When I lived in NYC, my first apartment was a 5-story walk-up on the Upper West Side. Amazingly, my roommates were Korean American — just like me. Our fridge held a permanent jar of kimchi. Our pantry stored a big, multi-pack box of instant noodles.
Early on, when we were still getting along, we cooked a meal together. I made Bo Ssam. I wasn’t much of a cook back then. But I’d seen my Halmoni make bo ssam a thousand times. It seemed like a no-brainer.
My new roommates were amazed. Until that moment, they never knew that Bo Ssam was simply boiled pork. Yes, boiled pork. This much beloved, iconic classic seemed fancy-pants. But in actuality, it was easy enough for a new cook (like me) to pull off.
Since then, I’ve made this dish countless times. And each time, people have been impressed. With boiled pork. Now you can do the same.
What is Bo Ssam?
Bo Ssam is Korean pork belly wraps. Thin slices of luscious pork belly. Radish kimchi with oysters. All wrapped into cured napa cabbage leaves. The flavor combo is unbelievably delicious!
Traditionally, Bo Ssam is eaten on kimchi making days. When kimchi is packed into jars, there’s always leftovers. The amount of spicy radish kimchi paste and salted napa cabbage leaves don’t always match. What’s a Korean to do with the leftover odds and ends? Make Bo Ssam!
Nowadays, people eat Bo Ssam even when it’s not a kimchi-making day. For my version, I’ve made it even easier by replacing the cured napa leaves with lettuce leaves. Now Bo Ssam can be a weeknight dinner! Just don’t leave out the Radish Kimchi! It’s so good and surprisingly easy to make.
Getting the texture of Instant Pot Bo Ssam just right:
This dish can be made stove top. To be honest, that’s the best way to make it. But nothing beats the ease and convenience of the Instant Pot.
Instant Pot Bo Ssam requires very little from the cook. Simply throw everything into the pot and walk away. After 18 minutes, you will have the most succulent, tender pork belly.
The only risk is getting the texture just right. Since you can’t open the Instant Pot once it starts to cook, you never really know what the texture will be until the cooking time has finished. That leaves you, the cook, feeling somewhat unsure.
The pork belly needs to be jiggly and soft enough so that every bite feels decadently fatty. And yet the meat needs to be firm enough to hold together and have some chew, but not too much.
To ensure the right texture, examine your pork belly closely. Yes, pork belly may all appear to be the same size. But when examined closely, this is rarely the case. Pork belly can be thin or thick. Pork belly can also have more fat or more meat. Pork belly can be super long or rather short and squat.
All to say, the cooking time will differ depending on the thickness and length of your pork belly, and also the fat to meat ratio.
If your pork belly looks on the skinny end, try cooking for 14 minutes instead. But DO NOT cook it longer than 18 minutes!! I’ve never cooked it longer than that.
Of course, you can also cook Bo Ssam the old fashioned way: in a stock pot. But then, that would destroy the ease and convenience of the Instant Pot, no? Either way, I’ve included both instructions in the recipe card.
Why Instant Coffee?
Koreans have this thing with gamy-ness or strong smelling meat. And they’ve developed all kinds of tricks to prevent meat, especially rich and fatty kinds, from smelling overly strong.
I remember when Halmoni visited her sisters in South Korea one summer and my grandpa made bo ssam on his own. He put in a spoonful of instant coffee and told me that’s the key to good bo ssam.
I thought it was a weird thing until I started reading about other Korean cooks doing the same thing. Instant coffee gets rid of that gamy smell . Strangely, it neutralizes the grease and enhances the flavor substantially. If you don’t have instant coffee, feel free to substitute with 1 cup of strong black coffee and use only 5 cups of water instead.
How to Make Oyster Kimchi Radish:
If there’s one thing that will elevate your Instant Pot Bo Ssam, it’s the kimchi that’s served alongside it. This is the classic flavour profile of Bo Ssam: luscious pork, spicy radish, brine-y oysters.
Before you roll your eyes and tell me that kimchi and oysters don’t sound easy, let me show you how.
Peel and cut the radish into thin circles, then into matchsticks:
Sprinkle 2 tsp salt and mix. This starts the pickling process. After 10 minutes, transfer the radish into a new bowl, leaving the remaining water and salt behind.
Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. If you’d like, place in a thin dish cloth and wring out the liquid. This ensures that the final kimchi isn’t too wet.
Add minced garlic, gochukaru, fish sauce, sugar, and green onions. Mix well.
Add oysters. This is optional. But wow, the oysters definitely add that extra oomph factor.
Don’t go crazy and buy fresh oysters that require shucking and a special knife. Buy the frozen (raw) kind that come in a bag. Defrost them in the fridge.
Now it’s time to eat. Remove the pork belly from the liquid and slice into thin strips. Arrange on a platter. Serve with the fresh radish kimchi you’ve just made, rice, and perilla leaves and/or lettuce wraps. Classic Korean Bo Ssam, made easier in the Instant Pot.
In the words of Albus Dumbledore, “There’s a time for speech making but this is not one of them. Tuck in.”
Instant Pot Bo Ssam + Radish Kimchi with Oyster
- Instant Pot or large stock pot
- 3 lb Pork Belly
- 1/4 cup Doen Jang (Korean fermented soy bean paste) or miso paste
- 1 onion (peeled and halved)
- 2 green onions (trimmed and halved)
- 10-12 garlic cloves (peeled)
- 3 inch ginger (sliced thinly)
- 1 Tbsp instant coffee or 1 cup regular coffee
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- 6 cups water
- 1 tsp salt
Radish Kimchi with Oysters:
- 1 lb Korean radish or daikon (chinese white radish also works) peeled and trimmed
- 2 tsp salt
- 10-12 frozen (raw) oysters optional
- 2 Tbsp Gochukaru (Korean chili flakes)
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 green onions chopped
Instant Pot Bossam:
- Place all Bossam ingredients in the Instant Pot, making sure to add the water last. It’s ok if the Doen Jang is in a big clump. Turn off KEEP WARM function. Lock the lid and set for manual mode, 18 minutes.
- When the timer beeps, manually release the steam. When all the steam has released, open the lid. Remove the Instant Pot container from the machine. Set aside. This prevents the pork belly from overcooking. Keep the pork belly submerged in the liquid until ready to serve. Ideally, the pork belly and liquid should cool to room temperature before serving.
- Place all Bossam ingredients in a large stock pot. It's ok if the Doen Jang is in a big clump. Bring to a boil and simmer on medium low heat until pork belly is soft and tender but not falling apart, about 1-1.5 hours. The cook time depends on the thickness of the pork belly and also the ratio of fat to meat. Start checking after 45 minutes of cooking time by poking the pork belly with your index finger or tongs. If the pork belly is still firm and overly "bouncy," it needs more boiling. Keep cooking and check in 15 minute intervals until the meat is tender and not so "bouncy" when you poke it.
- Remove the pot from heat source. Keep the pork belly submerged in the liquid until ready to serve. Ideally, the pork belly and liquid should cool to room temperature before serving.
Radish Kimchi with Oysters:
- Chop the Korean radish or daikon into matchsticks. Place in large bowl, sprinkle with salt, and mix thoroughly. This begins the pickling process. Set aside for 10 minutes.
- Transfer radish into a clean bowl. There should be a lot of liquid and salt left in the bottom of the old bowl. Do not use this liquid; dump it out. Squeeze out as much liquid as possible. If you like, add to a thin dish cloth and wring out as much liquid as possible. This will ensure kimchi that's not too wet.
- In the new bowl with the salted radish, add fish sauce, garlic, green onions, gochukaru, and sugar. Mix thoroughly until well coated.
- Add defrosted oysters. Be gentle as you mix in the oysters. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge until serving time.
- Remove pork belly from liquid and slice into thin strips. Arrange on a platter. Serve alongside Radish Kimchi with Oysters, lettuce leaves and/or perilla leaves, and rice.