Living in Northern New Jersey and the New York City suburbs, I have the privilege of having access to some of the best Asian markets around, specifically those owned by Koreans. We’ve also got a great deal of Korean Barbecue restaurants (also known in Japan as “Yakiniku”), and its always a great treat to eat kalbi and bulgogi right off the grill. Koreans LOVE their meat. While Korean food and Japanese food share many similarities, Korean food is far more meat-focused than seafood focused, given Korea’s geography and weather and resources. Also, unlike the Japanese, they LOVE lots of garlic and chili pepper. So if you love meat and spicy food, Korean is the Asian cuisine for you.
However, Korean restaurants are fairly expensive considering the amount of meat you actually get for the money, and real Koreans make this stuff at home fairly cheaply. I’m now going to show you how they do this, in my pseudo-authentic Jason-skewed, round-eye way.
For starters, you’re going to need meat. If you have a Korean market near you, you’re going to want to buy a large package of pre-sliced beef short ribs, or Kalbi (pronounced Gal-Bee). Regular, American-cut beef short ribs are fine as well, but you will get a somewhat different effect and the cooking time will vary a little bit because they are whole ribs rather than sliced up. If you can’t find short ribs, sliced Rib-eye steak is also good, as are any number of steak cuts, provided they are sliced and pounded relatively thin, for Bulgogi (Bull-Go-Gee). “Minute Steaks” or steak for Bracciole or shell steak or flank steak is also good for this. At Korean markets they’ve already got short-ribs and rib-eye steak cut for Kalbi and Bulgogi all ready to go. Actually, they have them all marinated and ready to throw on the grill too, but that’s cheating and its more expensive and you get less meat, considering how easy this is to do.
Now that you got your meat, we need to make the marinade. Korean marinade is something you have to play with, according to your personal tastes. For 2lbs of meat, this is what I usually do:
1 Cup of Soy Sauce (preferably whole bean, buy a Korean brand if you can. If you use Japanese stuff like a Kikkoman or a Yamasa try to get a Marudaizu grade.)
6 to 8 cloves of garlic, chopped. You can also buy the containers of pre-minced garlic from Asian markets, its fine for this purpose. At Korean markets they sell containers of pre-peeled garlic, so if you have to chop it up yourself, its not a big deal. Having a mini food processor is useful because several other things in this marinade need to be finely chopped.
2 or more Jalapeno or Hot Korean or other chili peppers, remove the seeds or adjust the heat as needed. I also like to give it a few squeezes of Sriracha sauce too.
1 Asian (Nashi) Pear, chopped and minced. If you can’t find an Asian Pear use a regular pear. Firm apples like granny smiths are good too. Chopped up minced pineapple also works very well. Another interesting alternative would be pureed mango flesh.
1/2 Cup of Chopped Scallions
2 Tablespoons of Sesame Oil
Grated Fresh Ginger
1 Tablespoon of Sugar or a “Glug” of Honey
1/4 cup of Chinese Rice Cooking Wine, Mirin, Sake or Korean Soju.
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Combine all this stuff in a nice big bowl, taste, tweak with more of any of these ingredients if necessary.
This is actually a good basic Asian marinade for pretty much any kind of meat or seafood. For Chicken, Pork and even fish I like to add the juices of a couple of lemons, limes, grapefruits, or even some OJ from the container. Mustard is also a nice touch.
Once you got your marinade done, throw your meat in the bowl, mix it up good, cover it with plastic wrap (or put the whole megilla in a freezer bag) and shove it in your fridge for a minimum of four hours. I like to let this go overnight. The longer the better. You’ll end up with something like this:
Next, you want to prep your vegetables. Pretty much the sky is the limit — Mushrooms, Onions, Scallions, Zucchini or yellow squash (Korean markets have these grey squashes that work really well), Chile Peppers, whatever you like. Slice them up, and put them aside for a moment.
Next, fire up your outdoor grill. Optimally, you want to do this on a charcoal fired grill, because it really improves the flavor and that’s the traditional way its done in Korea. But if you have a gas Weber like I do, no biggie, use that. Get it up seriously hot with all the burners going, because this isn’t going to take very long.
Put your meat on the grill, like so.
Cook it for a few minutes until they look like this. Then thow them on a plate and put aluminum foil on top to keep it warm and let the meat rest.
While your meat is cooking, throw your prepped veggies into the container with the leftover marinade and toss them up:
Yes, I realize you meat contamination freaks are concerned, but I can assure you all the icky things are going to be incinerated. After tossing the veggies up, throw them on the grill, and cook ’em up. I also like to take some garlic cloves, toss them in some of the marinade, and throw them in an aluminum foil pack. Traditionally, Koreans will eat raw slivers of garlic with their BBQ. I like having the cooked cloves as well.
For side dishes (banchan) you’re going to want to acquire some kimchi. There’s lots of different types, not just the stuff made from cabbage. I like the radish stuff myself and they also make a great one using Kirby cucumbers called Oi Kimchi. Your local Asian market, be it Chinese or Japanese if not Korean should have a few different types, as its becoming increasingly popular among different Asian cultures. If you are at an actual Korean market you will actually be able to sample these before buying them. Other types of banchan include stewed firm tofu with hot and spicy sauce, Japchae noodles, seaweed salad, and cold spinach/sesame appetizer. The variety that is available is pretty huge. All this stuff at the Korean market is made ready to eat.
Here’s a cold spinach appetizer we made for the occasion:
This was 1 package of fresh spinach, blanched, excess water squeezed off, combined with 1 and 1/4 tablespoons each of Soy Sauce, Mirin, Rice Wine Vinegar, and sesame oil, and two tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds. To do the sesame seeds we threw them in an aluminum foil packet and flipped it on the grill after a minute on each side.
Traditionally, Korean Barbecue is also served with boiled short-grain rice, the type used for sushi, such as the “Nishiki” brand that is sold pretty much everywhere. However really any starch would go good with this, liked baked potatoes (sliced up potatoes tossed in the Korean marinade and cooked on the grill works really well).
Optionally, you’re also going to want some Ssamjang (SAHM-jang) as a condiment — that’s essentially a paste of fermented soybeans mixed with red chili pepper and a lot of garlic and spices. Rachel and I call it Funky Sauce. Korean markets have a lot of different brands of this stuff, and it’s sold in quart sized tubs. I was able to buy a smaller container of it for like 3 bucks, like so:
Here’s a serving suggestion:
Proper eating procedure is to take the Kalbi off the bone (which have little nib-lets of meat that if you have a small dog, will love) put it on a lettuce leaf, along with some Ssamjang, garlic, and scallion (I like cooked as well as raw), along with a little bit of rice. Here on the plate along with a short rib and fresh lettuce, I have grilled vegetables, stewed spicy firm tofu, kimchi, and Korean spicy chicken wings I picked up from the Korean supermarket.