One of the best things that ever happened to me foodwise (and a lot of other 'wises, as well) was that, as a twenty-something newlywed¹, I had the opportunity to live for a year in Seoul, South Korea, and during that year I fell in love with Korean food. So it was with a distinctly unmanly squeal of delight that I greeted my buddy Andy's posting of a recipe from the South Korea booth at the 2010 EPCOT Food and Wine Festival, on his great Disney-themed food blog Eating (and Drinking) Around the World. I won't repeat the recipe — go read it at Andy's place! — but basically it's pulled pork butt (aka shoulder) served in a lettuce wrap with a Korean cabbage slaw — essentially a quick kimchee — and a mayonnaise-based sesame sauce... a somewhat simplified version of bo ssam.
Like Andy, my first thought was to wonder if the distinctive Korean flavors would be tamed to satisfy the tastes of Disney's guests, but I trust Andy's judgment, and I had a 4-day weekend (a <smile>paid holiday</smile> and an <grumble>unpaid furlough day</grumble> wrapped around Easter weekend) that was just begging to be spent (at least in part) cooking, so I decided to dive in and cook.
The first fun part was the shopping, and the first thing I learned is that I need to re-learn hangul, the Korean alphabet. I never learned much Korean while living there — not only is it really hard, but the fact that we were there to teach English meant that most of the Koreans I knew preferred to practice my language than teach me theirs — but hangul is a strictly phonetic alphabet (even if it does sorta' look like Chinese characters), and easy to learn. Most of the goods on the shelves of my local Korean market have their English (or at least romanized) names on the label somewhere, but refreshing my ability to sound out Korean words would make the shopping easier. That said, most of the goodies I ended up buying — sriracha and fish sauce (the smallest bottle was a huge canister I'll likely never use up!) — weren't even Korean anyway. The sriracha was a substitute for sambal oelek, which I couldn't find anywhere... until after I'd already finished the dish, at which time I stumbled over the stuff in a regular, non-Asian supermarket! Go figure, eh?
Anyway, after the shopping, I got down to cooking. The best pork butt I could find was a little bigger (3.05 lb) than the recipe specified (2.5 lb), but a little extra pig can never be a bad thing, right? Rub it with a mix of light brown sugar and salt, bag it, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. I vacuum-bagged mine, but that's not really necessary: I just didn't have a gallon ziploc handy, and used that as a convenient excuse to play with my vac-sealer toys! Once the meat is marinated (does this count as a brine?), it goes into a 300°F oven for 4.5 to 5 hr (a bit longer in my case, because my hunk 'o pig was a bit oversized) after a rinse and a pat-down. Nothing is difficult about this dish, but you do have to pay attention to timing: In addition to seasoning the meat overnight, the slaw needs at least 2 hr in the fridge after it's assembled and while the mayo doesn't need to "age," you do want to refrigerate it before serving, and if you toast your own sesame seeds, they need time to cool before they're added to the mayo. So...
Get the pork in the oven, then within a reasonable time cut the veggies for the slaw and make the dressing:
Toss the veggies and dressing together, cover, and refrigerate. Go have an adult beverage and watch a bit of TV. After 'while, toast your sesame seeds per the recipe, and give 'em about 10 min to cool. You can buy sesame seeds already toasted — in fact, in the Asian market, I couldn't find them untoasted in sizes smaller than a sackful! — but for me, doing the cooking is kinda' the point, and even something as apparently trivial as toasting sesame seeds makes me feel like I'm cooking. While the seeds are cooling, check the pork, and baste it with the rendered fat (do this 3 or 4 times during cooking). When the seeds are at room temperature, combine with the mayo and other ingredients to make the sauce, and then refrigerate (are you getting the idea that you need to make sure in advance you've got some space in the fridge?). Have another adult beverage... or two! About half an hour before you expect the pork to be done, pick, wash, and pat dry your lettuce leaves.
When the pig is done, you will behold a wondrous sight:
They call it "pulled pork," but if you've done everything right, you won't have to pull very hard. Barely threaten the meat with a pair of forks, and it'll instantly surrender itself into a quivering mass of tasty, tender shreds:
Keep in mind that there's nothing Korean about the meat itself: All the Korean flavors are in the slaw and mayo. At this point if you put this on a bun with some BBQ sauce, you'd have a perfectly cromulent pulled pork sandwich. But add the slaw (which should be nicely wilted and flavorful by this point), the mayo, and the lettuce wrappers, and you've got a great Korean meal:
Despite any concern that this might be too Americanized, the flavors are all there. Biting into a lettuce-wrapped bundle, I could close my eyes and easily imagine myself at one of the local lunch spots in Yeoksam-dong, near the school we taught at.
But an easy dish like this is a dangerous tease: I have the Momofuku book, and having made this, I'm now itching to try David Chang's more ambitious version of bo ssam. FSM only knows what I'll get myself into!
¹ By The Newlywed Game standards, in any case: We'd been married less than 2 years at the time.