Around these here parts, we love a good interactive meal. What’s more fun than eating with your hands? (Don’t answer that.)
When I spotted red butter lettuce in our CSA, my mind immediately leapt to ssambap: literally “rice wrap” in Korean. It’s a basic but unbeatable dish: protein, rice, and flavorful paste (typically red chili ssamjang), cradled in the curves of a cool, leafy green. Like Vietnamese spring rolls, ssambap is just as much an experience as it is a meal. Its infinitely customizable components are assembled into handheld parcels around the dinner table — fun, informal, and familiar.
I took it upon myself to make ssambap in an effort to: (a) impress Jay, who is naturally all about the dish, and (b) prove to myself that I’ve learned something about his inherited culinary traditions after all this time. The only problems were that: (a) I wasn’t totally sure how to prepare Korean-style meat and (b) I was lazy and didn’t spend my time grilling, roasting, pan-frying, what have you. Thusly, I turned to my good friend for help… the slow cooker.
Depending on the magical properties of the slow cooker and my own intuition, I set about making a Korean pulled pork (vaguely modeled off of braised beef dishes near and dear to Jay’s heart). First, I browned a massive pork tenderloin in a slurry of Asian aromatics, spices, oils, and sauces. Into the crockpot the whole mess went, along with a strong hit of vinegar. I turned on the slow cooker, crossed my fingers, and prayed for the best. After a few hours, an addictive smell began wafting around the apartment. I lifted the lid of the crockpot, took a taste, and nearly fell over. This was, perhaps, one of the best dishes I’ve made to date — and, importantly, my Korean partner agreed. Like so many slow-cooker recipes, very little manpower was required to reach great levels of meat-melt-y tenderness. Unlike other dishes, though, this one featured an intoxicating mix of onion, ginger, garlic, and sesame oil and a bright punch of vinegar. We spooned the pork into the ssambap, wrapping them up into little gifts of greens, and enjoyed every bite happily and handily.
Korean pulled pork
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 1 red onion, diced
- 1 tbsp crushed garlic
- 2.5 pounds pork tenderloin
- 1 tbsp diced ginger
- 1/2 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 and 1/2 tbsp red chili flakes
- 1/4 cup coconut aminos or soy sauce
- 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 1 tbsp white vinegar (optional)
- In a large pan, warm the cooking oil on medium-high. Add the onion and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until softened and browned. Add the garlic and ginger and cook another 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently. You want the whole mixture to get nicely integrated and aromatic.
- Turn the heat to high and add the pork tenderloin to the pan. Brown on each side, trying to get as much deep color as you can on the pork. Once you’re happy with its browning, take everything off the heat.
- Add all the ingredients into a slowcooker. Cook on low for 8 hours. Try not to lift the lid, though I’ll admit I “peeked” at around hour 6 to taste and adjust seasonings. Once the pork is done, it should be fork-tender; remove from heat and shred into a delicious mess.