Monday, August 23, 2010


Here's a Korean recipe that's quick, easy, and will appeal to even the most stubborn of midwestern meat eaters. I've altered the original recipe for bulgogi a little, to appeal to my personal tastes and cooking methods. Traditionally, bulgogi is sliced into very, very thin slices and cooked with vegetables on a hot plate or over charcoal. You wrap the hot meat in lettuce leaves along with rice, kim chee (spicy fermented vegetables, such as cabbage or radish), and hot chili paste.

Here's some bulgogi I had while in Korea last year.

Here's bulgogi at another, fancier restaurant. At this place they served it in a hot pot and it was boiled.

I'd actually asked for the kind you grill over hot coals but the language barrier didn't help in that respect. This was still really tasty.

Here are all the side dishes, called panchan, that they serve along with your meal. There are usually several types of spicy, fermented food--kim chee, spicy pickled cucumber, yams, etc. The bean sprouts are always my favorite. They're crisp and cool and served with sesame oil. You get quite a variety.
A picture I took of kim chee pots at the Korean Folk Village in Seoul.
 Traditionally kim chee (or kimchi) was made in the fall and left to ferment in the winter. The cabbage was packed into clay pots and buried in the ground. The pots are left to ferment. Today they sell kim chee refrigerators that are specifically designed for people to make their own kim chee at home.
Oops, I'm getting off track. Back to the meat.

When I make bulgogi at home, I usually skip the lettuce leaf wraps. They taste good and it's fun to wrap everything into a lettuce roll, but it's hard for our small family to go through a whole head of lettuce before it goes bad, and it seems so wasteful to throw away an entire head of lettuce at once. 

I also keep the steaks whole and cook them on the grill. I prefer the charred taste of grilled meat to meat cooked on a hot plate or on the stove, and if you slice the meat before you grill it, there's a chance of losing pieces through the grate. Instead, the steaks get sliced after they're cooked. This way, you can have your steak cooked like you like it, too. If you like rare meat, just grill it to rare.

To start the bulgogi, I make a marinade.

The Korean Teriyaki Stir-Fry sauce isn't a traditional ingredient, but I think it's a nice addition. It's very sweet, which cuts through the saltiness of the soy. The sugars also help caramelize the meat, giving it a richer flavor.
The first ingredients to take care of is the green onions, garlic, and ginger. I cut everything on a bias. This way, there's more surface area and more flavor gets extracted.

If you don't have these ingredients at your disposal, I've also been known to make the marinade with powdered spices (garlic powder, dried ginger, and onion powder.) Turns out okay. I won't tell anyone if you cheat a little.
I throw them into a plastic bag (I'm a big fan of using plastic bags to marinate--small risk of cross-contamination combined with easy clean-up!) Then I pour in the rest of my marinade ingredients.
Soy is first.
Then comes the sesame oil. I love sesame oil. I wish they made sesame oil scented candles.
Finally, in goes the stir-fry sauce. Glugglugglug.

I forgot to photograph salt and pepper. But salt and pepper. 
Then smush the bag together so everything gets mixed. And then take a big whiff. Stand there and enjoy for a minute.
Now it's time for the star of the show.

Today I'm using strip steak. My favorite cut for this is ribeye (a huge cowboy steak with the bone still in it is the ultimate treat.) Sirloin would be okay too, but the meat will be a little tougher and you'll have to be careful not to overcook it.
Into the marinade!
I shake everything up and let it hang out in the fridge. You can let this marinate a day ahead, or you can marinate as short as an hour. Either way it'll be delicious (or, as my toddler likes to say, "Nummy yummy.")
After a suitable amount of time, the steaks are ready to be grilled. I like to bring them to room temperature. This prevents your meat from shrinking and also makes sure your steak cooks evenly all the way through.
Slice and serve over white rice. I also like to have potstickers or man du or egg rolls along with this. Something pickled is a nice accompaniment, too. If not kim chee (I know that's not everyone's favorite) than some sort of sweet pickle is nice. My husband, who isn't fond of sweet things, likes to go the opposite way and uses wasabi or sriracha sauce. Hope this becomes a favorite--it's one of mine!

Recipe: Bulgogi

4 steaks (ribeye, strip, or sirloin)

1/4 c. soy sauce
1 tbsp. sesame oil
1/4 c. Korean stir-fry sauce

2 green onions, sliced
1 fingerlong knob of ginger, sliced (you can peel it or not)
2 cloves of garlic, sliced

salt and pepper, to taste

Combine all ingredients and marinate at least an hour or as long as overnight.

Bring meat to room temperature. Grill over medium-high heat for 6-7 minutes per side.

Rest meat for 5+ minutes. Slice against the grain into thin strips. Serve over rice.


  1. Huh! There's a restaurant in downtown Oakland that serves "bulgogi burgers" according to the sign out front, and I've been wondering what on earth that is. Now I know! It doesn't sound like a very Korean word though. But this looks really good, I might have to try it. :)

  2. Bulgogi (불고기) means "fire meat" (bul, or fire, is written 불, and gogi, or meat, is written 고기. It's very Korean! :)

    I've actually made an Asian-style burger before, with the same ingredients mixed into the hamburger as are in the marinade for the meat. It was quite tasty!