20 January 2014

Bo Ssam Triumph!

My gym held a "Paleo potluck" this past Saturday. I had no idea it was a competition, but it turns out that I won! I wanted to post the recipe here. Basically, I did David Chang's bo ssam, which is a Korean pork shoulder lettuce wrap. You can find that recipe here. I don't have any pictures of my entry, but here's kinda what the pork shoulder looked like.

Not my pork shoulder, but I got similar results. Source

But that recipe includes a lot of sugar on the pork shoulder, so I rather did the pork shoulder from this recipe on Serious Eats. Plenty of people commented on how they'd been able to roast pork shoulder successfully, but had never gotten the crispy skin that I was able to get. I followed the Serious Eats recipe to a T, with only a couple of diversions.


Adequately seasoning a pork shoulder is pretty much impossible. There's too much meat for too little surface area, and the skin prevents any seasonings from reaching the meat underneath. You could inject it or brine it or whatever, but that's a big hassle and a lot of time. The best thing to do is add flavor at serving time. That's what all the sauces and accompaniments are for.

So why salt at all? You salt the shoulder to get the crispy outside, not to season the meat. Copious salt is essential to getting the crispy skin.

Unwrap the shoulder (also sometimes called Boston butt) and rinse it. While still wet, massage as much kosher salt into all sides of the shoulder as you can in about five minutes. Keep going. It will soak in. This is pretty much all the prep you're going to do, so you can take your time here. Leave whatever salt will stick to it and put it on the parchment.

You might be tempted to make use of all the nice brown bits on the parchment and pan, but don't. The drippings will be inedibly salty. Let it go.


I've had mixed luck with the old "low and slow" adage here. Reducing the initial roasting temperature by 25F can lengthen the time it takes to get really tender by 1-2 hours. This is not a cut that overcooks easily. My choice is generally to roast at the highest temperature that will still give me a tender interior. 

I did 275F in a convection oven and got great results. You can really see when the shoulder "collapses". At that point, you can take it out and let it rest for up to 2 hours. It's much better to have a shoulder ready to go for 2 hours before your guests arrive than to be eating 2 hours late because you chose to go too low-n-slow.

For the crisping portion (10-20 mins at high temp), I chose 500F, but I maybe could've even done 475F. You want a temperature high enough to crisp the skin but not so high as to burn it.


I really think the scallion-ginger sauce benefits from having the ginger hand-chopped. Food processors mash up the fibers too much.

I did not do the ssam sauce in the David Chang recipe. I actually prefer bi bim bap sauce because it's not as vinegary and has fewer specialty ingredients. I served both at a recent dinner party and folks much preferred the bi bim bap sauce, even though it's not traditional.

My bi bim bap sauce is pretty much equal parts gochujang red pepper paste, toasted sesame oil, sherry vinegar, and water. If you're not strict Paleo, you can add sugar or agave to taste. Crush a garlic clove or two into it, stir and let sit.


For locals and gym members, the Korean specialty ingredients are available at the supermarket near the American Apparel on Flatbush and Park. Kimchi and gochujang are there, and they have great Bibb lettuce for the wrap portion.

This was fun to make, fun to eat, and fun to talk about. It was also fun to win something at my Crossfit gym, because lord knows I will not be winning any timed workouts any time soon. :)