Thursday, January 3, 2013

Pork Belly Ssam with Mustard Seed Sauce

In trying to figure out what Alex and I should make for Christmas I got hung up on a few items we had in our freezer - pork belly and duck breasts.  Now I know that ham and goose are more traditionally served at Christmas but sometimes you have to improvise.  We didn't have ham or goose in the freezer and I don't really like goose anyway.  As far as I was concerned, the pork belly and duck breasts were far superior alternatives.

Once we settled on pork belly for Christmas Eve I decided that we should make this David Chang recipe from Momofuku that I have been saving up for a lazy Sunday.  This is one of those recipes that needs plenty of time because it is kind of crazy and labor-intensive.  So we threw the sugar and salt brine early that morning and let it hang out in the fridge for 10 hours before roasting the pork belly in the oven.  While the pork belly was roasting we pickled the mustard seeds and then made the sauce.  If you count the brining time the meal probably took a good 12-3 hours to make and to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure it was worth it.  Our pork was insanely salty (even though we used maybe half of the salt-sugar mixture).  I wish we had rinsed off the salt-sugar mixture before roasting the pork belly.  That might have made all of the difference in the world because the flavor of the pork belly itself would have been really nice if it weren't for the intensely oversalted exterior.  It was also verging on being too caramelized on the outside.  I love a good bark on the outside of my BBQ, but the sugar and salt here formed a pretty hard crust on the outside of the pork.  It wasn't burnt, but I think if we had left the pork belly in the oven for another 5-10 minutes it would have been.  Rinsing off the sugar-salt mixture might have helped out there too.  Or perhaps we should have modified the cooking temperature/time to cut down on the crust on the outside.  Beyond the pork belly itself, I didn't actually enjoy the sauce that much.  I love coarse Dijon mustard, but this almost reminded me of the sauce for potato salad.  I think it was the combination of mustard and mayonnaise...  All things considered I would say that this dish wasn't a smashing success, but it wasn't an abject failure either.  It just needed a lot of tweaks.  And since we live in NYC, maybe the solution is to just go to Momofuku Ssam and get the dish there, rather than trying to re-create it at home.

Recipe after the jump!

Pork Belly Ssam with Mustard Seed Sauce
Adapted from Momofuku
By David Chang and Peter Meehan

For pork belly
3 lb slab skinless pork belly
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups rice
2-3 heads Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, well-washed and spun dry
Maldon or other high-quality sea sat
For Mustard Seed Sauce
6 tbsp Pickled Mustard Seeds (see below)
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tbsp Chinese hot mustard
3 tbsp Kewpie mayonnaise
3 tbsp scallions, green and white parts, thinly sliced
3 tbsp Quick-Pickled Cucumbers (see below)

Nestle the pork belly in a roasting pan or other oven-safe dish that holds it snugly.  Combine salt and sugar in a small bowl and rub the mix into the meat, discarding any excess.  Cover the pan with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for at least 6 hours, and as long as 24.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.

Discard any liquid that has accumulated, put the belly in the oven and roast for 1 hour, basting it with rendered fat at the halfway point.

Reduce the oven temperature to 250 degrees F.  Cook for another 30 minutes or so.  The belly should be a little resistant, a little firm, shy of jiggly tenderness.  Remove the pan from the oven and allow the pork belly to cool.  When the belly is cool enough to handle, remove from the pan and set aside to cool on a cutting board for 20 minutes to cool further.

While the pork is cooling, combine the pickled mustard seeds, mustards, mayonnaise, scallions and diced quick-pickled cucumbers.  Stir until evenly mixed.  Season to taste with s&p (we also added a pinh of sugar).  Set aside.

Slice the pork belly into 1/2-inch thick slices.  Serve the pork belly warm with the lettuce leaves, rice, sea salt and Mustard Seed Sauce.  (If you are feeling ambitious you can cool the pork belly so that it slices more evenly, then slice it and grill it lightly on both sides to heat through and get nice grill marks and then serve with lettuce leaves, etc. but we totally skipped that step.)

Pickled Mustard Seeds
By David Chang and Peter Meehan

1 cup yellow mustard seeds
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups rice wine vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt

Combine the mustard seeds, water, vinegar, sugar and salt in a small saucepan.  Bring to a very gentle simmer over low heat.  Cook the mustard seeds, stirring regularly, until they are plump and tender, about 45 minutes.  If the seeds look like they are drying out, add water as needed to keep them barely submerged.  Cool and store in a covered container in the refrigerator.  Pickled mustard seeds will keep for months.

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