Conbini Creations: Quick-Marinade Bulgogi
Going to a restaurant for Korean tabletop BBQ is a culinary experience everyone should have. Not only is Korean BBQ really accessible for most any non-vegetarian/vegan person, but there are all kinds of fun things happening right at your table: cook-it-yourself meat on a scary-hot grill mere inches away from you! The endless banchan (side dishes)! Those orange-handled craft scissors used to cut meat and noodles! The tabletop waitstaff call button! And finally, the inevitable fact that your hair and clothes will smell like a BBQ pit for days after your meal, no matter how much you wash them. It's all part and parcel of going out for Korean BBQ.
But let's be honest, it isn't cheap, and sometimes you just want to dine in the privacy of your own home (where you can wear elastic-waist "eatin' pants" without shame). Fortunately, bulgogi, or grilled marinated beef (the word literally translates to "fire meat"), is actually really easy – and just as delicious – to make at home. All you need is a grill pan, cast iron pan, or a smokeless indoor grill, which is what I use.
Bulgogi marinades may differ slightly, but they all include soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, and some kind of sweetener. Often, people add Asian pear or kiwi to tenderize the meat and add natural sugar. The recipe I've developed is more akin to my mom's bulgogi recipe, which doesn't get all fancy with fruits. Still, this isn't my mama's recipe to a 'T.' I've changed a few things around.
For one, I'm using Haku Smoked Shoyu instead of regular soy sauce for the marinade. Straight out of the bottle, the smoky flavor of the Smoked Shoyu hits hard, and you might think the smokiness would overwhelm all other flavors. But in this recipe, it actually mellows out, yet lends a deep richness that I like better than regular soy. Even in just 10 minutes in this marinade, the beef soaked in the flavors. The other alteration to Mama Han's recipe: instead of adding chopped green onions and toasted sesame seeds to the marinade, I topped the cooked meat with these as garnish, so the flavors are fresher and more pronounced.
So without further ado, here's my recipe for quick and easy bulgogi!
Serves 3-4 people
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp brown sugar
3 tbsp Haku Smoked Shoyu
1 pound very thinly sliced sirloin, tenderloin, hanger or skirt steak*
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds, for garnish
2 scallions, finely chopped, for garnish
*Really thin slices of meat can be hard to find. We suggest getting it at Asian markets or request for this cut at your local butcher
1. Peel and chop the garlic cloves.
2. Peel the ginger and grate. I like to peel ginger with a spoon, and use a microplane to grate ginger.
3. Chop the scallions and set them aside. These will be used for the garnish at the end, but might as well get all that chopping done now.
4. Combine the chopped garlic, ginger, Haku Smoked Shoyu, and brown sugar. I like using a Ziploc bag to marinate meats, but a bowl is fine, too. Smoosh around the ingredients in the bag to thoroughly mix.
5. Place meat in the marinade bag. Use your hand to make sure the meat slices are coated in the marinade. Then remove as much air as possible from the Ziploc and seal the bag.
6. Leave the meat bag out at room temperature for 10-30 minutes. You'll be amazed by how thoroughly the marinade penetrates the meat even after just 10 minutes. If using thicker sliced meat, go for 30 minutes to an hour.
7. Prepare your grilling pan by pre-heating and coating with a thin layer of oil. You'll know it's ready when you sprinkle water onto the surface and it sizzles.
8. Lay down your meat in a single layer. You'll probably need to cook your meat in batches, depending on the size of your pan.
9. Flip after 2-3 minutes. You want the meat to be browned and a little charred around the edges. You'll get different results depending on how fatty the meat is (personally, I think the fattier, the better), but be careful not to overcook your meat!
10. Cook for another 2-3 minutes on the other side. Remove meat from the grill and finish cooking the rest of the marinated meat. Once all the meat is cooked, sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds and chopped scallions. Serve with red leaf lettuce, doenjang (Korean fermented bean paste), steamed rice, kimchi, and banchan of your choice.
All photos by Feather Weight
Conbini Creations is an experiment in cooking with ingredients found in the conbini, or convenience store section, of Umami Mart’s Oakland retail shop.