Momofuku Ssam Bar – Manhattan, NYC

Momofuku Ssam Bar, the first legitimate fine dining restaurant that I worked at. It was a classic New York kitchen; a lot of ball busting, sweat, cramped quarters, heat, and of course world class food. This was the place that really taught me how to cook with all your senses, intuition, feeling, intellect, speed, finesse, and practicality. It definitely was extremely hard working at Ssam, but the things that I’ve learned and seen I would never trade for anything in the world. The food there was amazing; very unique, extremely balanced/seasoned, and above else packed full of flavor.

Here are the dishes that Ssam produced, some of them I was in charge of so I’ll give you some behind the scene details about it. I was also fortunate enough to taste all these amazing dishes! Let the onslaught begin!

Dry Aged Sirloin – Spinach, Watermelon Radish, Nori

One of the best tartare dishes I’ve ever had in my life. Making this was definitely a labor of love, there is a lot of components that go into this dish but everything ends up marrying all very nicely together.

First, you start by making a some tarragon brine and then cooking some farm fresh egg yolks at 60C. It was very nerve racking to not break any of the yolks, you were considered an asshole for wasting a perfectly good farm fresh egg yolk. Cooking the egg yolks this way gives the yolk an acidic tarragon bite but it all balances out with the thick creamy yolk.

After you’re done making the yolk component, you then grind some watermelon radish and mix them with some brunoised shallots. The radish mixture is then quick pickled in some 15 year old aged vinegar. The cryovacking of the pickle results in a extremely vibrant fuchsia pink pickle. The aged sherry gives the pungent radish some sweetness and also a very mellow and smooth acidic kick.

After you got the pickle component squared away, you then get some baby spinach and quickly sear and burn it on the center of a french top. Once the spinach is charred on the bottom and slightly wilted on top, quickly evacuate the spinach and blanch it in liquid nitrogen. Once the spinach has become frozen, proceed to smash the spinach into a fine powder. Whip some creme fraiche up and add the spinach powder to it (and season of course). The resulting sauce is extremely tasty; the burned spinach has a great smoky quality to it and marries beautifully with the tangy and fatty creme fraiche.

The crouton component is just simply brunoised bread that has been deep fried in butter (oui!). Upon draining the croutons, they are hit with some umami loaded nori and a sprinkle of kosher salt.

And finally, the steak component of the dish is an extremely high quality dry aged sirloin. We break it down, render down all the trim and mix the result with some excellent olive oil (this is the emulsifying and seasoning agent for the tartare). The rest is brunoised and the other half ground.

As you can see this dish is a labor of love.

Corvina – Plum, Mizuna, Kumquat

Extremely delicate and sweet corvina bass sashimi, sweet plums, crunchy rice, spicy pickled kumquats, and minty mizuna make this a well balanced crudo dish.

Diver Scallop – Blood Orange, Yuba, Salsify

Sweet and creamy scallops, intensely fragrant blood orange marmalade, paired with fresh silken tofu skin (yuba), and crunchy salsify chips.

Santa Barbara Uni – Tapioca, Whipped Tofu, Shrimp Crackers

Sweet oceanic sea urchin, chewy tapioca balls, creamy whipped tofu, and crunch briny shrimp crackers. A+

Benton’s Smoky Mountain Ham – Madisonville, Tennessee 

Extremely smoky, porky, and salty country ham that is more aggressively flavored than the European counterparts. Paired with some red eye gravy (coffee aioli basically) and some freshly toasted baguette, the country ham is simply wonderful. Learning to butcher entire legs of these hams was also extremely fun.

Spicy Honeycomb Tripe – Ginger Scallion, Celery, Pickled Tomatoes

Definitely a refreshing “salad” of meat; perfectly cooked honeycomb tripe, celery noodles, pickled tomatoes, celery leaves, thai basil, and spicy ginger scallion sauce. The flavor combinations are surprisingly Chinese and reminds me of the spicy tripe salads I used to get at the local Chinese joint.  Definitely hits home for me and is one of the best offal dishes I’ve ever had.

Veal Sweetbreads – Thai Chili, Marcona Almonds, Sauerkraut 

One of the first dishes I learned at Ssam Bar and it was one of my favorite dishes there. I hold this one closest to my heart. The sweetbreads are soaked in court bouillon and then cooked in a bit of the same bouillon via immersion circulator. They are then cooled, cleaned, pressed, and finally portioned. It’s really great seeing a rather not-so-delicious looking sweetbread (they resemble brains in my opinion) being turned into something so meltingly creamy and delicious. The sweetbreads are then breaded in a bit of Wondra flour and deep fried until golden brown and delicious.

The almond puree on the bottom lends an amazing balance of creamy,nutty, salty, and acidity flavor to the sweetbreads. You pacojet some almonds with water and sauerkraut juice, strain, and season. The resulting sauce is incredibly white.

After you do your swoosh of almond puree, put the sweetbreads on top of it. After that, squeeze a bit of pickled thai chili syrup and then scatter some quartered marcona almonds. Drop some squares of sauerkraut around the dish, toss a bit of lemon V (diced supremes) for some juicy acidity, and finally top with some chive batons.

The sweet, salty, nutty, crunchy, crispy, creaminess of it all make it my all time favorite sweetbread recipe.

Chanterelle – Bone Marrow, Quail Egg, Shishito Pepper

Bright golden chanterelles, so sweet and delicious from being perfectly sauteed and deglazed with Hennessy cognac and then mounted with whole butter.  And what better to compliment them with pickled soft boiled quail eggs, pickled shishito peppers, wood vinegar, and a generous shaving of bone marrow tourchon on top? This dish was also one of the first dishes I learned at Ssam when I started, and definitely will remain in my memory for years to come.

Roasted Maitake – Olive Berry, Liver Mousse, Mustard Frill

It was my last day at Ssam Bar and I decided to eat there one last time with my sister and her boyfriend. When I entered the place I noticed that the smoker was out on the line. I went up to Chef Matt to see what was going on, and it was for the new chicken liver dish. Ecstatic, I ordered it immediately. The liver had a nice delicate smokiness to it and was unctuous and foie gras like!

Maitake Dashi – Hake, Sepia, Lily Bulb, Pine Oil

When it’s really cold outside, this is the dish I want. It was great getting to taste it so much on the line when checking for seasoning! The dashi is made with kombu and maitake mushrooms seasoned with xiao xing wine and white soy. The hake balls are fresh, spring, and bouncy just like the ones you get at the Chinese market. Sepia is quickly grilled and sliced into noodles. Black trumpets, pickled cucumbers, and scallions are then added to the dashi. The whole dish is rounded out with a fragrant green pine oil. An extremely savory and soul warming dish, I still think about it every time it rains outside.

Pork Belly Steamed Bun – Cucumbers, Hoisin, Scallion

The original pork belly bun! The bun is steamy, hot, slightly sweet, pillowy soft. The bun is slathered with hoisin sauce, a generous sprinkle of green onions, pickled cucumbers, and two thick meltingly fatty slices of pork belly. Whenever I had to work the bun station, I always made variations of these buns on my downtime. I made ones with kimchi, smoke mayonnaise, bbq sauce, sriracha mayo, Harissa mayo, sauerkraut, ham chips, you name the combination I’ve done it. My favorite combination so far is the regular momofuku bun with with a dab of smoked coleslaw or kimchi napa.

BBQ Steamed Bun – Crispy Pork, Smoked Mayo, Coleslaw

Another deadly rendition of the pork belly bun. All the parts of the pork belly we trim off to make those perfect little slices of belly on the steamed buns are glued with Activia RM and pressed together into a nice uniform brick. Once solid, the resulting pork belly patty is crisped on the flat top. It is served in a extra large steamed bun slathered with tangy bbq sauce and creamy smoked coleslaw. The cold crisp smoked coleslaw with the hot crunchy fattiness of the crispy pork belly compliment each other excellently.

Charred Spanish Octopus – Pine Nuts, Celery, Black Olive

Tender pulpo, crunchy pine nuts and celery, all the flavors go hand on hand. When we first served this, we had some crunchy ham chips to eat all the octopus with (think of the octopus as a dipping sauce for the chip).

PEI Mussels – Pork Jowl, Apple Cider, Kale

A simple yet  solid mussel dish. Steam some PEI mussels in apple cider, throw some jowl, jalopeno, kale in there and cover the pot. Once the mussels start opening, they are ready! Finish with some jalopeno oil and some grilled bread for dipping.

Catfish – Black Garlic, Kabocha Squash, Green Papaya

 The crispy catfish compliments really nicely with the refreshing green papaya slaw full of fresh herbs. The sauce that sits on the bottom is a earthy puree of kabocha squash and stock (kabocha trim) that has been seasoned with curry, giving it an amazing body and depth. The fermented black garlic gives the dish even more savory depth and the crunchy tempura batter sprinkled on top gives the dish textural contrast.

Whole Boneless Porgy – Turnip, Honji Shimeji, Shio Kombu

Chef Matt’s baby, the whole boneless porgy is definitely an ode to serving whole fish. Matt takes it one step further and debones the fish inside and out so that the fish still seems completely intact but in fact is completely boneless. The charred fish bone dashi is by far one of the most umami laden soups I’ve ever tasted in my life. The top quality soy, sake, and charred fish added to a dashi base makes for an excellent soup. The fish is steamed over tons of aromatics including galangal, thai mint, cilantro, and citrus. Once the fish is steamed to perfection, it is covered in texturally pleasing salad of pickled honji shemiji, braised turnips, and seaweeds. The dashi has miso and cilantro added and is poured table side (there is a strainer built into the teapot so all the miso doesn’t cloud the dashi but lends all it’s flavor).

Duck Ssam – Duck Confit, Ginger Scallion, Chive Pancake, Watercress

This is where I got inspiration for the duck ssam ramen I made for my Basque Stage recipe. The duck is done in the same method by puffing it’s skin (to separate the skin from the breast), stuffing it with a forcemeat of duck dark meat/pork, blanched, then painted with maltose and dried for a minimum of few days. We cook it via the rotisserie so the skin gets nice and crispy, the sausage nice and juicy, and the breast just cooked to a medium rare. Served alongside fresh peppery watercress, ginger scallion sauce, and duck leg confit, this makes for the best 18$ lunch dish in the city!

Spicy Pork Sausage & Rice Cakes – Chinese Broccoli, Sichuan Peppercorn

Spicy pork ragu laced with tongue numbing sichuan peppercorn, bitter Chinese broccoli, chewy rice cakes, and crispy shallots all make this dish the perfect “beer” food. The dish is also thickened  not with butter or cream, but with pureed silken tofu. Genius.

Lamb Loin & Belly – Egg Yolk, Bulgar, Pistachios

Melting soft lamb belly and sear lamb loin go perfectly with the creamy egg yolk sauce, crispy bulgar, and crunchy pistachios.

Grilled Dry Aged Ribeye (Niman Ranch) – Shallot Confit

A massive dry aged ribeye that is heavy with the aged funk on the nose and palate. It’s just a really solid steak, served with its own fat, and the chef’s choosing of a garnish (I got oysters over a cauliflower puree with fried brussel sprouts). Definitely follows Chef Chang’s rule of “not fucking with a good quality steak.”

Bo Ssam – Bibb Lettuce, Oysters, Kimchi, Kimchi Puree, Ginger Scallion, Ssam Jiang

The massive behemoth of a pork shoulder known as the bo ssam. It is cooked low and slow for many hours until it is meltingly tender and then covered with a mixture of salt and brown sugar to form an ultra crispy porky crust in a 450 oven. It is wrapped in a bibb lettuce leaf and topped with oysters, kimchi, ginger scallion sauce, ssam jiang, and rice.

“Pork and oysters, it’s the magic combination” – David Chang

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~ by Clifton Su on October 31, 2012.

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