Last year, J wrote a post on his mixed feelings about momofuku noodle bar. I visited the restaurant separately, and personally loved it. The momofuku ramen, their version of tonkostu ramen, is wonderful and distinctive, complete with a rich chicken and pork-based broth. They use bacon, and it does make it taste a little different.
I’m fascinated by David Chang talking about food in The Lucky Peach and in shows like The Mind of a Chef. His relationship with food and the way he tries to educate eater drove me to stop by his ssam bar on Second Avenue for brunch one day. We’d passed it before, at night, when it looks like it’s impossible to get a table. When we went for brunch, there wasn’t much of a life, which was nice. The atmosphere is very casual, and the menu is filled with unexpected and inventive choices. The focus is not on presentation (neither in decor nor on plating), but on experimenting with food, flavors, and melding different cuisines to make a distinctively new menu. We ordered the honeycrisp apple kimchi, the liver mousse, the rotisserie duck over rice, and the spicy pork sausage & rice cakes. Everything was very good, but the spicy pork sausage & rice cakes were really very memorable.
It’s deceptive to qualify this dish as spicy sausage-like, because it’s just ground pork that’s incorporated into the stir-fry. There’s also a good helping of dried red chilis, gochugaru, and Sichuan peppercorns thrown in, but it isn’t a spicy sausage. It’s more like a pork bolognese with Sichuan and Korean flavors. Regardless, this dish is incredible. The best part of eating it is the variety of textures, balance of flavors, and complexity of spices and ingredients.
To make the dish, you caramelize yellow onions in a large pan (I used a cast-iron skillet), then you cook ground pork in another skillet, breaking up the pieces as you go along. It’s a bit of a juggle to handle and keep track of all the ingredients, and I don’t own two large skillets, so I had to transfer the ingredients from one pan to another mid-cooking (ugh).
Next, the pork is reserved to the side, then the red chilis are toasted and the garlic is cooked in the pork fat left in the pan from the pork-cooking part. Then, ssamjang, Shichuan peppercorns, and gochugaru are added. The caramelized onions are incorporated, then the pork, everything is seasoned, rice cakes are boiled and added, and then silken tofu is mixed in.
The potent spices are calmed and softened with dense rice cakes and whipped silken tofu. Although not instructed in the recipe, I would recommend using a whisk to incorporate the silken tofu into the rest of the ingredients, as it adopts a fluffy and creamy texture that works really well with all of the other textures.
This recipe is now a household go-to. Spicier than a bolognese, it is more complex than a ddukboki, and hearty enough to be a stand-alone dinner. These are not ingredients nor flavors that one would happen to combine into a dish during a regular weeknight, but there’s no reason why they can’t be incorporated into your everyday food repertoire with a little bit of effort. The flavors in this dish are the expression of the thoughtful creativity that draws us to David Chang.
-V (& a little bit of input from J)