Friday, August 29, 2014

Korean-style Grilled Pork Wraps with Assorted Leaves (Ssam)

My recent short visit to Seoul had gotten me a quick fix on all things barbequed, fiery hot (so sadistically hot I nearly Poughkeepsied in my pants the morning after), coated and deep fried. No visit to Seoul - or anywhere else for that matter - is complete without a detour to the supermarkets, where fresh produce and meats compete in sheer variety with a mind-boggling array of all things preserved and pickled.

My favorite section of all Korean groceries is undoubtedly what I dub the "ssam bar" (sounds familiar, New Yorkers?) - a misty, self-serve cooler where shoppers arm themselves with a pair of tongs and pick away from a dazzling assortment of lettuces and leaves sold by weight. Here you will find stacks upon stacks of the intensely fragrant perilla leaf, distinct with its grassy notes of anise and liquorice, that are larger, rounder, flatter, and with a less serrated edge than its Japanese counterpart, shiso. While some of these greens require cooking, most are destined to be consumed fresh, enveloping a morsel of sizzling hot samgyeopsal (grilled pork belly) and a range of toppings.

My craving for Korean food hardly subsided by the time I returned home to my penthouse kitchen. Stocking up my fridge with fresh groceries from Korea, I began to plan for a power lunch for the following day. I needed something quick and hassle-free, and something to stave off my craving before I head to work. And so I 'cheated' by using a store-bought kalbi marinade, marinated some antibiotic-free pork shoulder overnight, and whipped together an improvised ssamjang the next day.

Below is my recipe for a fast and basic Korean-inspired ssam, or lettuce wrap, that also makes good use of my homemade Pink Pickled Radishes (click for recipe). I have also only recently discovered a way of lining my almighty Panini Grill to eliminate cleanup. So if you've got one just like mine, this delicious meal is practically ready in under 10 minutes with hardly anything to wash. Scrubbing down the beast is a thing of the past!

To Prepare...
Same results, zero mess!
1. Cut pork shoulder or collar into bite-sized morsels. Marinate for at least 30 min or overnight in pork kalbi marinade.

2. Preheat Panini Grill, line with aluminium foil, carefully folding in the edges to contain any runoff while grilling. Place marinated pork on grill, top with another sheet of foil, then press and leave to grill until fully cooked. Alternatively, use a griddle or a heavy skillet.

3. In the meantime, prepare ssamjang, which is a thick, spicy-savoury paste typically used with grilled meats in lettuce wraps in Korean cuisine. Either use a commercially produced ssamjang or make your own. I improvised with mixing miso paste with a dallop of Gochujang and a dash of sesame oil - super shortcut, and close to the real thing!

4. Check that pork has begun to caramelize and is cooked through. Build your wraps with pickled radishes, a sizzling chunk of pork, a tiny clump of ssamjang, and finish off with toppings such as micro sprouts for a cool contrast to the flavorful pork and a boost in phytonutrients!

Note: you can also add rice to make this a ssambap. Simply layer on a clump of rice and you've got a well-rounded meal!

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