Building your own recipes often creates some strange bedfellows. In this case, we developed a recipe based on the work of two cooking titans from very different places in the culinary spectrum: David Chang and Ina Garten. Chang is the bad-boy New York City chef of Momofuku fame, known for excellent, innovative Asian-inspired comfort food that is uniquely upscale and downscale at the same time (a tough balance to pull-off, btw). Chang is also known for extreme profanity, the occasional tirade and the pursuit of perfection. Ina Garten, better known as the Barefoot Contessa, is a Food Network staple, former Hamptons caterer and cookbook author who is best known for simplifying classic recipes and coolly saying “now, how easy is that”. I doubt they often share afternoon tea.
Actually, I have no idea if they know each other, or how they feel about the other’s work. But I will tell you that they have very different approaches to cooking- and their cookbooks bear this out. Chang’s “Momofuku Cookbook” has some very easy recipes, like pork belly, but is also full of multi-step, hard-to-find / make ingredients and sometimes highly technical cooking. The Momofuku cookbook, not surprisingly, reads like it was written by a chef. But happily, we do get some incredibly tasty, and easy recipes for the home cook like roasted pork belly. It is a great dish and anyone can make it. And it is really, really good. I have (very happily) had pork belly at Momofuku Ssam Bar and the home version competes very nicely. It is porky, soft, fatty, salty and incredibly indulgent. Yum. Double Yum.
(Ed. Note: A few years ago, we had a take-out roasted pork shoulder from Momofuku as part of a Thanksgiving meal in New York with family and friends. It was one of the best, most memorable, meals we have ever had. I thank David Chang and his team, to this day, for helping that meal happen.)
Now in the case of Ina, the Barefoot Contessa, the whole point of her recipes is that anyone with a few brain cells to rub together can make them. And usually the recipes work and the results are good. Now Ina removes lots of steps and simplifies things, so rarely are the results “the best you ever had”. But, she gets you successfully making dishes you may have thought were out of reach, so we think her cookbooks are great. (Ina is also one of the few cookbook authors who thinks about cooking as just a part of the whole experience of entertaining. In her books, she often helps the home cook make good choices to create a complete experience for their guests. In other words, if you want to throw a dinner party and actually see your guests, Ina’s recipes and menus may be for you.) In any event, her version of celery root remoulade is an example of a very tasty, but easy, dish you can make at home. It is a lovely combination of crunch from the celery root, creaminess from mayonnaise, tang from mustard and acidity from lemon and vinegar.
So how did this dish come together? Dumb luck, pretty much. We had some extra pork belly from making our weekly batch of home-cured bacon, and we had some celery root from the farmers market. I already figured I would make a version of the Momofuku pork belly for Ssam. Ssam? Think taco, but wrapped in lettuce. The Momofuku version of the dish includes a mayo-based mustard seed sauce that includes pickled cucumbers, but we did not have any good cucumbers available. So we looked for something tart and crunchy that we had on hand, and we found the celery root. Then Carolyn remembered that Ina had an easy celery root remoulade recipe, and we were off to the races.
And how was the dish? Really eff-ing good! (to borrow a common phrase from the world of Chang). The pork belly and the celery root remoulade are a great match, and the simple lettuce wrap adds a nice crunch abut doesn’t get in the way. With just three basic ingredients, you get a full spectrum of flavors and textures- soft, fatty, meaty, crunchy, creamy, salty, tangy, sweet and sour.
To try out this dish, we had friends over for a “global” taco night that featured the pork belly Ssam and traditional tacos with Salvadoran chorizo and seared sea scallops. And just as salsa works to balance the rich meat in tacos, the celery root remoulade compliments the pork belly in ssam. The pork belly ssam was a big hit with everyone (but frankly, so were the chorizo tacos, but that is for another post). Even the kids liked it.
And did I mention easy? The active time on this dish is less than 20 minutes. You do need to plan ahead a bit (6-24 hours) to do a quick cure on the pork belly, and it takes a few hours to cook, but the dish requires less than five minutes of active time. You will spend more time on the celery root, maybe 15 minutes of active time to julienne the root (food processor time!), but this is also a quick dish to assemble. And for a small amount of work you will get a tasty, exotic, restaurant-quality dish. And if you like it as much as we do, you can channel David and Ina and say “now how f–king tasty was that!”
Pork Belly Ssam With Celery Root Remoulade:
(Adapted from Momofuku Cookbook and Barefoot Contesssa)
Notes Before You Start:
- Celery root is also known as celeriac. It is not attractive, but it is tasty. In its base form, you will need to peel off the outer layers with a solid vegetable peeler or serrated knife before you julienne in inner flesh. If you get lucky, you can find celery root sold pre-julienned, even at the farmers market. Buy it that way, if you can, to save on prep time.
- Pork belly will often be sold with the skin on. You will need to remove the skin for this dish. Your butcher should be happy to do this for you. But to do it yourself, first chill the belly, and once very cold, run a sharp carving knife between the skin and layer of fat underneath. Hold the skin for leverage. Take your time, cut away from your body…;-)
Roasted Pork Belly:
- 3 pounds skinless pork belly
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 head of butter lettuce, washed and dried
- Combine salt and sugar.
- Place belly on a plate or roasting pan. Coat with salt/sugar mixture. Discard any excess mixture. Place belly in fridge and allow to cure for at least 6 and no more than 24 hours (more than that, the belly will be too salty).
- When ready to cook the belly, remove from pan and discard any liquid. Place a rack in the middle of the oven and then heat the oven to 450 degrees.
- Place the belly on a baking sheet, fat side up, and then put the belly in the oven for 1 hour. Baste the belly in its fat drippings after 30 minutes. After 1 hour, lower the oven to 250 degrees and allow belly to cook for 1 hour, or until the it is tender. The belly should be soft and slightly springy, not yet falling apart.
- When done, remove the belly from the oven. Reserve any pork fat for future use. Allow the belly to cool, then wrap in plastic or foil and place in the fridge. Chilling the belly will allow for easier slicing.
- When ready to serve, slice the pork belly into ½ inch think x 2 inch long slices. Place belly in a skillet over medium heat for a few minutes to warm up. Serve with lettuce and celery root remoulade.
Celery Root Remoulade:
- 2 pounds celery root
- 1 and ¾ teaspoons of kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice
- 1 cup of good quality mayonnaise
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard
- 2 tablespoons of white wine or champagne vinegar
- ½ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
- Using a sturdy vegetable peeler or serrated knife, peel the brown outer layer from the celery root.
- Julienne the celery root using a mandolin or, better, a food processor with the coarsest grating blade. Press firmly on the celery root, while processing, to get longer strips.
- Place the julienned celery root on a large bowl and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of the salt and 2 tablespoons (NOTE: reserve the rest of the salt and lemon juice for the dressing). Mix lightly and allow flavors to blend for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, thoroughly mix the mayonnaise, mustards, remaining salt and lemon juice, vinegar and black pepper.
- Add just enough of the dressing to the celery root to form a light coating. You may have dressing left over. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve cold or room temperature. Great as a side salad, or condiment for Pork Belly Ssam.