Why It Works
- Washing, blanching, and then cooking the pork with flavorings helps wash away any funky aromas or flavors.
- Brining the cabbage leaves seasons them and makes them limp enough to use as a wrapper.
Every year in Korea, just before the first frost, families gather to make the next year's supply of kimchi. It's a huge job, and hence a communal one. To celebrate the job's completion, everyone digs into platters of bossam—tender sliced pork with flavorful condiments, pungent slivers of raw garlic, chilies, and more, all wrapped in a tender leaf of Napa cabbage. It's one big, delicious bite.
- For the Cabbage:
- Kosher or sea salt
- 1/2 head Napa cabbage (from about one 2-pound; 900g head), core and tough exterior leaves removed (tender yellow inner leaves only)
- For the Pork:
- 1 1/2 pound slab pork belly (680g), preferably skin-on
- Rice-rinsing water (optional; see note)
- 3 tablespoons (45ml) doenjang (Korean fermented soybean paste)
- 1 whole medium yellow onion, skin on
- 10 scallions or 3 daepah (Korean giant scallions)
- 1/2 medium apple
- 1 thumb-size knob fresh ginger, peeled
- 1 (1-inch; 2cm) piece cinnamon stick
- 10 whole medium garlic cloves
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns (about 15)
- 1 small bay leaf
- 1/4 cup (60ml) soju or vodka
- For the Saewoo Jeot Seasoning:
- 1/2 tablespoon (8ml) saewoo jeot (Korean salted shrimp)
- 1/2 tablespoon (8ml) soju or vodka
- Pinch gochugaru (Korean chili flakes), optional
- Pinch crushed toasted sesame seeds (optional)
- Pinch minced Korean green chili pepper (optional)
- For the Ssamjang:
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) doenjang (Korean fermented soy paste)
- 1 tablespoon (15ml) gochujang (Korean chili paste)
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed roasted sesame seeds
- 1 medium clove garlic, minced
- 1/8 teaspoon (0.5ml) toasted sesame oil
- For Serving:
- One small container mu malaengi muchim (무 말랭이 무침, chili-sauce seasoned rehydrated radish)
- Thinly sliced garlic
- Thinly sliced fresh Korean green chili (optional)
For the Cabbage: Fill a large bowl with a 3% cold-water brine (to make a 3% brine, dissolve 3g salt per 100g water, which is about 3 tablespoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt per one quart of water). Add cabbage leaves to brine and set a plate on top to keep them submerged. Let soak until cabbage leaves have softened, at least 3 and up to 8 hours. Drain and set aside.
For the Pork: Wash pork belly well under cold running water. Fill a pot large enough to hold the slab of pork belly with enough rice-rinsing water or plain water to fully submerge it and bring to a rolling boil. Add pork belly, return to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes. Drain.
Rinse out pot, then add a similar amount of fresh water. Add doenjang (it helps to thin it first with some water so that it dissolves well), onion, scallions, apple, ginger, cinnamon, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaf. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Add pork, cover pot, and boil for 20 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, uncover pot, and add soju. Continue to cook until pork is easily pierced with a fork, about 40 minutes longer.
Fill a large bowl with ice water. Carefully remove pork from cooking liquid and run under cold running water, then transfer to ice water just long enough to chill exterior of the pork (this helps firm it up and will make slicing easier). Let rest 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, For the Saewoo Jeot Seasoning: In a very small bowl, mix together saewoo jeot with soju. If desired, add a pinch each of gochugaru, crushed roasted sesame seeds, and/or minced green chili.
For the Ssamjang: In a small bowl, mix together doenjang, gochujang, crushed roasted sesame seeds, minced garlic, and sesame oil.
To Serve: Thinly slice the pork. Set out a platter with the slice pork, drained cabbage leaves, and mu malaengi muchim. Set out dishes of the ssamjang and saewoo jeot, as well as the sliced garlic and green chilies.
To eat, each person should dip a piece of pork in the saewoo jeot, then set it on a cabbage leaf. Add a sliver of garlic, a dab of ssamjang, and a few pieces of the mu malaengi; if you like, add a slice of green chili too. Wrap the cabbae around it all and eat it in one big delicious bite.
Ssal-ddeumul (쌀뜨물, or rice rinsed water) is a useful ingredient in Korean cooking, both for its nutrients and the mild, starchy flavors it adds to food. Use the cloudy water that runs off from the second or third time you wash your uncooked rice (not the first, which might have dust and other impurities). Rice-rinsed water is optional for this recipe, but I find it helps get rid of the pork's funky, meaty smell, which is not typically considered desirable in Korean cuisine.
Make-Ahead and Storage
The cabbage leaves can be brined, drained, and then wrapped in plastic and refrigerated up to 1 day in advance.