January 7th, 2011 by Jihye Chang
“Ssam” in Korean means something wrapped. What David Chang serves at his Ssam-Bar is a variation on something called “Bo-ssam”, which is steamed pork belly with radish kimchi, bossam kimchi, or cabbage leaves. There are many restaurants in Korea specializing in Ssam, and the fare usually includes rice (sometimes seasoned and shaped nicely), various kinds of wrapping leafy-things, and many condiments and toppings.
When Koreans eat grilled meat, meat is not the main actor. We put small pieces of meat in the middle of red leaf lettuce or sesame leaves and top it with many kinds of sauces and other vegetables.
I cooked “ssam-bap” with tofu and grilled beef Bulgogi (marinated ribeye) for New Year’s Eve, and my friends all loved it. So here is a list of simple recipes and ingredients.
1) To Grill
Bulgogi – I got Ribeye steak and sliced it myself. You can purchase really thin slices for “Bulgogi” at Korean markets. Or you can freeze the meat 20 minutes and then slice as thin as possible. Season with salt and pepper.
Easy way: Marinade 1lb beef with 3TB soy sauce, 2TB sugar, 0.5TB sesame oil, minced garlic 1TB, chopped green onion, little bit of black pepper, and 1ts rice wine (Not mirin, but cooking rice wine or sherry or sake). Some recipes will call for more sugar, or some mirin, some chopped green onion. But this is the basic and you can adjust with what you like. (more sesame oil, more sugar, molasses, brown sugar, honey, etc. I don’t put any vinegar in my beef marinade, though.)
Fancy way: Marinade 1lb of beef with 2TB Asian Pear juice, 1 TB sugar for 10 min.
Then add to this marinade for 30 min: 1 TB cooking rice wine (or sake), 1 Tb Sesame oil, 3TB soy sauce, 1 ts sugar, 1TB chopped green onion, 2 clove chopped garlic, 1 TB honey. (Taste this and adjust seasoning. You don’t have to use all of the marinade. Originally it’s for about 600g of beef, and a pound is 450g)
For pear juice, grating Asian pear would be the best option. If not available, you can use canned juice (shown in the picture gallery) instead.
Also you can just grill small slices of your favorite steak cut with some salt and pepper.
Tofu - this is not a typical item to grill for ssam, but my vegetarian friends liked it very much. Prepare firm organic tofu. Salt and let it sit for 20 minutes. Wipe off excess water with kitchen towel. Fry in oil until golden brown and crispy.
Pork belly (“Samgyeop-sal) – you can find thinly sliced pork belly in Korean grocery stores. You just grill the sliced pieces until they are golden crisp.
Mushrooms – enoki and shiitake are very good. The “Sae-Songi” mushrooms at Korean grocery stores are really good, too. They are long and fat white mushrooms.
Green onions (2 inch long) and onions (sliced as rings)
2) Wrapping vegetable
Red leaf lettuce, sesame leaves (you can find them at big Korean grocery shops such as H-Mart.), mustard greens, steamed cabbage leaves, etc. (Romaine lettuce doesn’t work so well, though.)
3) Sauces – you can prepare as many or little as you want!
a) Ssam-jang: 3 TB gochujang (Korean chili paste. Get Soonchang brand or Haechandel), 1 Tb doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste), 1 TB chopped garlic, 1 TB sesame oil, 1 TB sugar, 0.5 Tb corn syrup, 2 Tb chopped green onion (optional: 1 Tb toasted sesame seeds)
b) Sesame-Salt oil: 1 part pepper, 3 part salt, and 2 part sesame oil. Mix with this proportion. This mixture is very good for pork belly and any non-marinated meat.
c) Tuna ssam-jang: 1 can of tuna in olive oil, drained. Chop 1 serrano chili and half an onion. Put 1 TB sesame oil in a medium sauce pan. Put the tuna and stir fry a few minutes. Put 2TB doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste), 1TB gochujang (Korean chili pepper paste), 1TB toasted sesame seed, 1TB chopped garlic, 1/2 ts ginger juice, 1/2 TB sugar, 1/3 cup water and 1TB mirin (Japanese sweet cooking rice wine)
d) Ground beef with Korean chili paste (Yak-gochujang): Prepare 1/4 lb ground sirloin. Marinate with 1 ts soy sauce, 1 ts sugar, 2 ts chopped green onion and 1 ts chopped garlic for 10 minutes. Put 1 TB sesame oil in a medium sauce pan. Add the marinated beef and cook until about 80% done. Add 3 TB Asian pear juice and cook until the meat cooks and the water evaporates a bit. Add 1 cup of gochujang, 1 Tb sugar. Stir and cook for 10 minutes. Mix with 2 TB honey.
4) Side Vegetables
a) Shredded cabbage and onion with mustard sauce: Mix 2 Tb soy sauce, 1 ts prepared mustard (or wasabi), 1 Tb rice vinegar, a bit of sugar - add to very thinly sliced cabbage and onion. If you can find Asian chives (very thin, pungent smelling green vegetable), add some of them here.
b) Green onion salad (“Pa-Jeori”): You need to find thick green onions called “Dae-Pa” from a Korean grocery store. Slice it as thinly as possible. Make the seasoning with 1ts salt, 1 ts sesame oil, 1 Tb toasted sesame, 1 Tb powdered red chili (“Gochugaru”) and 1 ts sugar. Season right before serving.
Prepare the sauces/ Prepare the meat/ Make the side vegetables/ Wash the wrapping vegetables/ Set the table/ Grill the meat…then ENJOY!