This is probably one of the best known Korean dish other than Kimchi. I offer several substitutions and variations that you can try. They will all taste good but I think it is good to have options in case you don’t have all the ingredients or if you prefer one ingredient over another. I start with the most authentic recipe and then add options/variations.
- 1 lb Thinly sliced beef (top sirloin or any tender loin area)
Make Marinade as follows:
- 3 T soy sauce (Kikoman)
- 2 T sugar
- 1 T honey [ 2 t sugar is also ok ]
- 2 T rice cooking wine [sake or leftover red wine is also ok]
- 1 T sesame oil
- 2 T minced garlic
- 1 t ground black pepper
- 2 t toasted sesame seeds
- 1 T chopped green onion
- 2 T pear puree [ pear is a tenderizer - 1 T chopped kiwi or 3 T minced onion will also work] Another emergency fix is to add 2 T or so of diet coke if you find that the meat is too tough. Always good to cook a little piece beforehand and see how it tastes.
- Optional veggie ingredients – traditionally, Koreans just have the beef by itself but you can add some sliced onions, mushrooms (shitake, white, oyster), bell peppers and even sliced carrots as you cook the meat.
So, let’s start with the meat.
Beef for Bulgogi is sold in almost all Korean super markets but probably is not always available anywhere else. You can ask your butcher to cut it for you or if not, you can use thicker slices of meat. Just make sure it is a tender and also has some marble to it.
1. Now, make the sauce by mixing all of the marinade ingredients together except for any optional vegetables such as onions or mushrooms.
My favorite tenderizer is the kiwi. It’s not traditional since kiwi is not a native Korean fruit but it really makes the meat melt in your mouth. Be careful not to use too much as it can actually make the beef almost crumble into nothing in your mouth.
2. Mix in the beef into the sauce prepared above – in a bowl big enough to hold the beef. Make sure the sauce is well mixed with the beef. You will need to use your hands here and just massage everything together.
You can make it well in advance and leave it in the fridge overnight. Or if you are short on time (as is always the case with me.. ), making it just a few hours ahead works fine too. It also works if you marinate it even 30 min. before. I’ve done that many times and most people don’t even seem to notice the difference. :) But of course, meat will taste better if you give it time to marinate and absorb all that good flavor.
3. OK! You are now almost there! You have couple options in cooking it. The easiest and simplest way is to just cook on your stove top. You can heat up your favorite frying pan on high heat and just pan fry/stir fry the meat until it’s slightly brown on both sides. Your pan should be hot enough so that the meat sizzles as it touches the pan. Also, if you put too much meat into the pan and/or the heat is too low, you will end up with a lot of the meat juice leaking out of the bulgogi and you end up with Bulgogi stew. You can add your sliced vegetables to the pan about a minute after you start cooking the Bulgogi.
The most authentic and traditional way to cook is on top of a charcoal grill- you will either need a fine steel mesh or tin foil to cook the meat because otherwise it will fall through. Bulgogi is supposed to be well cooked and tastes great if it’s a little burnt… You can also broil it on the top rack of your oven (Broil temp) but remember to keep a very close watch so it does not burn!
P.S. I have recently (11/10/11) made some bulgogi and used red wine instead of the rice wine, light brown sugar instead of white and added a swirl of diet coke. The results were fabulous! My husband told me that it was actually the best bulgogi I ever made!! So try these substitutions if you want some extra yummy bulgogi.