Monday, March 17, 2014

DIY Bulgogi

I enjoy cooking very much and for the Korean Food Assignment, I originally wanted to cook Korean food at home.  However, after some web-based research I immediately became overwhelmed, abandoned my plan, and drove to State College, PA with some friends for a meal at Kimchi Korean Restaurant!
Andrew, Katya, and I at Kimchi Korean Restaurant
The experience was well-worth the trip!  Reading the menus, ordering food, chatting with the waitress, and observing the eating habits of the Korean patrons was quite a learning experience; the shoveling of rice from elevated bowls into their mouths and the dabbing of sweat from their brows as they continued to add more red hot sauce to their dishes were my two favorites! The food was great, do not get me wrong, however, none of us were overwhelmed by the flavors and tastes of the dishes we ordered: bulgogi, galbi dolsot, and spicy chicken udon.  We did enjoy the flavors of the traditional marinated beef in the bulgogi most.  And after inquiring to our waitress about the origins of the dish and the simplicity of its creation, I found new confidence in my ability to recreate this dish at home.

Bulgogi from Kimchi Korean Restaurant
For my DIY Bolgogi, I researched some recipes online and learned that although beef, rice, and vegetables are the main components of the dish, it's the marinade and the preparation of the ingredients that truly makes the difference.  The bulgogi dish did require a few ingredients that I could not find at my local grocer, however, I was able to figure out some substitutions, with a little more research.

Ingredients for Bulgogi marinade
Toasting sesame seeds, a must do!
All of the ingredients get combined into a bowl into which the meat is later added.  The basic ingredients in every recipe I found were soy sauce, sesame oil, sesame seeds, ginger, garlic, and green onion.  I added pear because yet another recipe I had found told me to, it sounded like a great idea, and because additional research told be that it can actually be the tenderizing agent in the marinade! The food scientist in me knew that I could then omit the rice vinegar, but I kept it in anyway.  I also added sugar since I could not find sweet Korean soy sauce. Kikkoman is VERY salty for this recipe and apparently much different from Korean soy sauce!  Finally, you need to toast the sesame seeds. It is easy and necessary to bring out the flavor! Just place what you need in a skillet over medium-heat and watch carefully for 1-2 minutes.  No need to use oil as the seeds are full of it, literally.  Speaking of sesame oil, I had never used it before!  Such incredible flavor and a little goes a long way...I will definitely be cooking with it more often!
Finished marinade
Combine all of these ingredients into a bowl and let sit for the flavors to meld.  Next, you will need to prep the beef.  I used a 3-pound top sirloin roast because it was on sale. The more tender cuts of meat were recommended, however, the meat scientist in me says that a cheaper and tougher cut of meat can be used because after you thinly slice, marinate, and grill this stuff, it will nearly fall apart.

Halfway done slicing
Freeze the cut of meat for about 15-30 minutes to aide in slicing.  Not rock solid frozen, but stiff enough to get you card-stock-thin slices.  A sharp knife also helps, a lot.  Slice against the grain of the meat to allow the marinade to better penetrate the muscle fibers.  Add the meat to the marinade as you slice.  Once finished, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Meat and marinade

Cucumber Salad
While you wait, prep some traditional Korean side dishes to complement the bulgogi.  Start with a simple cucumber salad.  Combine the ingredients for the dressing into a container, shake, and pour over sliced cucumbers. Refrigerate for 1-2 hours. For some heat, use Korean red pepper paste, which, of course, I could not obtain.  A good substitute is paprika and cayenne pepper.
Ingredients for cucumber salad

Okay, now it's time for some good smells!

Bulgogi can be broiled or cooked in a skillet, however, research told me that the meat should be well-done with slightly charred edges.  Therefore, it's grillin' time!  Heat your grill to medium-high heat and use foil it your grates are too large or your beef slices are too small.

It takes less than 5 minutes for the small, thin pieces of meat to cook, but no more than 30 seconds for it to smell amazing as it does!  I found that the meat got too soupy on the foil since the juices did not drip away and I stopped using it halfway through.

Bolgogi is served with rice and grilled vegetables.  I steamed broccoli, onions, sweet peppers, carrots, and bok choi in foil packets on the grill.  Simply prep, drizzle with a little sesame oil, add garlic, and ginger, if desired, and steam beside the beef on the grill for about 15 minutes.

I also prepped some extra marinade and served it on the side as a dipping sauce for the meat!
Bittner's DIY Bulgogi over rice with grilled vegetables and cucumber salad
This dish received rave reviews from everyone at the dinner party of four to which it was served.  The beef was sweet, smoky, and tender.  The cucumber salad was perfectly spiced and complimented the meal well.  The dipping sauce brought back the perfect amount of moisture to the well-done beef and the ginger-garlic steamed veggies were devoured.

I eyeball so much of the ingredients and just cook what tastes good!  Here is the recipe I followed, modified from the sources listed below:

BOLGOGI (Serves 4 hungry men) 


3 lbs beef sirloin, thinly sliced against the grain

For marinade, double and save half for dipping sauce, if desired.
1/2 cup soy sauce
3 T sugar
2 T sesame oil
1 T toasted sesame seeds
3 cloves garlic, crushed
3-4 green onions, chopped
1/2 pear, pulverized and/or 1 T rice vinegar


2 cucumbers, sliced
1 tablespoon Korean pepper flakes (SUB: 1/4 t paprika and pinch of cayenne pepper)
3-4 green onions, chopped
2 t rice vinegar
1 t sugar
1 t toasted sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sesame oil

Steamed Sides
White Rice
Bok Choi
Green Peppers

Korean Beef Bulgogi Recipe from

Korean BBQ Marinade from

Cucumber Salad Recipe from Las Vegas Food Adventures

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