When it comes to bo ssam, many home cooks might think of chef David Chang’s dry-brined hunk of pork shoulder, roasted for six hours until tender, then lacquered in a caramelly crust of brown sugar. Coined a “miracle” by the New York Times and Momofuku Ssäm Bar’s “fajita moment” by the culinary website Taste, the beloved recipe is, to be sure, fabulous.

But the original Korean dish from which Chang drew inspiration is equal cause for celebration: Tender, deeply seasoned pork belly nestled within salted cabbage leaves and dabbed with ssamjang, a funky mixture of doenjang and gochujang, which highlights all the umami notes of the meat.

Here’s the thing: When you boil a slab of pork belly at just the right temperature and for the ideal amount of time — and with the perfect cocktail of seasonings — it can transform into the dreamiest sliver.

Excellent versions can be found at Kobawoo House and Hangari Kalguksu in Los Angeles’s Koreatown. Or at the chef Esther Choi’s restaurant, Mokbar, in New York City, where its braising liquid is dark and pungent with doenjang (a Korean fermented soybean paste). In the YouTube star Maangchi’s kitchen, the cookbook author and former gamer uses instant hazelnut coffee to flavor her pork and to stain it a gorgeous ocher.

To achieve this bo ssam dream, I pressure-cook my pork belly in the controlled environment of my Instant Pot. Thirty minutes on high is all you need (plus a few minutes for the appliance to come to pressure). Not only does pressure-cooking make quick work of what would normally take an hour and a half on the stove, but it also beautifully infuses the meat with whatever flavors are in the pot.

What you add to your braising liquid is up to you. I like a wine-dark potion of whole coffee beans, which offer a deeper, rounder flavor than powder, and dried bay leaves, which I first crush to release their woodsy perfume. Soy sauce and doenjang go a long way in seasoning the pork inside and out, as does a healthy sprinkling of dark brown sugar, which adds balance and molasses-laden darkness. Further fortifying this liquid is fresh garlic and ginger, the latter of which, according to my mom, helps to freshen up any of the meat’s lingering muskiness.

Perhaps most important: I always serve the pork belly warm, or at least at room temperature, while the flavors are still alive and fragrant (and the fat still has a flirty jiggle to it). Thinly sliced, this aromatic meat is a weeknight miracle.

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But bo ssam isn’t just about the meat — it’s about the whole package. Ssam, in Korean, means “wrap,” usually involving salted napa cabbage, especially the tender inner leaves; feathery perilla; or fresh, crisp red leaf lettuce. A variety of packaging vessels makes the diner feel rich and the table abundant, so mix and match as you wish. The world is your oyster (in fact, bo ssam is often served with fresh oysters). But the cabbage is essential, as it’s a reminder of bo ssam’s context: a dish to celebrate the end of a kimjang, the communal activity where family, friends and neighbors gather to make enough kimchi to last through the winter.

For me, unfermented radish kimchi is a welcome accompaniment to the fatty pork and easily my favorite piece of the bo ssam puzzle. Until you’ve had that bitter, crunchy tangle of brassicaceae nestled within that sweet and salty cabbage pouch, you haven’t lived.

Any way you slice it, bo ssam is a feast.

Instant Pot Bo Ssam With Coffee and Bay Leaves

Storage: The radish kimchi, cabbage wraps and ssamjang can be refrigerated in separate containers for up to 2 days. (Though the radish kimchi can keep for several months, if serving with bo ssam, it’s traditionally eaten within 48 hours, while it’s still fresh and unfermented.)

The pork belly is best eaten warm, the day it is made, but any leftovers can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days and eaten cold or at room temperature.

Where to buy: Korean radish, gochugaru, doenjang and gochujang can be found at Asian grocery stores, such as H Mart.


For the pork belly

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup whole coffee beans
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons doenjang (fermented soybean paste)
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 7 dried bay leaves, crushed
  • 5 large cloves garlic, crushed
  • One (2-inch) piece unpeeled ginger, sliced thick
  • 1/2 medium skin-on yellow onion, sliced thick
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 pounds (1 3/4- to 2-inch-thick) boneless pork belly

For the radish kimchi and cabbage wraps

  • 1 pound Korean radish, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch-thick matchsticks (may substitute daikon radish)
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 small head (about 1 pound) napa cabbage, leaves separated and rinsed (if your cabbage is large, you may need to quarter it lengthwise)
  • 2 tablespoons gochugaru
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely grated
  • One (1-inch) unpeeled piece fresh ginger, finely grated

For the ssamjang

  • 1 tablespoon doenjang
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang
  • 2 teaspoons rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely grated
  • 1 scallion, thinly sliced on the bias, for garnish

Step 1

Make the pork belly: In your multicooker, combine the soy sauce, coffee beans, brown sugar, doenjang, salt, bay leaves, garlic, ginger and onion and stir until roughly incorporated. Add the water and pork belly (you may need to cut the pork into a few pieces to get it to fit). Cover, make sure the steam valve is set to SEALING, and cook on HIGH pressure for 30 minutes. (It should take about 10 minutes for the multicooker to come to pressure.)

Release the pressure manually. Remove the pork belly from the multicooker and let it rest on a cutting board until cool enough to handle, 5 to 10 minutes.

Step 2

Make the radish kimchi and cabbage: While the pork belly is cooking, in a medium bowl, toss the radish with 1 teaspoon of salt. Transfer to a colander set in the kitchen sink and let drain, until slightly limp, about 30 minutes.

Step 3

While the radish is draining, in a large bowl, stir together the water and the remaining 1/4 cup of salt until dissolved. Add the cabbage leaves and toss in the brine until well coated. Stand the leaves up against the side of the bowl so the sturdier white parts are soaking directly in the brine and the leafier green parts are out of the brine. Let the cabbage sit like this until limp and pliable, 30 minutes. Drain well.

Step 4

In the same bowl you used for the radish, whisk together the gochugaru, fish sauce, sugar, garlic and ginger until smooth. Add the drained radish and toss to combine.

Step 5

Make the ssamjang: In a small bowl, stir together the doenjang, gochujang, vinegar, sesame oil, sugar and garlic until smooth. Transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the scallion.

Step 6

To assemble the dish, slice the pork belly into 1/4-inch-thick pieces and transfer it to a large platter, alongside the radish kimchi, salted cabbage leaves and ssamjang, and let everyone wrap their own cabbage bundles.


Stove top: In a large pot, combine the pork belly ingredients with 4 cups water, bring to a gentle boil, then cover and cook until the pork is tender, about 1 hour 30 minutes.

Nutrition Information

Ingredients are too variable for meaningful analysis.

Recipe from food writer Eric Kim.

Tested by Olga Massov; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

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