Bulgogi may be one of the best damned things I ever ate.
Maybe it’s because I enjoy a good cut of beef or delicious marinade. Beef bulgogi has flavor unlike any American barbecue. However, Westerners shouldn’t be too unfamiliar with the process of making bulgogi, as the methods are similar to any other barbecued meat. (This makes bulgogi a good choice first serving for anyone hesitant to try new foods.) The different is, of course, in the history and ingredients.
Bulgogi literally means fire meat in Korean.1 Its signature marinade usually consists of a mixture of soy sauce, sugar (or honey), sesame, garlic, green onions and ground black pepper. You may also want to tenderize the meat.2
The dish is believed to have originated in the Goguryeo region of the Korean peninsula. This region was one of the Three Kingdoms of Korea, and Goguryeo occupied the central and northern part of the peninsula. Its name later served as the origin of the English name “Korea.” Then, the bulgogi precursor was Maekjeok or more plainly Jeok, grilled skewered meat. Another of the three kingdoms, the Silla, eventually conquered the other two, and meat-eating became nearly non-existent, due to the large influence of Buddhism among the Silla.3
Enter the Mongols.
The Mongol invasion ended the abstinence from meat-eating among the region. Now, a dish called Seolhamyeok, seasoned chunks of meat, skewered and grilled, overtook the nation and soon evolved into a thinner version, Neobiani.
Bulgogi formed when the meat began being prepared on a perforated dome that could be placed directly over the coals and transferred easily to the table. Today, many people make modified versions of this original dish over their backyard grills. Below is my first try at the recipe, but stay tuned for round two, when I will try a second go-round at this recipe.
Recipe adapted from AllRecipes
- 1 pound flank steak, thinly sliced(sirloin or any other thinly-sliced high quality beef will also work)
- 5 tablespoons soy sauce
- 2 1/2 tablespoons white sugar
- 1/4 cup chopped green onion
- 2 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds (OK, I forgot this part, but remember to save an extra tablespoon or two for garnishment)
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- Place the beef in a shallow dish. Combine soy sauce, sugar, green onion, garlic, sesame seeds, sesame oil, and ground black pepper in a small bowl. Pour over beef. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
- Preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil the grate.
- Quickly grill beef on hot grill until slightly charred and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes per side.
- To serve: Slice meat into strips and garnish with sesame seeds and chopped green onion. Serve with rice, kimchi or lettuce.