to 500 F

Sprinkle and rub in the salt and brown sugar mixture over the top and sides of the pork, then drizzle with honey. Return pork to oven until nicely crusted, about 10 minutes. Remove the meat from the oven and allow to rest some. Carefully extract the single bone in the butt and discard, then shred the butt with forks and fingers.

White rice, cooked (bap)
Kimchi

Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, washed and dried
Chinese steamed buns (mantou)
Flour tortillas, warmed

Serve shredded pork enveloped in lettuce wraps bedded in rice or noodles or in chinese steamed buns or in small flour tortillas. Bed in some rice or noodles, lightly mount with kimchi and lather with ginger-scallion, ssäm, gochu garu and sichuan pepper, Korean soy sauce, and/or red curry peanut sauces. Try to avoid the urge to overload.

Ginger-Scallion Sauce
2 1/2 C thinly sliced scallions
1/2 C fresh ginger, peeled and minced
1/4 C grapeseed or canola oil
1 T light soy sauce
1 t sherry vinegar
Pinch of sea salt

In a medium bowl whisk all ingredients together.

Ssäm Sauce
1/3 C fermented bean & chili paste (ssamjang)
2 T chili paste (kochujang)
1 t sherry vinegar
1/4 C grapeseed or canola oil

In a medium bowl, whisk all ingredients together.

Gochu Garu and Sichuan Pepper
3 T Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu)
1 t Sichuan peppercorn, toasted and ground
1 t white sesame seeds, toasted
Pinch of sea salt
2 T canola oil
Pinch of sugar

In a small bowl, combine the Korean red pepper powder, Sichuan peppercorn, sesame seeds and salt. In a small saucepan, warm the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering but not smoking.

Pour half of the hot oil over the chile powder mixture. Whisk the mixture and add the remaining oil. Stir again to moisten all of the dry ingredients and add the sugar.

Allow the mixture to cool, then taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and/or sugar.

“Korean” Soy Sauce
2 T shoyu
1 T water
1-2 t sesame oil
1 t white sugar
1 t raw sugar
1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 t Korean red pepper powder (gochu garu)
2 T green onion, white and green parts finely chopped
3 t sesame seeds, toasted then crushed with a mortar and pestle

In a small bowl, stir together the shoyu, water, sesame oil and sugars, until the sugars have fully dissolved. Add the garlic, red pepper powder, green onion and sesame seeds. Refrigerate while the pork cooks to allow the flavors to meld.

Red Curry Peanut Sauce
1/4 C roasted salted peanuts
1 T brown sugar

2-3 t Thai red curry paste
8-10 T water
2 t peanut oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 C shallot, peeled and finely chopped
2 fresh Thai or serrano chilies, including seeds, thinly sliced crosswise

Finely grind 3 tablespoons peanuts in a food processor along with brown sugar. Finely chop remaining tablespoon peanuts by hand and set aside.

Stir together curry paste (to taste) and 6 tablespoons water until paste is dissolved.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then sauté garlic, shallot, and chiles, stirring, until golden, about 4 minutes. Add ground peanut mixture and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in curry mixture and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in chopped peanuts.

Allow to reach room temperature, then dilute with water to reach desired consistency.

Words are all we have.
~Samuel Beckett

Did I say that right?

Just a slight variance in intonation can lead to a near scandalous difference in linguistic meaning, often making proper enunciation vital. For instance, fico is an Italian noun, which translates in English to that sweet and succulent fig. Diction demands this word be pronounced in a distinctly masculine way so that it finishes with a marked and unequivocal o. Be wary, since if lazily uttered like figa or fica then you have slangily yet openly referred to vagina or vulva…a bilingual blunder.

Similarly, the next time you peruse a menu at that trendy trattoria in Rome, New York or home, and that primo piatta of penne yanks your chain, take care how you address the waiter or hosts. Penne is the plural form of the Italian penna, derived from the Latin penna (meaning “feather” or “quill”). Tubular, diagonally cut penne are produced in two main variants: penne lisce (smooth) and penne rigate (furrowed), the latter having ridges.

In the Italian tongue, a doubled consonant (here “nn”) significantly affects pronunciation. In phonetics, this is referred to as gemination — when a spoken consonant is pronounced for an audibly longer period of time than a short consonant. The effect is to shorten the preceding vowel and lengthen the consonant itself. With lengthened stops, the obstruction of the airway is prolonged, somewhat delaying release. Thus, the word penne should be pronounced as pen’-neh or ˈpe(n)-(ˌ)nā. In the International Phonetic Alphabet, long consonants are normally written using the triangular colonːas in penne [penːe]. This seemingly subtle difference in pronunciation may be difficult for English speakers to appreciate and reproduce, however to Italians the difference is quite patent and even affects meaning.

Also, do remember that the letter “p” in English is often aspirated, resulting in an extra puff of air along with the pronunciation of the consonant. This never occurs in Italian.

Although the unsophisticated often fail to discern the difference between correctly pronouncing the double “nn,” Italian ears definitely do. If pronounced as pene without shortening the first vowel and lengthening the consonant “n,” you are referring to the word penis. So, be a touch couth and avoid ordering penis at the table.

PENNE RIGATE WITH SAUSAGE, TOMATO & CREAM

1 T extra virgin olive oil
1 lb Italian pork & fennel sausage, uncased and crumbled

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium yellow onion, peeled and finely diced
3 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1/3 medium carrot, peeled and finely shredded

One 28 oz can of San Marzano tomatoes, chopped (retain juice)
1 T tomato paste
1 small rind of parmigiano-reggiano
1/4 C dry red wine
1 t red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bay leaf
Bouquet garni of fresh parsley, thyme and oregano sprigs

3/4 C heavy whipping cream

1 lb penne rigate pasta
Fresh basil leaves, whole or chiffonaded
Parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated

Capers, rinsed and drained (optional)

Using kitchen scissors, chop tomatoes while still in can.

Heat oil in a large, heavy skillet over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then add sausage and cook, stirring to break up large chunks, until meat is browned and just cooked through, 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer meat to a bowl lined with paper towels using a slotted spoon and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat. Cook the onion, stirring some, until softened and translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and carrot, sauté and stir occasionally another 1 minute or so.

Stir in the tomatoes with juice, tomato paste, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper, rind, red wine, bay leaf and bouquet garni. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce heat and simmer for about 30-40 minutes. The sauce will thicken to a porridge consistency. Remove and discard the rind, bay leaf and herb bundle. Adjust seasoning to your liking.

Add enough cream and bring the tomato sauce to a simmer, stirring, then add drained sausages for a few minutes to heat. The sauce should be pinkish in hue.

Meanwhile, cook pasta in a large, heavy pot of generously salted boiling water according to directions until al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta water, then drain pasta in a colander. Add to the tomato sauce in the Dutch oven and toss to coat, adding pasta water if necessary to moisten.

Serve with grated parmigiano-reggiano, basil leaves and optional capers.

Magical Miso(s)…

March 15, 2012

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.
~Albert Einstein

Salty and complex, a revered Japanese staple — umami laden.

Miso (味噌) is a traditional, thick paste produced by fermenting rice and soybeans, with salt and the fungus kōjikin. White miso (shiromiso) which is preferred in the western Kansai region encompassing Osaka, Kyoto, and Kobe is milder than the red version (akamiso) which finds favor in the eastern Kantō region that includes Tokyo. The lighter hue is often due to the inclusion of white rice during a notably shorter fermentation period. There is also yellow miso which is made from soybeans that have been fermented with barley and a smaller percentage of rice, and black which is crafted entirely from soybean.

Mysteries abound about miso’s Japanese origins. Some posit that miso developed from fermented foods found in China over two millennia ago which arrived on the Japanese shores along with Buddhism in the 6th century. Others trace the origins to the northeastern provinces of Japan where archeological digs suggest an early mastery of fermentation processes. According to Japanese mythology, miso was bestowed by the gods upon mortals to assure longevity and happiness.

Many find it tasking, even enigmatic, to classify the rich flavors of miso — definitely salty, a tad sweet, not quite bitter or sour, yet chocked with that fifth taste: subtle and exquisite umami. From a Nobu inspired cod forward, versatile but often underutilized miso runs the culinary gamut.

COD WITH MISO

1 1/2 lb. fresh black cod fillets

1/2 C sake
1/2 C hon mirin
1/2 C white miso
3 T raw sugar
3 T honey

Peanut oil

In a small saucepan, bring the sake and mirin to a gentle boil. Whisk in the miso until dissolved. Then, add the sugar and honey and cook over moderate heat, whisking, until fully dissolved. Transfer the marinade to a large bowl and allow to cool to room temperature. Reserve some of this marinade for plating.

Gently but thoroughly pat the fillets dry with paper towels, place them into a glass baking dish with a fitted top or a ziploc bag and pour in the marinade. Seal tightly and allow to bathe in the refrigerator overnight or preferably for 2-3 nights. Turn them occasionally to encourage an even coating.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Carefully wipe off any excess marinade clinging to the fillets but do not rinse under water. Place the fish in a lightly oiled heavy skillet over medium high heat and sauté on both sides until just lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Transfer the fish to the oven on a large, rimmed baking sheet and bake until flaky, about 7-10 minutes.

Arrange over greens of choice on serving plates. Dabble some drops of marinade on the fish and plate, then serve.

Pourboire: black cod is also known as sable fish and has large pin bones, which are curved little bones that run along the fish’s centerline which need be removed with needle nose pliers.

MISO & SESAME VINAIGRETTE

1/2 C white miso
2 T fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and finely minced
2 T unseasoned rice vinegar
4 t white sesame seeds, toasted
2 t sesame oil
2 t honey

6 T grapeseed or canola oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together miso, ginger, garlic, rice vinegar, sesame seeds, sesame oil and honey in a medium glass bowl. Slowly whisk in grapeseed oil and season with salt and pepper to taste.

MISO COMPOUND BUTTER

8 (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
4 T white or red miso
Freshly ground white pepper

Cream the butter and miso together with a fork, while adding white pepper.

Use immediately, or roll into a log in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for cutting into slices later.

Pourboire: Potential additions to the compound butter could include chopped scallions or chives, minced garlic, ginger or chiles, or citrus zest. Gently melt over freshly grilled or roasted meats, sautéed vegetables, etc. For red meats, choose a red miso which is much more rich and savory.