“Fast, cheap, good…”
“…you can only ever have 2 out of these 3,” said my old boss. Think about it:
- Fast + Cheap = Not Good
- Fast + Good = Not Cheap
- Cheap + Good = Not Fast
He was referring to lawyers’ services. And possibly car repairs. But he wasn’t talking about beef bulgogi.
Looking for an easy beef recipe that everyone will wolf down? That doubles up as a sure-fire hit canape? Lemme guess, you also want it to be healthy, right?
Presenting…Mr Beef Bulgogi (with vegetarian option)
It’s delicious! Show me a meat-eater who doesn’t like bulgogi, and I’ll show you a whale that doesn’t like krill.
It’s versatile! So many ways to eat it. Carb-free, fibre-rich, carb-heavy, school lunch, vegetarian or extended-pinkie finger food? Not since Meryl Streep has the world encountered such versatility.
It’s healthy! Fact: Beef bulgogi features in bodybuilding forums. You can’t get healthier than that. Apparently it’s a “keto recipe” (search me). High-iron diet food? Tick.
Shamelessly dropping Hugh Jackman’s name
I am a card-carrying fan of bulgogi (pronounced “pull-go-gi”). And guess what? That means Hugh Jackman and I have something in common.
As I said in Making Makan: Korean meat marinades (what’s your view on people who quote themselves? Thaaat’s me – widely read and all class), Hugh Jackman was working out intensively for the nude scene in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. And bulgogi was his choice for a non-greasy protein source.
For fellow HJ fans out there, here’s a link to pictures of Wolverine. If you must know, my favourite one features a white singlet.
LOW. It gets even easier – see Tips.
This sliced “beef chuck roll” (pictured right) from my favourite Korean butcher came at a princely price of A$9.90/kg.
Will do again?
FOR SURE. Delicious, healthy and easy. Not spicy.
- It gets easier! Don’t want to create your own marinade? You can buy ready-made bulgogi marinade from any Korean grocery shop. (But read the label if you’re the type to eschew MSG and chemicals.)
- How low can the bar go? Don’t want to mix marinade into the beef? You can buy marinated beef bulgogi from any Korean butcher. (But watch out as some are overly sweet.) Then just bung it in the pan when you get home.
- As for me, I prefer to make my own marinade – hardly onerous, as you’ll see. I can control its sweetness, and I’ll know there are limited additives.
5 ways with bulgogi
1. Rustic canape
A crowd-pleaser. Carbophobic Dinner Guests will be especially appreciative. Serve your bulgogi in a ssam, which is Korean for “wrap”.
- A leaf wrap – use lettuce leaves, or raid a Korean grocer for sesame/perilla leaves – pictured above right. The taste? Like mint with the subtlest hint of liquorice.
- Ssamjang, which is seasoned and slightly spicy Korean bean sauce. Its sole purpose in life is to zing up your ssam.
- Kimchi, that sour, salty and fiery pickle that’s like crack to its devotees.
- (optional) Sliced chili, for those who like it hot.
- Take a leaf in your hand.
- Smear a little ssamjang on the leaf.
- Add a piece of kimchi, chili (if using) and some bulgogi.
- Wrap it all up. Eat it in one neat mouthful.
- Korean etiquette dictates that you shouldn’t take bites out of your ssam.
→ This is sensible if you want to avoid juices dribbling down your chin and arm.
2. Hearty meal – bulgogi with rice
This one is for the Hungry Hordes. Parents of teenage boys may wish to pay attention.
Serve bulgogi with rice. Better still, serve a vegetable-rich bulgogi (see Hot Tip #1 below) with rice for a complete balanced meal of carbohydrate, protein and fibre.
3. Another hearty meal – bulgogi with noodles
Some traditional Korean restaurants cook the bulgogi at your table with sweet potato noodles that soak up the luscious, meaty marinade.
- Soak sweet potato noodles (the grey noodles in picture) in hot water to soften. Available from Korean grocers.
- Follow the recipe below until the meat is half cooked.
- Turn the heat down to medium (you’re just stewing the noodles, not frying or browning them). Add the noodles and all the reserved marinade.
- Add more water and season with more soy sauce if needed.
4. Light lunch – bulgogi salad
This one is for office workers and carb-free fans. Perfect for leftover bulgogi. No slumping over your desk at 3pm after this lunch.
- Use freshly cooked or heated leftover bulgogi.
- Toss the bulgogi with raw vegetables, e.g. shredded lettuce, sliced cucumber, grated carrot, bean sprouts, snow pea shoots or sliced celery. If you like herbage, chopped coriander or mint won’t go astray.
- Season to taste with more light soy sauce and pepper, and perhaps a dash of Chinese black vinegar.
- Want some toppings that aren’t just tasteless garnishes? Try toasted sesame seeds and strips of grilled seaweed.
5. School lunch – bulgogi kimbap
This one is for parents of school kids who refuse Vegemite sandwiches.
Kimbap is to the Koreans what sushi is to the Japanese. Kim = seaweed, bap = rice.
- Use grilled seaweed to wrap freshly cooked, cooled rice, bulgogi and cucumber/carrot batons.
- Smear on some ssamjang (described in 1 above).
In the first picture below, did you see the row of rice at the top of the seaweed? That’s edible adhesive to prevent spontaneous unravelling of the kimbap.
- 1 kg beef, thinly sliced.
- For a vegetarian dish, use hard tofu and mushrooms instead.
- 3 dessert spoons chopped garlic
- 5 tsp sugar (or to taste)
- 1 nashi pear, peeled and grated/blended
- 1 medium onion, grated/blended
- 2 tsp sesame seeds, toasted and crushed (see Hot Tips at end)
- half tsp salt
- pepper to taste
Liquid ingredients used in marinade:
- light soy sauce – 2 dessert spoons
- rice wine (optional) – 2 dessert spoons
- Korean sesame oil – 1 dessert spoon
For frying with the meat:
- 1 cup of green onions (stems and leaves), cut into inch-long lengths. Alternatively, you could use sliced brown onions.
- 1 tbsp cooking oil for frying
Method. Only 2 steps!
Step 1. Combine beef with marinade ingredients. Mix well and leave for at least 30 minutes (overnight would be even better).
Step 2. Drain beef, reserving marinade. Heat wok on high and add cooking oil. Fry sliced onions, then add beef and brown it. Add other vegetables, if using (see Hot Tip #1 below). If the mixture appears dry, add some reserved marinade. Fry till everything is cooked. That’s it.
#1. Want a high-fibre bulgogi to eat with rice? Fry the meat with a cup or two of sliced vegetables. Carrots, zucchini or cabbage work well. Season with additional soy sauce and sesame oil to taste.
#2. Does toasting clumped-up sesame seeds drive you up the wall too? So I buy my sesame seeds already toasted, from the Korean grocer.
#3. To crush sesame seeds, use a mortar and pestle. I can’t resist showing you this nifty sesame seed grinder from Japan. Often found in ramen shops, customers use them to add freshly crushed sesame seeds to their noodles. Turn the red disc and the crushed seeds fall out of the slot. Neat, huh?
Here’s a 10-second video on using this gadget:
Want a taste of bulgogi?
You’ll get all these and more:
- An indulgent, mainly non-spicy, wholesome banquet at an institution of a Korean restaurant.
~ This is interspersed with Amazing Facts About Korean Culture You Can Show Off To Your Friends Later.
~ For instance, do you know how Chinese and Korean languages are connected?
- A shopping trip to a huge, well-stocked, Kpop-blasting Korean grocer, where we ponder burning questions such as:
(a) What are the top 3 Korean tidbits? Exactly why are they so popular?
(b) What Korean ingredients qualify as FITK’s Secret Kitchen Weapons? Hint: They must be easy to use, like the aforementioned toasted sesame seeds.
- A sweet surprise.
Or have your own private event of a Korean Seriously Good Banquet of authentic eats and entertaining cultural immersion.
~ What better way for weekday team-building in the city, than an authentic multi-course lunch with nary a Powerpoint slide?
~ Discover the varied Korean cuisine beyond your typical Korean barbecue, and learn the intricacies of Korean dining decorum.
Just don’t make me dance Gangnam Style, ok?
My old boss’s other theory?
“Pay peanuts, get monkey.”