**NOTE** this is an old post, but I finally got a hold of the archived mp3 for the Midday show I mention below. Enjoy!
My upcoming appearance on Midday with Dan Rodricks Show has had a kinda surprising side effect. After kicking around some ideas with the producer, I realized that over at least the past several years, approaching a decade even, I haven’t cooked any Korean barbeque. Like, AT ALL. Whiskey tango foxtrot.
It’s not that I haven’t mixed up the grilling a bit, what with stuff like pizza and such, and after all that’s what Korean, and for that matter pretty much any other country’s barbeque is – grilled. So I’m gonna chalk it up to my fascination, nay obsession, with American style barbeque over the past several years. And American style is of course, smoked, or at least cooked slowly over low and/or indirect heat. And before you terminology zealots go grabbing ownership of the word (and admittedly, I was one of you not so long ago), please read this. Etymologically speaking, the word “barbeque” does in fact describe a method of cooking that is closer to what we today consider grilling. Moving on.
Korean barbeque comes in a few different forms – always meat, almost never seafood, sweet, spicy, and even unmarinated. At a restaurant you’d typically find sliced beef, beef short ribs, pork, pork belly, and occasionally chicken, thought it’s not really traditional. The beef will most likely be marinated in a sweetish manner, while the pork and chicken will probably be spicy, courtesy goh choo jahng, or spicy Korean miso. The meat is presented raw, cut into bite-sized pieces. Diners then go about cooking it on a tabletop gas grill or charcoal brazier, and sometimes, sadly, on a lil’ butane-powered hibachi stove. Which, as one might expect, does a crappy job.
Accompanying the meat will be an array of condiments, generally including sliced raw garlic, sliced hot peppers, slivered scallion, and some dwen jahng (Korean miso). Big leaves of usually red or green leaf lettuce are served as eating implements really – you tear off a hand-sized piece, stuff in it some meat, rice, and whatever condiments you like (all benching, or side dishes, on the table are fair game, btw), wrap it up into a package in eat it in one bite. Yes, one bite people. It’s a simple matter of practicality, since a half bitten-into ssam, as they’re called, will almost certainly lose structural integrity and spill its contents all over the place. Thus one quickly learns that managing the size of one’s ssam is of critical importance. My preferred packet consists of rice, meat, a shmear of dwen jahng, scallion, and some kimchi.
Some of your nicer places will include a bowl or dwen jahng jigae, or offer a special deal if you add a bowl of neng myun to your order of meat. Apparently everything I described above is not sufficent to comprise a proper meal for us Koreans. Also, most barbeque dishes are available at most Korean restaurants, even if they don’t specialize in barbeque and thus lack tabletop cooking equipment. The meat’ll just come out already cooked, but usually not grilled. Anyway, that’s a typical restaurant experience.
At home…well my family at least never ate this stuff at home. Meat is expensive, and grilling wasn’t widespread among Koreans at the time, making this sort of cooking pretty difficult. It was purely a special occasion food, indeed korean barbeque is indelibly associated with church picnics in my brain. And on such occasions there was rarely any of the trimmings you’d find when eating out, at best some lettuce for wrapping, but otherwise you’d be more than content with a paper plate of meat, rice and kimchee. Usually the meat would be either bulgogi or kalbi, cut “L.A. style”, which is to say rather thinly sliced across three short ribs to produce an oblong piece with three ovals of bone at the bottom. It’s actually a cut I’ve never seen anywhere other than at a gathering of Koreans. The bones make for convenient handles, and the meat has good flavor but is usually not the tenderest of cuts, as this style is generally made from lesser grades of meat:
The thin slicing and cross-grain cut are meant to minimze the toughness, whereas proper gahl bee is made from good quality, well-marbled beef, and will usually be cut into squat chunks. But now of course, grills are way more ubiquitous (I think?) and we’re right in that all-too-brief money zone between rainy and oppressively hot, so on to the recipes:
Warning: All measurements are total guesses, as it is all done to taste. Significant adjustment may be required.
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup sliced onion
1/4 cup slivered scallions
Good cuts for bool gog ghee: thinly sliced ribeye, thinly sliced chuckAdvice for gahl bee: Some supermarkets will have short ribs, but almost always with the bone in. Usually it’ll be a section of rib a few inches long. Cut the meat off the bone and into 3/4″ cubes. use the bone for stock, or grill and gnaw, then give it to your dog if he/she has been especially good. Asian supermarkets usually have packaged cuts specifically for gahl bee.
This marinade can also be used for chicken, or any meat for that matter
1. My aunt taught me this trick, and I’m convinced it makes a difference – in a small bowl, dissolve the sugar in the hot water first, then add all other ingredients and combine.
2. Pour over your beef, and massage thoroughly. I like to make sure to crush the onion and scallion a bit. Let stand refrigerated for at least an hour, and up to a day or two.
Spicy marinade (good for pork or chicken)
2 tbsp goh choo jahng
1/2 cup hot water
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp minced garlic
1 tsp minced ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sesame oil
1/4 cup sliced onion
1/4 cup sliverd scallions
some chopped hot peppers if you want it to be more spicy
Good cuts for pork: sliced loin, sliced belly, but it will be *very* fatty, and, well sliced any “chop” type cut really…. at a supermarket, if there is a butcher present, and you’re very nice, they will usually agree to slice a cut very thinly for you. Otherwise, buy a roast or thick chop and slice it yourself
Good cuts for chicken: sliced breast of course, but boneless thighs work very well in this marinade…after grilling, slice the thighs into bite sized pieces
1. Dissolve sugar in hot water, then stir in the goh choo jahng, then the remaining ingredients.
2. Massage into pork thoroughly, let stand for at least an hour.
-Leaf lettuce, any type that has tender, supple leaves to facilitate wrapping
-Dwen jahng and/or goh choo jahng for shmearing
-Scallions, slivered and tossed with a little sesame oil, soy, and red pepper
-Sliced raw garlic – yup raw garlic, it adds a sharp, almost spicy bite
-Kimchi, standard cabbage kimchi is best, but cucumber kimchi is good too
I’m going to spell out the terms phonetically, to aid in pronunciation in case any of the 3 or 4 people who will read this ever decide to use it to order at a Korean restaurant. Sigh.
Protip: Korean is all syllables, and the syllables are short and abrupt, kinda like German maybe. Try not to elongate vowel sounds, particularly “oh” and “oo”, and keep them pure, sorta like a Minnesota accent, except much briefer (and thus less annoying – sorry Minnesotans!).
Bool go ghee – bool=fire and goh ghee=meat…this is probably the most popular barbeque dish, thinly sliced beef, usually ribeye but sometimes lesser cuts. It’s very user-friendly because of its fast cook time and tenderness. Protip: do not pronounce it “bool goh JEE”, because then it will sorta rhyme with the Korean word for vagina.
Gahl bee – Beef short ribs. They come in a few different forms, the default being in long-ish strips cut off the bone, usually tableside by the server. Then there is “joomoolook”, which are cut into cubes and I think may be slightly choicer in quality than regular gahl bee, and then there is the aforementioned L.A. style, which I don’t think is very common in restaurants. This cut takes a bit longer to cook, and is a bit more toothsome, but imo has the best flavor. I always get joomoolook gahl bee when I go out.
Jeh yook goo ee – Sliced pork that’s been marinated in gochujahng, slightly sweet but significantly spicy. I don’t think there’s a standard cut for this dish, I’ve had it made with very lean pork at some places, and with pretty fatty pork at others. Good for when you’ve been drinking, but word of warning, eating this before bed makes you have really weird dreams.
Sahm gyup sahl – Sliced pork belly. This is where bacon comes from, so expect the characteristic striations of fat and meat. This cut is often served unmarinated, and is good to eat WHILE drinking, since pork fat is thought to stave off drunkenness, and thus enable longer drinking sessions. Koreans know how to throw down man!
Dwen Jahng (Protip: barely pronounce the “w”) – fermented soybean paste… it’s kinda like miso, only stronger tasting and way stinkierGoh choo jahng – basically dwen jahng, except spicy, used as the base for soups, bibimbahp sauce, and as a condiment for barbeque…here’s a pic:
Dwen jahng jjee geh – a dwen jahng based soup usually containing squash, tofu, and sometimes meat
Goh choo jahng – Korean spicy miso paste, here’s a pic:
Mek joo ha na joo seh yo – “May I please have a beer”