Friday, September 25, 2009

A Monster Among Us

Just when you thought it was safe to walk on your lawn, one of these jumps out in front of you. This is the definition of a monster mushroom. This makes your average grocery store portabella look like an amuse bouche. The mushroom is almost certainly a result of the massive rainfall we've had at the beginning of the week.

I'm not sure what kind of mushroom this is, but if anyone out there can help identify, please post a response here. In the meantime try not to get too scared by these monster mushroom pictures.

EDIT: After some internet research I think the mushroom in question is a huge puff ball mushroom. They are evidently known to grow to giant proportions and they are in fact edible!

Sunday, September 20, 2009

David Chang's Bo Ssam

Vegetarians: please kindly disregard this post.

Everyone else: ready for some pork?

This pork shoulder recipe from David Chang of Momofuku fame, is a popular dish at Ssam Bar in Manhattan. The process of curing overnight and slow roasting the pork is a semi-lengthy process, but it is also extremely easy. Here I have taken a 9 1/4 pound whole picnic shoulder, removed the skin, removed the shank end, cured it according to Chang's directions, and roasted it. While the butchering on this picnic shoulder is more work than is truly necessary, it's kind of fun at the same time if you're into practicing some minor knife skills.

Above is a whole picnic pork shoulder. Why is it called a picnic shoulder? I'm not really sure so I dug around online. After all, at a little over 9 pounds its hardly the first thing I would consider lugging to a Sunday picnic. I found this website that I will quote from because it isn't the kind of thing I can take credit for coming up with on my own. The website says "generally, the shoulder is smoked... which gives it a very ham-like flavor. Since picnic shoulder/ham is an inexpensive substitute for real ham (which only comes from the hind legs), [it is speculated] that it would have been considered a good cut for casual dining — such as a picnic — rather than for use at a formal family dinner, such as Easter or Thanksgiving." I'll accept that as an answer. Anyway, on to some kitchen counter butchering.

The first step is to remove the skin. This isn't necessary for all dishes that call for a pork shoulder/picnic shoulder/pork butt, but for this recipe I wanted good contact between the curing agents (salt and sugar) and the meat. Removing the skin is easy enough - just tease away at the layer of fat under the skin with a sharp boning knife. The skin comes off fairly easily.

Once the skin is removed it can be used in a couple different applications. You could fry it in the style of chicharron (fancy way of saying pork rinds) or you can let the kids play Silence of the Lambs and make a mask out of it. Who says cooking isn't fun for the whole family?!

Here I have decided to remove the shank or leg end from the shoulder itself. This is an optional step but remember the whole thing now weighs about 9 pounds so you're probably not going to be missing the extra weight unless you're having a party. Removing the shank allows it to be used for another dish too, like soup. Cutting off the shank requires a little knife wiggling and exploring but it makes you kind of proud once you've accomplished it.

After a slight mis-cut, I'm almost done...

Done! Above are the separated shank and shoulder. The shank along with some trimmings from the shoulder are going into a freezer bag for a later date.

Now comes the first real step of the recipe: Mix one cup of coarse salt (I always use Kosher salt) and one cup of regular white sugar in a bowl. Thoroughly rub the salt/sugar mixture ALL over the pork.

Once you are sure you have covered everything, lay the pork shoulder in the bowl, cover everything with foil, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to overnight. Sounds pretty easy right? Now go grab a beer, scan the backyard for squirrels (Squirrel Kill Count: 138), and enjoy the weekend.

Day #2

6 or 7 hours before you're ready for dinner preheat your oven to 300 F degrees. Take your now cured pork shoulder from the fridge and set it in a large roasting pan. In the oven it goes... Every hour or so baste the pork with the rendered pork fat accumulating in the bottom of the pan. If you notice the pan drippings starting to burn in the bottom of the pan add a 1/4 or a 1/3 cup of water.

To the left you can see the cured pork shoulder, fat side down. I took a picture of it to show how the color has changed. It has turned a dark, glossy red because of the salt and sugar.

To the right is the pork shoulder fat side up, the way it will be roasted. This way the melting fat will help baste the meat as it cooks.

When the pork is tender and shreds easily with a fork (think southern BBQ) it is ready. Remove the pork from the oven and ramp it up to 500 F degrees. Meanwhile mix up about 7 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of coarse salt. I know, I know, you ask MORE sugar and salt? Yes. When David Chang says do something to pork, you do it.

Sprinkle this mixture of sugar and salt on the pork and put the whole thing back in the oven until the sugar has melted and turned a dark, caramel, crispy brown, 10 to 15 minutes more - tops. You might have to use the broiler, or if you want to play with fire use a blow torch to melt the sugar. Above is the sugar sprinkled over the nearly finished pork.

Now after all your hard work... wait it wasn't that hard, was it? Your oven worked harder than you did. Anyway, now you're finally ready for dinner. I'm serving this bo ssam pork with some Jasmine rice, red leaf lettuce, sliced cucumbers, sauteed shiitake mushrooms, kimchi, ginger-scallion sauce, and ssam sauce. Use tongs to pull apart the pork shoulder and mix and match the sauces, vegetables, and the pork, and eat it on folded lettuce leaves like tacos.

The David Chang recipe invites raw oysters to the party, and while I'm always on board for raw oysters, the wife and our good friends (including one shellfish allergy) weren't going to have it. Of course, the dish was wonderful even without the bivalves.

All of the recipes for the pork and the sauces can be found at various sites/blogs around the net, but I referred to Martha Stewart's site most often because David Chang himself appeared on her show to demonstrate the recipe. A video can be found on the Martha Stewart site by clicking on the picture above the recipe. Enjoy this with your friends; I can tell you from experience they will like it! Below is the final product - a great Sunday dinner.