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 and our pantry stored a big, multi-pack box of instant noodles.
Early on, when we were all 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 Korean 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.
How to make Bo Ssam
This dish can be made stove top. To be honest, that’s the best way to make it. Put everything into a stock pot and boil away. After about 1 hour, poke the pork belly to see if it’s soft and jiggly enough. Most of the time, it needs another 15-30 minutes but it all depends on the pork belly.
If you have an Instant Pot, Bossam requires even less thinking. 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 it’s 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 have some chew, but not too much.
To ensure the right texture, examine your pork belly beforehand. Yes, pork belly may all appear to come in the same size. But when you look closely, this is rarely the case. Sometimes, the pork belly is very thin and sometimes the pork belly is very thick. Sometimes there’s more fat and other times there’s more meat. Sometimes the pork belly is super long and sometimes it’s quite short. All to say, the cooking time will differ depending on the thickness and length of your pork belly.
If your pork belly looks on the skinny end, try cooking for 14-15 minutes instead. But DO NOT cook it more than 18 min!! I’ve never needed to cook it longer than that. Unless, I’m guessing, the pork belly is abnormally thick with a lot of fat.
Otherwise, I recommend boiling in a stock pot and checking after 1 hr of cooking. Usually, bossam (on the stovetop) takes about 1.5 hrs, depending on the thickness. But then, that would destroy the ease and convenience of the instant pot, no? 😉
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 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 of my grandpa’s until I started hearing and reading about other Korean cooks doing the same thing. Instant coffee gets rid of that gamy smell and cuts through the greasiness. Weirdly, it neutralizes the greasiness of the dish 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.
Oyster Kimchi Radish:
Then there’s the kimchi that’s served alongside it. I like to make a quick radish kimchi and mix in frozen oysters. This is the classic flavour profile of bo ssam: spicy radish, brine-y oysters, luscious pork.
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 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.
Add minced garlic, gochukaru, fish sauce, sugar, and green onions. Mix well.
Add frozen 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. Since they are small, they don’t need much time to defrost. Usually, I take them out of the freezer and mix them directly, as is, into the radish kimchi. By the time you sit down to eat, they are perfectly defrosted. (If your oysters are abnormally large, defrost by putting them in the fridge for a few hours first.)
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 kimchi you’ve just made, rice, and 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.”
Tender, succulent pork belly. Spicy, fresh radish kimchi. Brine-y oysters that taste like the ocean. Yes, this is Last Supper material. And it couldn’t be easier to make at home. Especially with the Instant Pot.
- 3 lb Pork Belly
- 1/4 cup Doengjang (Korean fermented soy bean paste) or miso paste
- 1 onion peeled and halved
- 2 green onions trimmed and halved
- 10-12 garlic cloves
- 2 inch ginger sliced thinly
- 1 Tbsp instant coffee or 1 cup coffee
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 1/2 tsp peppercorns
- 6 cups water
- 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
- 2 Tbsp fish sauce
- 2 garlic cloves minced
- 2 green onions chopped
- 1 Tbsp sugar
Place all pork belly ingredients in the Instant Pot, making sure to add the water last. It’s ok if the doengjang 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.
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.
In the new bowl with the salted radish, add fish sauce, garlic, green onions, gochukaru, and sugar. Mix thoroughly until well coated.
Add frozen oysters. Be gentle as you mix in the frozen oysters. They will finish defrosting by the time it’s ready to serve. 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 rice.
*The cook time does not include the time the Instant Pot needs to pressurize.
**After cooking, remove pot from heat and let the pork belly sit in the liquid until time to serve. This applies to both Instant Pot and stove top directions. Then remove and slice into thin strips, preferably at room temperature. This will ensure moist pork belly.
***If cooking on the stove top, add all pork belly ingredients in a large stock pot except the doengjang. Bring to a boil. Add the doenjang and make sure it dissolves by breaking it up with a wooden spoon. Lower heat and simmer for 1 hour. After 1 hour, give the pork belly a poke. If it's jiggly and soft, remove from heat and let cool in the liquid. Usually, though, it will need another 15-30 minutes. Make sure the pork belly is not too firm or chewy.
****Doengjang is a Korean fermented soy bean paste. It's very similar in taste and texture to Miso paste, although it's much stronger. If you have a difficult time finding Doengjang, Miso paste is a good substitute.