Author’s note: With Sue Kidd’s excellent TNT Diner series on Korean restaurants running this past few weeks in The News Tribune, I only expect more requests like the one recorded below. Sigh. Another friend asked for my bulgogi recipe today.
“I’d love to make it at home,” she gushed. “Is it hard?”
Yes, and no. How about this? I’m going to share the thousand-year-old, secret recipe passed down from my Mom, on how to cook bulgogi.
First, get out a giant bowl. It should be big enough to fit a Puyallup Fair prize pumpkin. (The first rule of Bulgogi Club is, always prepare enough for your family and 40 others.)
Peel a large amount of garlic, about 4,000 cloves. Smash garlic using a knife handle or a mortar and pestle. No food processors; it will not taste the same. Our grandmothers did not have food processors – or mops!
Put garlic in the bowl. Pour in five handfuls of soy sauce. If you have large hands, this may equal two handfuls. If you have small hands, this may amount to 10 handfuls.
Now, add sesame oil. A little bit more. Whoa there – don’t spill it on the counter; that’s a waste of money. I could’ve bought a brand new car with the cost of what you just wasted. (A little filial guilt makes the bulgogi taste better . . . trust me!)
Now add chopped green onions, about two bungles (that’s my mom’s term). And one can of Coca-Cola. The cooks of Sejong the Great, fourth king of the Joseon dynasty, would not approve, but soda helps tenderize the beef. Add one pureed Asian pear, a thin-sliced onion, three (or 10) handfuls of brown sugar and black pepper.
Oh, and a teaspoon of the fishy-smelling stuff. The one in the back of kitchen sink cabinet, in an unlabeled jar from the 1970s. Behind the scouring powder.
Use this marinade to coat thin-sliced flank or sirloin tip steak. (If you can’t find bulgogi cuts at your local market, try the Asian grocery store. Past the quail eggs, the football-size white radishes and a whole aisle devoted to hot pepper paste, there’s a meat section.)
Let beef marinate for at least four hours. This is approximately the time it takes for your children to study for a calculus test, scrub a kitchen floor on hands and knees, and practice cello while returning calls from Ivy League recruiters looking for Tiger Mom offspring.
Time to put on a raincoat and fire up the barbecue grill. Cook for five to seven minutes on high. Don’t try this in a pan or oven. You chose to live here in the Northwest. Bulgogi means “fire beef,” not “nonstick-saute-pan-beef.”
Beware. Neighbors will “happen to stop by.” Strangers will lean over your fence. The smell of grill-seared bulgogi is ice cream truck music for adults with keen taste buds.
Serve with steamed sticky rice and 10 seasoned side dishes you stayed up all night preparing. (You can buy these also at the Korean store, but put them on plates and hide the packaging deep in the garbage can.)
You’ll need a couple more Cheney Stadium-size bowls to hold washed lettuce leaves. Lastly, set out small bowls of ssamjang, hot pepper paste mixed with miso and green onions.
Spoon rice, meat and hot pepper paste onto lettuce leaves. Fold up like lettuce wraps or tiny Asian burritos. Eat. Repeat. Kam-sa-hamnida. Thank you. Cheon-man-ayo! You’re welcome!
There. Our secret recipe for bulgogi, lovingly handed down the generations.
See, it wasn’t that hard. You now have everything needed to make this delicious beef dish.
By the way, I love that homemade macaroni you brought to Thanksgiving last year. Is it hard to make? Can you give me the recipe?Maria Gudaitis, a writer and designer, is one of six reader columnists whose work appears on this page. She’s posted her Mom’s real bulgogi recipe (with modern measurements) on her blog at mariagudaitis.com. Sue Kidd’s Korean Dining Guide is available at blog.thenewstribune.com/tntdiner/category/korean-dining-guide.