korean beef tacos
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Korean beef tacos with hot mayo are probably the best street food fusion. Bulgogi, Korean ‘fire meat’ is marinated, barbecued beef steak filling soft corn tortillas, with shredded salads or slaw and sriracha spiced mayo – wow. Phwoar. OMG.
Tacos seem to be a non-dish dish; being an apparently random collection of meats, salads and sauces wrapped in very flat bread. Like burgers. Like hot dogs. Kebabs. Sandwiches.
I have a strong weakness for tacos ( yes, ‘strong weakness’ is a thing, just so you know). I’m happy to tortilla up anything: jam, black pudding or potatoes. I know that a lot of people think tacos are a way to put away leftovers, bits of pulled pork from the Sunday roast or a steak that you couldn’t manage, but I and (I hope) the Mexicans believe in cooking the filling with the purpose of tacos. They are worth to be a dish in its own right, bespoke from start to finish, even if I’m not brave enough to try my hand at chapulines (roast grasshoppers) or cabeza (pulled cow’s head).
I prefer soft tortillas for my tacos – those crunchy shells always end up exploding in a spray of shards with the filling leaking out, no matter how properly I bite into it (tilt your head, not your taco). With soft tortillas you can squish them up a bit, burrito-fold them on one side and in all manage much better. They also seem to be the original taco housing, the ready-shaped hard shells invented for the convenience of those across the border.
The taco is named after its topping (pescado, chorizo, vegetal) but also after the way the filling is cooked: tacos de asador (grilled), de cazo (fried) or de cazuela (braised). But I was pleased (not really – I was so hoping it was my own invention) to find that the mingling of Korean and Mexican street foods is legit and bulgogi tacos, marinated fried beef tacos with hot sauce and kimchi if there’s any, are a thing. There goes my claim to fame, here comes an established fusion.
Korean bulgogi, ‘fire meat’, is a cheap steak marinated in tenderizing concoctions, then fried and consumed on salad leaves. No rocket science: swap lettuce for tortillas and you have bulgogi tacos, the kind of taco that would have to be created if it didn’t exist. Sadly for me, it already does.
korean beef tacosServings: 6-8 tacosTime: 20 minutes plus marinating
- For the beef:
250 – 300g (about 8-9 ounces) beef sirloin or rump, trimmed of fat
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 1 ripe Asian pear (or kiwi), peeled and chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 2cm (1 inch) piece of ginger root, chopped
- 1 spring onion, 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
- For the tacos:
- 6-8 corn tortillas
- shredded lettuce
- cucumber slices
- red pepper slices
- For the spiced mayo:
- 4-5 tbsp. full fat mayonnaise
- 1 tsp light soy sauce
- 2 tbsp. hot chilli sauce, ideally Sriracha
1. Place the meat in the freezer for 1 – 2 hours to firm it up. In the meantime process the garlic, pear, onion, ginger and spring onion to smooth puree. Stir in the soy sauce, sesame oil, sake, wine or sherry, sugar and pepper.
2. Slice the beef against the grain thinly, about 4-5mm. Place it in a bowl or a zip lock bag together with the marinade; 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.
3. 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. Wrap the tortillas in foil and warm them up in the oven for soft tacos, or heat them up unwrapped and folded for crisp taco shells.
4. 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 a tablespoon of cooking oil. Lift the meat from the marinade and stir fry until most liquid has vanished and the meat starts to brown around the edges. Transfer to a chopping board or a plate and keep warm.
5. When ready to serve, slice the meat pieces roughly. Load the tacos with the meat and garnishes, and drizzle with the spiced mayo.