Korean Barbecue Bulgogi Recipe
I feel like I talk a lot about Korean food on here, but those posts always get lots of views, so I'm guessing you're not tired of it yet! Today, we're talking Korean barbecue... bulgogi, specifically. I asked Dan to teach me how to make bulgogi a while back. His mom usually sends him home with lots of it when he goes to visit for holidays or long weekends. But I wanted to try making it for myself instead of relying on his trips home for my fix. Rather than his mom emailing a recipe for us to try, she promised to show him next time he was home. That's how I learned that if you ask an ajumma for her bulgogi recipe, she’ll need to show you with her hands. When Dan returned with his knowledge, it was all, "you'll need a palmful of this," "an index finger-sized amount of that," or "add enough water to reach your knuckles when you submerge your hand." After a few tries, we literally got a feel for how the proportions work.
You make bulgogi by marinating thinly sliced ribeye, but the marinade I'll outline below is incredibly versatile. Use it for beef, thinly sliced pork belly, pork ribs, pork tenderloin, even baby octopus or squid! I like to make a big batch of this marinade early in the month. Then, I package portions of my protein plus marinate in large freezer bags and freeze. You can defrost one of the bags for a quick and easy weeknight dinner. Just fry up the meat, or use a grill pan, and serve with kimchi and steamed rice. Or, have a little fun and make lettuce wraps, tacos or sandwiches. I like the lettuce wrap route if I'm having people over.
I've learned that nothing pleases a crowd quite like a Korean barbecue feast, and it's SO easy to put together once you have meat already marinating. Simply head out to Han Ah Reum and buy some panchan (or, make them yourself if you have the time and superhuman ability to plan things in advance!), kimchi and whatever other sides you like -- maybe some mandoo (dumplings) or pajeon (savory pancake). As Dan likes to say, Korean meals are "modular," so it's so easy to add or take away pieces, creating new menus with the same elements! Plan a dinner party in no time, just make sure to have some bulgogi at-the-ready. Here's how:
Step One: Buy your meat -- if you can find an Asian market nearby, thinly sliced ribeye or thinly sliced pork belly is traditional. However, Western butchers usually don't have a deli slicer like you'd need for this, so it's hard to get if you don't have an Asian grocery. Instead, a great substitute could be pork tenderloin, cut into bite-sized pieces. I usually work with 1 lb. of meat at a time.
Step Two: You will also need a couple of Asian ingredients that might take a bit more tracking down. Make sure to find them ahead of time at a local Asian market, international aisle or online: gochujang (Korean red pepper paste), sesame oil and good soy sauce. A lot of grocery stores in the middle of nowhere nowadays have soy sauce and sesame oil, but it's way cheaper at Asian marts!
Step Three: In a large freezer bag, combine a sizeable glug of soy sauce (about 1/3 cup), a couple spoonfuls of sugar (we use brown, you could use caster, or even honey), another spoonful or two of sesame oil, and a couple heaping spoonfuls of gochujang-- or make them less heaping if you like your food less spicy.
Step Four: In a food processor, puree half of an onion and 3-4 cloves of garlic. Add puree to bag. (Pureeing is completely optional. A lot of folks add sliced onion and minced garlic instead, which is nice too. The sliced onions give the final dish a little more texture.) Grate about ½ tsp of ginger into bag. Also, chop 1-2 green onions and add.
Step Five: Then, add in your meat, shake to combine and let mixture marinate for at least one hour. Note that at this point, you can stick your Ziploc bags straight in the freezer. When you're planning a Korean meal, defrost one bag in the fridge. If you're not freezing your bulgogi, you can leave the meat to marinate for up to a day in the fridge.
Step Six: When ready to cook, use a grill pan or thick-bottomed skillet on high heat. Brown meat and cook through (8-10 minutes). Heads up: this very saucy marinade will caramelize and leave your can caked in crispy bits. I usually deglaze once I remove the meat, but while the pan is still hot, to make clean-up a bit easier! Serve with some freshly chopped green onion and/or sesame seeds for garnish!
Once you’ve triedthis simple version, try adding grated Asian pear in place of the sugar, or add an Asian vinegar for variation. "In Southern regions," says Dan, people sometimes put pineapple in their bulgogi. Often you'll see this in Hawaiian barbecue, too, which resembles Korean-style in flavor. It's very sweet, but really tasty when you've got a great piece of fruit!