Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What I Ate: Ssam (쌈)

What is ssam? If you've never had Korean barbecue, you need to try it. And if you have been to a Korean restaurant to enjoy Korean barbecue, you'll notice that along with marinated beef and/or pork and/or chicken, you'll also be given a basket of lettuce, a bowl of garlic slices, pepper slices, spicy sauce, and scallion salad. Ssam literally translated means "wrapped" and you just make bite-sized lettuce wraps.

I've shared a kalbi recipe on my blog before, but I don't think I've shared 'ssam,' which is a travesty!
In our house, we like to serve ssam with plenty of accompaniments: sliced long hot peppers, thinly sliced garlic, ssamjang (which is a spicy condiment made from gochujang, fermented bean paste, garlic, sesame oil, and brown sugar), sesame oil mixed with salt and pepper, and duh, lettuce. Usually we use red leaf lettuce but once in a while, we'll pick perilla leaves from our garden (which is what's shown in the photos above and below). Honestly, you can use any lettuce you prefer - even iceberg. Bigger pieces of lettuce should be torn up so that each lettuce wrap can be eaten in one bite.

Other banchan (side dishes) are also served. I thought that it would be appropriate to make oi kimchi with the fresh cucumbers from our garden. This time, instead of using onions, I used garlic chives.

You can use any protein for your ssam. If you are a meat-eater, you can use pork belly (shown below) or kalbi (scroll down). You could also use marinated chicken, turkey, flank steak, etc. If you are vegetarian, tofu would be awesome.
If you decide to grill pork belly, make sure to use some long tongs because there will be quite a few flareups since the meat is so fatty. Keep those hands and faces away from the flames. Keep the heat on the low side though, because flareups = soot = not yummy.
Once the pork is done cooking, I like to drain the pieces on coffee filters, which soak up the oil nicely.
Grilling kalbi is another option. By the way, if you're thinking we're huge pigs, just know that the pork belly (above) and the kalbi (below) were eaten during two separate dinners. Stop judging!

Look at those grill marks; don't they make your mouth water?
You'll need a nice big bowl of rice.
And then you can assemble your ssam.
I like to assemble my ssam by starting with a piece of lettuce (or perilla leaf). Then, I smear on some ssamjang, add a piece of garlic and pepper, then add a piece of meat, top with a little bit of rice, and then I fold it up and eat it.
So good.

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