My favorite new group gathering recipe of 2012 is the Bo Ssam Miracle. During my Sunday read of the New York Times, I read (and then re-read) the article about the Momofuku version of the Bo Ssam Miracle, and set out the next week to make one. According to the article, the Momofuku version is often served as an appetizer for 6-10 people, and is priced at $200. The New York Times also published a basic recipe for the Bo Ssam Miracle and some accompanying side sauces.
Now that I have made this recipe many times, I have discovered that the real miracle of this recipe is how something so simple to make can taste so good, and how something that costs $200 to buy in NYC, costs about $50-60 to make at home. The first time I made the Bo Ssam, I had to buy some new ingredients for the sauces, so the total cost was a little higher. I typically serve fruit and brie with crackers as an appetizer to the Bo Ssam and use the Bo Ssam as the main course for 6-10 people. For 10 people, I serve more appetizers and also cook more rice, because the serving portions of meat will be smaller, but still suitable for a meal. I am also planning to add steamed dumplings as an appetizer for the next round of Bo Ssam.
To prepare the meat portion of the Bo Ssam Miracle, one needs to find the best quality pork butt one can afford and make sure it is properly tied. I watch for Whole Foods to put their pork butts on sale and when they do, I ask the butcher for the best cut he can give me, 9-10 pounds, tied tightly. The ties should be tight and consistently spaced, about 1 1/2 – 2 inches apart. If the ties look loose or are really spaced out, I ask the butcher to retie them. In my experience, the pork butt does not cook as consistently if the ties are loose or too far apart.
Next, the pork butt needs to be seasoned and placed in the refrigerator overnight. The New York Times recipe calls for mixing 1 cup of white sugar with 1 cup of kosher salt and rubbing the mixture all over the meat, before covering and setting in the refrigerator overnight. The first time I made the pork butt, I used 1 cup of the Whole Foods Organic Cane Sugar mixed with 1 cup of Coarse Kosher Salt. I packed the mixture on thick, all over the pork butt. The resulting pork butt was amazing, but only a few members of our group, who really really (really!) love salt, were able to handle the salty exterior pieces. The rest of us thought that there was too much salt on the outside – too high of a pucker factor. Subsequent times that I have made the pork butt, I have used about 1/2 cup of salt and 1/2 to 3/4 cup of sugar. The salt lovers still get some good salty pieces from the exterior of the pork butt and the pork butt is still well brined, but the overall flavor and sauces of the cooked pork butt have a more tolerable salt level.
I typically season and refrigerate the pork butt in a glass casserole dish, and then transfer the pork butt to a deep stainless roaster for cooking. In general, I do this because my roaster takes up too much refrigerator space, but there may be some benefit to the pork butt going in the oven inside a roasting pan that is not chilled.
The initial roasting process takes about 6 hours at 300 degrees. You have to be available to scoop the juices off the bottom of the pan and drizzle them on the pork butt, once every hour or so, after the first 3 hours. This isn’t a slow cooker recipe that you can start in the morning and walk away from until dinner time. The first time I made the Bo Ssam, I was following the NYT recipe exactly, and my friend and I waited excitedly for the first hour to pass, ready to drizzle the juices, just as the recipe instructed. The first hour passed, I looked inside, and there was no juice. Some of the packed on salt/sugar mixture had fallen off and was roasting in the bottom of the pan, but no juice. I packed the salt back on the top of the pork butt. What to do? The second hour passed and still no juice. At this point, I was considering whether we would be ordering pizza that night. Then, the third hour passed and there was a little juice. Ah. I scooped it, still thinking about what kind of pizza I would order. Then, the fourth hour passed and boy was there juice. Juice. Juice. Juice. I made up for lost time by judiciously scooping and drizzling, and forgot about pizza. Now that I have experimented with cooking the pork butt many times, I recommend checking in on the pork butt every hour, but do not expect to start the hourly drizzling process until after the 3rd hour. I usually drizzle enough every hour or so to wet the entire outside of the pork butt. I have found that the more you drizzle, the saltier the pork butt. After the first 6 hours of roasting, the pork butt is removed from the oven to sit, for up to an hour, before being rubbed with a concentrated brown sugar and salt mixture, and placed back in the oven at a high temperature to caramelize the mixture.
Here is my version of the Bo Ssam Miracle, adapted from the NYTimes version, with extra sauces and notes
- 1 whole bone-in pork butt or picnic ham (8 to 10 pounds)
- 1/2-3/4 cup cane juice sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
- 7 tablespoons brown sugar
1. Place the pork in a large, shallow dish. Mix the sugar and 1/2 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.
2. 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 as available. Some pork butts may not yield any pan juices until after the 2nd or 3rd hour.) At this point, you may remove the meat from the oven and allow it to rest for up to an hour.
3. Make all your sauces and sides.
4. When the sauces and sides are ready to serve, 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. (Watch for caramelized bubbles to start forming across the top of the pork butt). Serve hot, with the sauces and sides. If serving on the table, include kitchen scissors for cutting the ties, tongs for pulling the meat out, and several forks for friends to use to pull the pork off the bone.
Sides and Sauces
Ginger-Scallion Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a bowl, add salt to taste)
- 3 cups thinly sliced scallions, both green and white parts
- ½ cup peeled, minced fresh ginger
- 1-2 spoonfuls of minced ginger from a jar
- ¼ cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)
- 1½ teaspoons light soy sauce
- 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar (or rice wine vinegar)
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
Ssam Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a bowl)
- 1 tablespoons black bean paste
- 1/2 tablespoon chili paste or sriracha
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
- 1/4 cup neutral oil (like grapeseed)
Garlic Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a small bowl)
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic from a jar
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed)
- a pinch of sugar to taste
- a pinch of salt to taste
Ginger Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a small bowl)
- 1 tablespoon minced ginger from a jar
- 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon neutral oil (like grapeseed)
- a pinch of sugar to taste
Cucumber Sauce (mix all ingredients together in a small bowl)
- 1 cucumber (peeled and diced into small chunks)
- 2-3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar (or more, depending on the size of the cucumber, to cover all the cucumber)
- pinches of sugar, salt, and pepper to taste
Mango Chutney – I use a store bought Mango Chutney, but I am planning to work on a homemade version soon. We usually go through a whole jar of Mango Chutney each time I serve this meal. This Mango Chutney is pretty good: Stonewall Kitchen Mango Chutney, 8.5-Ounce Glass Jar.
The Lettuce: 3 heads of the biggest leafed butter lettuce available . Pull the large leaves off the lettuce, wash and dry. Place leaves in a large bowl for guests to choose from.
The Rice: White rice or brown rice, on the stickier side, goes well with the Bo Ssam.
1 dozen or more fresh oysters (This is included in the NYTimes recipe. I have not tried serving oysters yet, but I do think that the saltiness of they oysters would pair well with the Bo Ssam.
Kimchi (available in many Asian markets, and online) (This is also included in the NYTimes recipe, but I have not tried serving it yet).
Extra sauces on the table for guests to use to mix their own sauce or adjust the spice of one of the pre-mixed sauces (along with small bowls and spoons) – Soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sriracha, black bean paste.
I have some timing tips to share here, based on a 7:45 serving time, and my oven, which is slow to preheat, but holds temperature well.
- 12:20 – start preheating the oven to 300 degrees
- 12:45 – place pork butt in the oven
- 3:45 – check on the pork butt and drizzle with juices
- 4:45 – check on the pork butt and drizzle with juices
- 5:45 – check on the pork butt and drizzle with juices
- 6:00 – prep the lettuce: wash and lay out flat to dry; chop the green onions and ginger; start preparing the sauces and place sauces on the table as they are ready
- 6:30 – prep and start the rice in the rice cooker
- 6:45 – pull the pork butt from the oven and let sit. drizzle with juices once or twice while sitting
- 6:50 – start preheating oven to 500 degrees
- 7:00 – prep the appetizers:: fruit, crackers with brie, dumplings
- 7:20 – mix the brown sugar/salt mixture and rub on the pork butt
- 7:25/7:30 – guests start arriving and help themselves to appetizers and drinks; also, guests can help set the table; set a plate for each guest with fork and spoon and an optional small sauce bowl for creating sauces at the table); place the soy sauce, rice wine vinegar, sriracha, and black bean paste on the table; also place the lettuce bowl, rice, and any other sides on the table.
- 7:30 – put the pork butt back in the oven and watch for bubbles to form in the brown sugar/salt mixture
- 7:40/45 – pull the pork butt and place it on the table, with tongs, a meat cutting knife, several forks, and some kitchen scissors and invite everyone to sit down.
As a group, we eat together without a lot of formality, and eat together often, so I allow some of the “formalities” of serving the Bo Ssam to happen at the table. I nominate one person to cut the ties and pull them out, and then start cutting portions of the meat to pass around. Once the pork butt is initially cut into and a few portions dispensed, the meat starts falling apart and those close to the roaster and grab portions with the forks. If you are serving 10 people, the person with the tongs should make sure everyone gets a serving first because the meat will go quickly.
Beer and wine go well with this meal. When I remember to buy some cold sake, it also pairs well with the meal.