Bulgogi (literally ‘fire meat’) is the classic Korean marinated grilled beef wrapped in a lettuce leaf with shredded raw veg for garnish and the fiery Korean ssamjang (barbecue sauce); the parcel eaten in one bite.
Contrary to the name it is not too spicy - the marinade has sweet Asian pear, onion and the usual soy/mirin/sesame oil suspects in it. The ‘fire’ probably refers to the traditional way of cooking bulgogi on a barbecue.
For me, it was a revelation: the ultimate but wholesome and no-carb, no-salt fast food! Go away, pizzas! Burgers, begone! KFC sinks into oblivion – unless, that is, you mean Korean Fried Cauliflower. Kebabs, leave the scene – there’s a new kid in town!
Ah, but wait a second. We could be onto something here: seeing as there are already bulgogi sliders served in burger buns – why not serve them in pita bread?
Now that’s what I call a fusion. It works extremely well – instead of loading the grilled meat into lettuce leaves, pack them into pitas, top with lettuce and sauce and you can have an Asian/Middle Eastern experience. Kebab shop and Korean takeaway in one! What’s not to like?
And only a little step will lead to bulgogi tacos…
- Serves two people
- For the bulgogi:
- 260 – 300g beef fillet or sirloin (if it’s small enough in diameter to slice thinly)
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 1 ripe Asian pear, peeled and chopped (any soft ripe yellow pear can probably be substituted)
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 2cm piece of ginger root, finely chopped
- 1 scallion, chopped
- 2 tbsp. dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
- 1 tbsp. sake
- 1 tbsp. Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 1 tbsp. light brown sugar or honey
- ½ tsp. black pepper
- sesame seeds, toasted, to sprinkle at the end
- To serve:
- Romaine or Cos lettuce leaves, or
- lightly toasted pita bread
- cooked rice (optional)
- jalapeno chili, deseeded and finely sliced
- carrot shredded into sticks
- 2-3 radishes, shredded into sticks
- cucumber slices or sticks
- For the spiced mayo:
- 4-5 tbsp. full fat mayonnaise
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. hot chilli sauce, ideally Sriracha
Place the meat in the freezer for 1 – 2 hours to firm it up. In the meantime process the garlic, pear, onion and ginger to smooth puree.
Slice the beef against the grain thinly, about 4-5mm. Place it in a bowl or a zip lock bag together with the puree; add the other bulgogi ingredients except the sesame seeds and mix in well, stirring the meat around in the bowl or squishing it about in the bag. Chill for at least an hour and up to overnight.
Prepare the spiced mayo by mixing all the ingredients together in a small bowl. When you’re ready to cook prepare the lettuce and garnishes so that everyone can build their own bulgogi parcel or kebab.
Heat up a cast iron pan or a heavy skillet over high heat. Transfer the meat into a colander and shake it about to get rid of some liquid. When the pan is hot, add the meat with the remaining marinade and stir fry until most liquid has vanished and the meat starts to brown around the edges. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and keep the meat hot. Toast the pitas.
To eat, either load a pita, kebab style, with torn lettuce, meat, garnishes and sauce; or place some meat, rice and garnishes on a lettuce leaf, fold in and wrap up the edges to form a small parcel. The lettuce parcel should be eaten in one bite!