Back in 2006, when Dan and I were wee little things living in studio apartments in Bushwick, we'd cook lots of meals that his mom pre-packed for him. Frozen meatballs + jarred tomato sauce + spaghetti. Lots and lots of mandoo, or Korean dumplings. Chicken salad from those huge cans you can get at Costco. And of course, bulgogi!
She'd prepare him all kinds of Korean barbecue in freezer bags. After doing something dumb like playing Wii sports, we'd defrost a bag of kalbi or bulgogi in the microwave and then toss it on a way-too-hot skillet. The sugary marinade would burn and smoke would fill the apartment; but it was smoke that smelled like Korean barbecue, so we'd eat it anyway and it was still great. We never got those skillets fully clean, though.
Fun fact: "bulgogi" literally translates to "fire meat" which was how Danny justified the fire alarm going off every time.
Danny's mom doesn't pack us up foods nearly as much as she used to. I have to beg Dan to snag some homemade kimchi whenever he goes home for a visit. (Somehow there are still always thousands of mandoo in my freezer, though.) So I needed to come up with a tasty, reliable bulgogi recipe of my own. The below is as close to Danny's mom's as I can get. Slightly less sweet, though, which I like. And it helps with the burned skillet situation.
Cook this up, wrap it in lettuce and perhaps top with your favorite Korean pickle. If you're new to Korean food, this is where you should start. It's the meat everyone freaked out about when Roy Choi started putting it in tacos, your crash course in Korean flavors. I can remember the first time I tasted bulgogi. It's like flavor fireworks. You're going to love it.
- 1 lb thinly sliced ribeye
- 1 yellow onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1 2-inch piece ginger root, peeled
- 3 scallions
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 Tbsp sesame oil
- 1 1/2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 tsp sesame seeds
- 1 heart romaine lettuce
- Place beef in a large bowl. Thinly slice onion and add to bowl. Using a microplane grater, grate in ginger and garlic cloves.
- Roughly chop 2 of the 3 scallions, set third aside for garnishing later. Add chopped scallions to meat.
- Add sugar, water, soy sauce, sesame oil, vinegar, and pepper to bowl. Stir mixture and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour, or up to overnight. (You can also pack into freezer bags and freeze for up to a month--defrost before cooking.)
- Once marinated, heat a few tablespoons of cooking oil in a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add in beef and cook. First, any liquid from the marinade will boil off and then the sugar will begin to caramelize, giving you a charred (delicious) crust on pieces of the beef.
- Remove from pan. Chop last scallion and top beef with it, along with sesame seeds.
- Separate lettuce leaves and serve alongside beef. Stuff leaves with bulgogi and any other toppings you like--we used some pickled radish!