Bulgogi, also known as Korean barbecue, literally translates to “fire meat” — traditionally cooked over very hot charcoal or open flame — and is made using thin slices of boneless beef. Ribeye is considered the best but any tender flavorful cut will do, including chuck and sirloin. I recently found pre-cut thin boneless ribeye at Costco and was inspired to experiment with making bulgogi at home. A good Asian market will often have thinly sliced cuts of beef — and pork — for bulgogi; Central Market in Anchorage often has bulgogi and kalbi in the frozen section. While shopping, look for some banchan, Korean sides, including bean sprout and spinach as well as all sorts of kimchi. If pre-cut meat is not available, ask your butcher or you’ll want to partially freeze the meat and hand-slice it.
The marinade is a flavorful combo of ginger, garlic, soy sauce, etc., and can be used for chicken as well as pork. Asian pear, apple or kiwi is grated into the mix for both sweetness and acts as a tenderizer, but keep in mind that thin cuts don’t require a long marination time, so plan for at least 30 minutes and up to 12 hours.
For cooking, grilling renders the meat crisp and charred in places, but keep in mind you only need to cook the meat a few minutes on either side. When not cooking over charcoal, a very hot cast-iron skillet or grill pan is my go-to; be sure to open windows for good ventilation. Leftover bulgogi? Try some in scrambled eggs, quesadillas, grilled cheese, on pizza, rice bowls, or wrapped in fresh rolls. — Kim Sunée
Makes 4 to 6 servings
About 2 pounds very thinly sliced ribeye or top sirloin (see note for hand-slicing)
1 white or yellow onion, thinly sliced (optional)
2 pints mushrooms, thinly sliced (optional)
4 green onions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch-long pieces
Vegetable oil such as grapeseed or avocado, for cooking at high temp
For the marinade:
This marinade is delicious with chicken or pork.
1/3 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 to 2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar or mirin
1 Asian pear or red apple or kiwi (about 5 ounces), grated
1/2 onion, grated
2 tablespoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons fresh grated ginger
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
For serving: noodles or rice; sliced green onions; sauce (3 tablespoons gochujang plus 1 tablespoon hot water; grated ginger and garlic; dash vinegar); banchan (bean sprouts, spinach, radish) and kimchi; hot tortillas and salsa for Korean tacos
Note: If pre-cut beef isn’t available, ask your butcher or hand-slice: Wrap each ribeye separately in plastic wrap and place on a small freezer-safe dish in a single layer and place in freezer, and allow meat to partially freeze (1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours, depending on freezer temp and thickness of steak). The meat is ready when a sharp knife slices through easily. Slice meat across the grain about 1/8-inch thick.
• Whisk together all the marinade ingredients in a large glass or other non-reactive bowl or in a large resealable plastic bag. Place meat slices, mushroom slices, onion slices, and green onion pieces in marinade and turn gently to coat, being careful not to break up meat. Allow meat to marinate at cool room temperature for 30 minutes, or chill in fridge up to 12 hours, turning meat for even marinating every few hours.
• When ready to cook, light grill or place a large heavy cast-iron skillet or grill pan over medium-high heat and open windows or turn on overhead fan, if available. Prepare all the serving options, including the sauce, lettuce leaves, side dishes, cooked rice or noodles, etc. Note: If you prefer less sauce and more charred pieces, drain meat in a colander, reserving some of the marinade. Pat dry most of the meat. Add some cooking oil into pan, so there’s a thin layer. Heat pan to high and when oil is shimmering, add meat slices and vegetables in a single layer, cooking in small batches, as needed. Cook about 1 minute, without moving, until browned. Cook, tossing occasionally, until meat is crisped around edges, about 3 minutes. Remove meat to a warm platter or other skillet and cook next batch by adding a little more oil to hot pan. When finished, remove all the meat to platter and add any reserved marinade to the pan and let cook a few minutes until thick and reduced slightly. Add meat back to the skillet and serve at once with sauce, lettuce leaves, warm soft tortillas, and any other preferred sides and sauces.