Korean-Style Grilled Beef: Bulgogi
Essence of the grill
Korea could not be further from the back yards of North America, the back yards of South America or the back yards of Europe -- but somehow, as if by magic, it has created the ideal dish for the back yard grill in these distant continents. This is doubly remarkable in that it is beef rather than the pork which predominates in its great neighbor, China, or seafood, which predominates in that other neighbor across the water, Japan.
Although the dish dates back over two thousand years, it seems like it was invented yesterday for a cookout with friends. Korea, too, seems to have set aside this ancient origin because nowadays it is cooked mainly in restaurants, indoors, though as in ancient times by the diners themselves. Another way to put this is that Koreans love the grill so much that they have brought it not only indoors but right into the center of the dining table so that you can cook your bulkogi right in front of you. An authentic Korean restaurant, whether in Korea or on other continents, is a smoky place, so much so that there's a hood and an intake fan over every table to suck away the smoke produced in the grilling.
Although thousands and thousands of grillers in the West have discovered bulkogi, it still awaits discovery in many respects. It can compete with the hamburger or the hot dog -- and should be given the opportunity to do so! More and more people should try this absolutely delicious dish.
You could buy a piece of steak or many other cuts of beef, create the proper marianade, and make your own bulkogi from scratch. You would want to marinate the beef over night, or longer, though.
Nowadays, however, the popularity of the dish has resulted in a variety of products which save you a lot of trouble. Though we will prepare and add a marinade of our own to this particular version, which is from Trader Joe's, you can head straight to the grill with this, if you like and are in a hurry.
Note that this one is made from de-boned short ribs. Following the tradition in Korea, these are prepared by butterflying the meat to unfurl the it into a long ribbon trailing from the bone. The bone is then cut away, and the meat is cut into thin slices, very thin for the restaurant grill, somewhat thicker for the back yard grill. But other cuts of beef can be used as well, including various types of steak. All are delicious when properly prepared and grilled with intelligence.
Once the beef is removed from the package it needs to be unfurled and flattened into the grilling pan.
This is what it looks like after that is done.
We are preparing extra marinade in order to have plenty to use on the rice which will accompany the beef.
- smashed garlic
- sesame oil
- soy sauce
- some red pepper paste or a little kimchi
- a little vegetable broth
Other possibilities: a little rice vinegar, a pinch or two of sugar, hot sauce.
On the grill
This isn't going to take long, not if the grill has been properly preheated.
It takes a while to lay all of the strips on the grill. By the time you have finished laying down the last one, it is about time to turn the first one over -- though you might wait a minute longer before doing that. Close the lid for that minute.
Note that the grilling pan, with the remnants of the marinade, is on the top shelf. When you close the lid on the grill, it will not take long for the marinade in the grill to start sizzling. Let it do that for a while and then remove the pan. Be careful not to let the marinade sizzle away.
The picture up at the very top shows what the meat looks like after you turn it over.
This picture shows the meat after its short time on the grill (a couple of minutes per side), and back in the grilling pan which now contains the marinade transformed by fire into a sauce.
It is now ready to be served. The smell is delicious, but for you to experience that right now will have to await further development of the internet. I can hardly wait.
On the plate
Grill some vegetables just before grilling the meat. Since the meat takes so little time, they will still be warm.
Here we have baby broccoli, baby bok choy, and a piece of carrot. Scallions are recommended, and are delicious with bulkogi. They are often served in a red pepper paste as a sort of salad that accompanies the meat.
Here also we have kimchi, the spicy fermented napa cabbage (or Asian raddish) which is even better known than bulkogi. It is widely available. See Kimchi - an Intro.
Don't forget the rice from your rice cooker -- you have one don't you?
Rice from the rice cooker
So simple. This is the small size rice-cooker. Two cups of oriental rice (CalRose is a good one). A rule of thumb is 2 cups of water for each cup of rice, but I recommend slightly less water. In this case, with the two cups of rice, it would be 3 and 1/2 (or 3/4) cups of water. Push the little lever down and hear the ding.
That's it. The lever pops up about 20 or 25 minutes later. Then wait another 20 or 25 more. Perfect every time. And you can make it well in advance, the rice cooker will keep it warm.
A bigger picture
A note about the name we are using here, "Bulkogi." The spelling used here is only one among many. Pulgoki (Pull-go-key) or Pulgogi (Pull-go-gee) are also common, as is Bulgogi. They are all the same delicious dish.
Real Meal. Unlike fancy food mags, where images are hyped and food itself is secondary, all pix shown here are from a real meal, prepared and eaten by me and my friends. No throwing anything away till perfection is achieved. This is the real deal --- a Real Meal.