What is bossam?
Bossam (보쌈, 褓) is a Korean dish made of boneless pork belly, that is boiled in a mixture of herbs. The pork is sliced into thin strips which are wrapped in napa leaves that have been cooked in salt.
This dish can be served with various traditional Korean garnishes such as salted shrimp, fried garlic and more generally a spicy radish salad. You can also add ssamjang sauce or kimchi (the famous fermented cabbage).
To add a touch of freshness, perilla leaves are sometimes added. Bossam is often served as an anju, a dish accompanied by alcoholic drinks, therefore rather intended as lunch or dinner.
What are the origins of bossam?
The consumption and origin of bossam are related to gimjang, the traditional preparation of kimchi in Korea during which freshly harvested cabbage is prepared for consumption during the winter.
To help with the work, the pig was killed at the same time and prepared as bossam, bringing strength and comfort to all the workers, the preparation of kimchi being quite hard. The pork could thus be enjoyed with cabbage before it went into fermentation.
How to make bossam
To prepare a bossam, the fresh pork belly must be boned, making it easier to cut. The rind is usually kept. It ensures a good hold of the piece and gives an excellent taste.
A broth made with a large amount of onions, garlic and green onions is prepared separately. Ginger, chili (gochugaru) and pepper are added. They give a slightly spicy note to the meat. To that is finally added a fermented soybean paste called doenjang, as well as salt.
Aromatic herbs such as bay leaves can also be used. The meat is cooked in this broth then cut into very thin slices and left to cool. Indeed, it is preferable to cut it once cold since the fat freezes while cooling, which make it easier to cut. While cooling, the meat absorbs all of the broth’s flavors.
By preserving the slices in this broth, the meat is also easier to reheat.
Separately, a garnish made of napa cabbage is prepared by simply cooking it in cold salted water. Cooking with salt is enough for salads.
Various popular condiments from Korea can be added when dishing up such as peppers, shrimp, fried garlic, doenjang sauce or the popular musaengchae radish salad.
Each guest thus creates a wrap of their choice by enclosing a slice of pork belly in a cabbage leaf garnished with condiments. The contrast of the crunchy cabbage and the salty and spicy condiments with the sweetness of the pork belly creates a perfect balance.
The Chinese neighbors nicknamed the pork belly “five flower meat”, poetically recalling the successive layers of lean meat and fat of the belly. These alternating textures as well as the unique consistency of the rind make it a piece full of flavor. On top of that, it is a very inexpensive and nourishing part of the pig.
What are the variants of bossam?
Cabbage cooked in salt is sometimes replaced by lettuce, which is also cooked. In general, Asian populations have a habit of cooking salads before consuming them, which Westerners do not do.
Regarding bossam, in some areas, beef brisket can replace pork. Pork shoulder can also serve as a replacement. The broth in which the belly is cooked can also be flavored with star anise, ginger, tea or even coffee. These reduce the taste of some meats which can sometimes be quite strong.
Meats can also be tied and pressed once they are cooked so as to preserve their shape. They will thus be easier to cut and more presentable. Bossam can also be accompanied by fresh oysters and is then called gul-bossam (굴 보쌈).
Pork belly is a cut used all over the world. Often boneless, it is generally boiled in Asia and roasted in the West. It is a piece that requires significant seasoning because it can sometimes be a bit bland.
In China, it is often cooked in a broth quite similar to bossam before fully drying the piece and frying it, making the skin extremely crisp.
To dry the meat, different techniques exist. It can be placed on a rack in a ventilated refrigerator for several days. The dry air in the refrigerator will dry out the outside and keep the inside of the meat juicy. This is the technique used in the preparation of the famous Peking duck.
The meat can also be covered with salt, the salt will dry and soften the skin after sucking out the moisture it contains.
To fry pork belly, it is essential for it to be extremely dry. In Europe, pork belly is often stuffed, rolled up and cooked.
In Italy, porchetta is prepared with this method and is flavored with wild fennel. Similarly, it is cut into thin slices which are eaten in a sandwich with raw vegetables.
In the south of France and in the region of Nice, a lot of herbs are added such as Swiss chard or spinach as well as peas, parmesan and olives which make the pork belly lighter.
- 1 napa cabbage or Chinese cabbage tender inner parts
- 4 tablespoons coarse salt (diluted in 1 quart / 1 l of water)
- 2 large pieces of pork belly (about 3 lb / 1.2 kg each) cut in pieces
- 1 small onion
- 3 scallions (only the white part)
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 inch fresh ginger thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1½ teaspoon fermented soybean paste (doenjang)
- ½ teaspoon gochugaru (Korean pepper flakes), optional
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 bay leaves
- 2½ quarts water
- Radish salad musaengchae
- Fermented soy paste doenjang
- Green chili
- Salted shrimp saewujeot
- Fried garlic
- Soak the napa cabbage leaves in the water and coarse salt mixture for 4 hours.
- Rinse and drain well.
- Save the brine water.
- Bring water and all other ingredients except the pork to a boil over medium-high heat and continue to boil for 5 minutes.
- Add the pork belly and leave to boil for 20 minutes, uncovered.
- Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until the meat is very tender, for about 50 minutes. Turn off the heat and allow the meat to cool in the cooking liquid. This will keep the meat moist.
- Thinly slice the meat.
- To serve, each person must dip a piece of pork in the saewoojeot, then place it on a sheet of napa cabbage.
- Add garlic, a dab of fermented soybean paste (doenjang) and a few pieces of musaengchae.
- Add a slice of green pepper. Wrap the cabbage around all these ingredients and enjoy.
Store the leftover meat in the cooking liquid. Boil the meat in the liquid to reheat. This prevents the meat from drying out.