From M., 21 January 2010, Korean barbecue: mixing it up?
Q: Do you have a preferred Korean beef marinade?
A: Hello! I understand you just returned from a trip to Seoul. You know, I don’t eat out in Baltimore very often, but when I do, I like to go out for a good Korean barbecue – there’s a Korean community in the suburbs here, and a number of excellent Korean restaurants. My only regret is that I have yet to find a place that provides charcoal-grilling like a place where my brother once took us in LA; all the Baltimore restaurants rely on electric grills. The charcoal grilling takes it to a whole new level. But I digress.
As anyone who reads this blog knows, I spend a lot of time shopping at the H Mart. It’s a giant Korean supermarket. When I visit, I’m not usually shopping for Korean product – my weekly visits usually involve purchasing tubs of peeled garlic, which saves me time when making garlic confit; sourcing Latin American ingredients like batata and malanga, plantains and mangoes; buying shiso leaf and Japanese eggplant, uni, and raw fish for sashimi; or picking up bags of vacuum-packed peeled and roasted chestnuts. The fish is great – rows of fresh, silvery mackerel, freshly caught rockfish, and big fresh tubs of head-on shrimp. And you can buy whole slabs of pork belly, skin on or not, as well as beef tongue, quail, squab, and whole duck – neck, head, and all. I don’t feel there are a lot of culinary advantages to living in the Baltimore area, but H Mart is a big plus.
Anyway, anyone who’s shopped at H Mart or its competitor, Lotte, knows that among the main attractions in the meat department are the thinly sliced pork belly and beef brisket, as well as the boneless short rib and other sliced beef. These meats are ready to marinate and grill. The paper-thin slices of pork belly, samgyeopsal 삼겹살, and the beef brisket, chadolbaki 차돌박이, are fatty and rich enough to be grilled without any marinade. Both conventionally are eaten as ssam 쌈 – wrapped foods – served with lettuce leaves (sangchu ssam), a thin rice crepe (milssam), shiso (kkatnip ssam), or a slice of pickled radish (kimchiip ssam), garlic cloves, sometimes slices of hot green chile, and ssamjang 쌈장, a thick, sweet, spicy bean paste meant for such wrapped foods. Of course, you would eat these with banchan 반찬 – accompaniments that complement the dishes, such as various kimchi, potato salad, dressed vegetables, and scallion salad.
The other sliced beef cuts, like steak and short rib, or pork butt, tend to be thicker and should be marinated before grilling. The type of marinade depends on the type of meat. For example, galbi 갈비, or short rib, is fatty and calls for a soy and sugar marinade with onion and garlic, whereas jumulleok 주물럭, or steak, is leaner and generally calls for a seasoned sesame oil marinade. Pork butt, or dweji bulgogi 돼지불고기, generally is marinated in chili bean paste (gochujang 고추장), bean paste (doenjang 된장), rice wine, garlic, sugar, and onions, among other ingredients.
Here’s my preferred marinade for short ribs (galbi). This makes a fair amount of marinade – you only need to use enough to coat the meat, after all – so only pour out what you need at the time. Any remaining marinade you can store, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator for a week.
1 c soy sauce
1/2 c sugar (white granulated)
1 Asian pear (or 1/2 Korean pear – those tend to be huge), peeled, cored, and diced
1 large onion, peeled and diced
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 tbsp ground white pepper
2 tbsp sesame oil
Prepared short ribs (galbi)
Combine the pear and onion in a food processor (if you have one) or a blender and puree. Add to the other ingredients and combine well.
Add just enough marinade to your meat to coat it well. Your meat does not need to drown in marinade. You can marinate overnight but an hour is sufficient. Do not save used marinade. Grill over prepared hot coals or a gas grill, or in a well-oiled pan over medium-high heat.