I love it when a plan comes together, especially when it’s a plan I didn’t even start out with. You know how that goes, right? You have this vaguely formed idea in your head, and this other vaguely formed idea sitting right next to it, and somehow they get together and combine forces into a much stronger idea than the other two ever were? Maybe not. But it happens to me all the time, most recently in the case of the durian adventure. As I mentioned in that post, my original, vaguely formed idea was that we’d get a durian, take it somewhere outdoors, and eat it. At the same time, thinking about topics to write about in this here blog I was pondering tackling another recipe from the Momofuku cookbook, since all of them seem delicious, slightly time-consuming, and require skills and ingredients that are advanced enough to be considered adventurous. The recipe I’d decided on came from a different section of the book than the pork belly buns – while those come from David Chang’s original restaurant, my next foray into his cooking would come from his follow up establishment – Ssäm Bar. I had a very clear idea of which recipe I wanted to attempt, but the vaguely-formed part came in when I was pondering what to do with it once I’d made it. The recipes in the Momofuku book tend to feed a large number of people, and it didn’t seem right to force-feed Mr. Menace, even if the recipe turned out well. So, I had a large number of people coming over, and a recipe which feeds a large number of people…ah ha! We had what the MBA-types refer to as synergy! And since I’d already purchased everything I needed for this particular treat, it was high time to cook it all up anyway, lest the ingredients spoil.
So what was I planning to make, anyway? Momofuku’s Ssäm Bar has a focus on, quite understandably, ssäms – a sort of Korean burrito. Rather than a tortilla, ssams can be wrapped in a number of things: seaweed, pumpkin leaves, even thinly sliced octopus! (The word ssäm literally means “wrapped” in Korean.) The most common wrapper, however, and the one that I was employing, is lettuce. The fillings are equally diverse. Momofuku’s specialty is the bo ssäm, made with dry-rubbed, slow-cooked pork butt, served with kimchi and oysters as accompaniments. I’d decided not to go that route, however, for a few reasons. The first was that it was going to be extremely hot the weekend in question, and the idea of leaving the oven on for six hours, even at a low temperature, was rather unappealing. The second is that both kimchi and oysters are rather polarizing foods. Kimchi is a Korean dish of fermented cabbage (or other vegetables, depending on the region), similar to sauerkraut if sauerkraut included some of the hottest chili paste ever to burn a tongue. It smells like death and can be nostril-clearingly spicy. As for the oysters, in addition to some people just really not enjoying them, they’re really better in the winter months and we were already into May. With all these factors in consideration, I decided to make something that I thought might be more universally appealing – sausage!
Yes, folks, I did indeed make my own sausage – although I didn’t stuff it into any casings. This makes more of a Jimmy Dean, patty style sausage – pork, with lemongrass, shallots, and sriracha. The straight-forward title of the recipe was “Grilled Lemongrass Pork Sausage Ssäm” – clearly David Chang is uninterested in cutesy names for his food. Fine by me! What was fun about this recipe was that, in addition to the sausage itself, there were a variety of accompaniments, including pickles and a fish sauce vinaigrette that I got play with as well. I don’t know that I will ever get tired of the joys of just how easy it actually is to make things like sausage and pickles in your very own home. (Although some day I will tell you all the story of my recent, repeated mayonnaise failures. The moral was this – always add the oil REALLY SLOWLY at first.)
The first part of the recipe is getting the sausage flavorings mixed together – just throwing the lemongrass and shallots into a food processor with salt, fish sauce, sugar, and sriracha and whirling it about until it’s all combined. However, you can’t throw in whole pieces of lemongrass, which is about a foot long and rather reedy, and Chef Chang warned that most folks don’t slice it correctly. So I made sure to follow his surprisingly detailed instructions on the matter:
I’ll spare you Chang’s detail, but the gist is that you’ve got to be sure to remove all of the woody bits, then slice it finely lengthwise before mincing it. Otherwise you just have unsightly lemongrass hunks.
Next, this is massaged into the ground pork.
I kind of love mixing up raw, ground meat with flavoring – it’s very therapeutic, like Playdough for adults. Be sure to use good food safety techniques, however! (Side story – I bought the wrong amount of ground pork at Market Basket and when looking for an additional pound, couldn’t find it ANYWHERE, so I just whirled some boneless country pork ribs in the trusty food processor. So easy, and it came out just as good!)
I was supposed to add some flour as a binding agent, but spaced and didn’t. I have to say the sausages held together just fine.
Next throw the whole shebang into a brownie pan to bake for about half an hour. This lets the sausage cook enough that you can really just brown it on the grill, as well as rendering out some of the fat so you don’t end up with a three-foot flame shooting out of your grill. THIS IS NEVER THE DESIRED OUTCOME FOR GRILLING, PEOPLE.
Now we were ready to grill!
I brought down all of the other accompaniments for the sausage – pickled daikon and carrots, a vinaigrette made of fish sauce and shallots, mint and cilantro, sticky rice, and sea salt, along with the Bibb lettuce wrappers. I put out the sriracha as well, for those who like things a bit spicier. Since we hadn’t planted the garden yet, this became our little ssäm bar.
I’ll be straight up honest here – these things are amazing. The sausage is perfect – delicately flavored from the lemongrass and sriracha, with the fish sauce amping up the meatiness to 11 (fish sauce is basically anchovy juice, a natural umami booster. It smells like low tide, but then performs magic in your mouth. It was a better example of this than the durian that day!) The pickles added sweetness and crunch, and the crisp, light lettuce encased it all beautifully. In addition, the burrito-bar setup made this a really fun party food. You’ve done it again, David Chang – I’m a believer.