Next to kimchi, and possibly bibimbap, bulgogi is the best-known Korean food product to grace American shores. Thinly sliced beef, usually sirloin, rib eye or brisket, is marinated in a mixture of soy sauce, mirin and sesame oil before landing on a smoking-hot grill or grill pan—or a tableside grill, if you want your house to smell like the magic of Koreatown. Although kalbi is more coveted, and thus expensive, bulgogi is really the workhorse of Korean barbecue. It’s what Roy Choi placed in a taco to start a culinary revolution. Any good Korean grocery store will sell pre-sliced beef for this recipe. This is the best bet, but you can do it yourself: freeze the meat for about 20 minutes so it’s stiff enough to shave with a sharp knife. Or you can ask your butcher to slice it for you.
- PREPARE THE MARINADE: In a bowl, stir together the soy sauce, onion, sugar, mirin, garlic, sesame oil and black pepper. If you have the time, refrigerate the marinade for a day on its own. Place the beef, scallions and sesame seeds into a large zip-top bag; pour the marinade on top. Compress the bag to remove excess air, then refrigerate for at least 2 hours, preferably 24 hours.
TO PAN-SEAR THE MEAT: Remove the meat from the marinade and pat dry. Preheat a large cast-iron skillet or grill pan over high heat, until smoking hot. Using a towel, rub on some vegetable oil. Working in batches, grill the marinated beef until cooked through, about 5 minutes, turning frequently until the meat begins to caramelize. Work in batches, serving the meat as it ready.
OR TO GRILL THE MEAT: Line the grill grates with foil. Heat on high until you can hold your hand 6 inches over the grate for only 2 to 3 seconds. Grill the marinated beef, uncovered, until cooked through, about 5 minutes, turning frequently until the meat begins to caramelize. Work in batches, serving the meat as it is ready.
- Serve the beef with the rice, lettuce, perilla, kimchi and Ssamjang. To eat, make a lettuce wrap (called ssambap): take a lettuce or perilla leaf and pack on a couple spoons of rice. Layer with kimchi and some bulgogi and top with a dab of Ssamjang.
Reprinted with permission from Koreatown: A Cookbook by Deuki Hong and Matt Rodbard, copyright © 2016, published by Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Photography copyright © 2016 by Sam Horine.