Some people like their bulgogi charred; others cook the beef just until it loses it pinkness. Whatever the level of doneness, bulgogi is good if the meat is marinated with the correct ingredients and enough time to allow it to soak up the flavors before grilling.
A few tips before the recipe.
Choose beef marbled with fat
I know it’s fashionable to choose the leanest cut of meat but if you do that for this dish, you will get dry bulgogi. It is the fat that moistens and tenderizes the beef during cooking. Without it, your bulgogi is doomed.
So, choose a cut of meat that is marbled with fat. Our local groceries sell “sukiyaki cut” and “yakiniku cut” beef and, most times, they are just the right thickness and the meat is marbled generously with fat.
If you can’t get similar cuts from your local grocery or your neighborhood butcher, buy a good cut of beef (bottom round is recommended) in one piece, freeze for two to three hours or just until firm enough to slice thinly across the grain—no more than a quarter inch thick.
What kind of grill is best?
A charcoal grill will give you the best flavors and aroma but with such small pieces of meat, it’s tricky to keep the beef slices from falling between the slats and into the charcoal. I prefer a stovetop grill or even a heavy skillet like cast iron.
Grill over high heat for the shortest amount of time
With the meat sliced so thinly, it takes a short time for it to cook. Still, the short cooking time must be combined with high heat to sear the meat fast. If you cook the beef over low or medium heat, it will steam and that will ruin the texture of the dish.
Won’t the beef burn over high heat? If your beef slices aren’t so thin and you’re worried that the beef will not get cooked through after it has seared, you may lower the heat a bit after searing and continue cooking the beef until done.
What to do with the marinade
Some cooks grill the beef with the marinade; others do not. I don’t cook the beef with the marinade. If you find it wasteful to throw out the flavorful liquid in which the meat has soaked, you may give the marinade a quick boil and serve it as a dipping sauce.
Bulgogi: Korean Marinated Grilled Beef
- 500 grams thinly sliced beef marbled with fat, please!
- 1 small carrot peeled and cut into thin strips
- 1 small onion peeled and thinly sliced
- 4 to 5 scallions cut into two-inch lengths
For the marinade
- toasted sesame seeds
- lettuce leaves
Cut the beef slices into strips about an inch wide. Place in a bowl with the vegetables.
Stir together all the ingredients for the marinade. Pour over the beef and vegetables. Cover the bowl and leave to marinate in the fridge for at least six hours or overnight.
Heat your grill or skillet. Optionally, brush with oil.
Drain the beef and vegetables. Spread on the hot grill or skillet and cook until the underside is nicely browned, about two to three minutes. Using a wide spatula, scoop and flip to brown the opposite side for about two minutes. Stir around for another minute or two to make sure that the beef is cooked through.
Sprinkle the bulgogi with toasted sesame seeds before serving.
The traditional way to serve bulgogi is to provide a plate of lettuce leaves. Each diner places a small amount of bulgogi on a leaf, wrap it and eat it.
If the lettuce wrapping is not to your taste, simply serve the bulgogi with hot rice.