Lamp and I love bossam: the succulent, juicy and flavorful pork is complemented by the aromatic sesame leaf, briny oysters, sweet kimchi and salty fermented shrimps. Being so much in love with the dish, I couldn’t stop thinking about the disparate components and how well they combine together. I was particularly intrigued by the contribution of raw oysters to the overall experience of bossam and decided to make oysters the focus of our homage to bossam. Most of the flavors and spices of bossam were included in this recipe but with oysters providing juiciness and succulence, boiled pork belly was replaced with prosciutto.
As with all our food experimentation, we first had to master the original dish before we let imagination run free. We learned to make bossam for ourselves and families. I really liked the Korean way of boiling pork for bossam: pork belly was first blanched with boiling water (with added ground coffee) to get rid of undesired scents, then cooked in a fragrant broth consisting of ginger, garlic, onions, scallion and Korean soybean paste. It was a much more elaborate way to boil pork than what we were used to in Vietnamese cuisine but it made the cooked pork so much more flavorful. This pork would be great also in Vietnamese dishes that paired pork with mắm, maybe even in gỏi cuốn (spring rolls).
Now onto our creation: we first made the bossam broth by boiling ginger, garlic, onions, scallion, cabbage and Korean soybean paste in water for over an hour to reduce and concentrate the broth. The broth was strained to discard all solid pieces. Then we cooked the oysters in this broth at 48°C for 20 minutes using our water bath setup and chilled. We cooked oysters at this temperature to slightly firm up the texture of raw oysters without making it chewy (technique learned from Ideas In Food). We assembled the dish by laying oyster on a piece of sesame leaf, adding a few drops of the bossam/oyster broth and topping with prosciutto. Diners were encourage to wrap (i.e. put the “ssam” in bossam) the sesame leaf around the oysters and prosciutto to experience the combined flavors.
There you have it, version 1.0 of our bossam-inspired oysters. We were quite happy with how our idea turned out: ham worked great with bossam-flavored oysters and sesame leaf. We also like this version for preserving the experience of eating bossam: wrapping meat and oyster in sesame leaf. Our guests also told us they liked the texture of the oysters and the flavor combination. Pretty good for v1.0
We had to improvise quite a bit this time due to lack of equipment and time. Our original idea was to serve oysters in their own half shells. We didn’t have time to shuck oysters so had to go with the frozen variety this time around. We also wanted to use nuttier tasting jamón ibérico but couldn’t get some from Zingerman’s before Lamp left Ann Arbor, so had to go with supermarket prosciutto. Other experiments showed us that tofu misozuke worked quite well with prosciutto and would be an interesting addition to the dish. There are a lot of ideas for the next iteration of this dish. Stay tuned!
Finally, our success with bossam (or rather, its success with us) led to our instituting a rule on food: “if the waitstaff warned us that a particular dish was a local delicacy and might be difficult to eat for non-natives, we must insist on ordering it.” This happened both in our first encounter with bossam in Boston, and in our subsequent discovery of a particularly fine version of it at Seoul Garden in Ann Arbor. Since then, such warnings have come to heighten our enthusiasms for an unknown dish ordered on account of an interesting menu blurb alone. As we experienced ourselves with nem chua, people tend to underestimate the ability of foreigners to enjoy local delicacies. On the other hand, if a restaurant took pains to offer a dish they themselves considered unmarketable to the general population, surely that dish had to be a labor of love and/or a specialty sought after by connoisseurs. In any case, eat fearlessly.