One of my favourite Korean foods is kalbi/galbi (BBQ beef short ribs). Luckily, these are incredibly easy to make at home, but it might take a few tries to master the timing for the perfect doneness, because these can be tough and too chewy if they are overcooked or undercooked (a tiny bit of pink is perfect in my opinion). These are best cooked over a charcoal BBQ, but any grill or cast iron pan will work too. Every home and restaurant makes their kalbi slightly differently (some even using Coke and/or Sprite) so adjust the sweetness and saltiness to your taste. This is best served with Japanese rice (sticky rice) and kimchi. The side shown above is chap chae, a Korean glass noodle dish (recipe here). For John’s house warming party, I made thinly sliced prime rib using this recipe and served them in lettuce wraps with kimchi. They were one of the party favourites.
Kalbi/Galbi Recipe (Korean BBQ beef short ribs)
Note: The preferred type of meat for this is beef short ribs, flanken cut (where the ribs are thinly cut across the bones). However, this can be difficult to find and a bit pricey, so feel free to use this marinade for whole or thinly sliced flank, top sirloin, or filet mignon. This recipe doubles well.
4 or 5 lbs beef short ribs
1/2 cup soy sauce (brand Kikkoman)
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp sugar (Note: Korean raw sugar is more traditional, but lightly packed brown sugar can be used as a substitute. Granulated white sugar or a combination of brown and white sugar also work. In fact, I prefer the taste of a combination of the two sugars. Also note that if you prefer a very sweet kalbi, add more sugar to taste)
2 tbsp honey (or more to taste if you prefer a very sweet kalbi)
1/8 cup toasted sesame oil (brand Kadoya)
2 tbsp mirin or Shaoxing rice wine
large pinch of ground black pepper
one small onion
6 cloves garlic
Optional: 1 kiwi or 1 Korean pear (Note: This is used to tenderize the meat. It gives the meat a softer, less chewy texture, but I don’t like the flavour that it adds to the meat. The meat shouldn’t be tough as long as you don’t undercook or overcook it.)
Optional for garnish: lightly toasted sesame seeds and/or thinly sliced green onions
Rinse the ribs well under cool running water to remove blood and bone shards. Then pat dry using paper towel and set aside. Use a food processor to finely chop the onion, garlic, and sugar(s). Transfer to a large bowl and mix in the soy sauce, honey, sesame oil, mirin or Shaoxing rice wine, black pepper, and a pinch of salt. Then add the beef short ribs and toss to coat well. Marinate the ribs overnight, up to 12 hours, in the refrigerator and stir every few hours. You could also marinate these in a large plastic Ziploc bag. If you wanted to make these well in advance for an event, you could marinate the meat and then freeze it. Simply defrost in the refrigerator and then cook as per the following directions.
When ready, cook on a hot BBQ or grill or cast iron pan, flipping once, until just cooked through (or even a tiny bit pink inside the meat close to the bones). The meat cooks very quickly and it should be nicely browned, the tips might be a bit crispy, and the meat will start to shrivel away from the bones. Add a light sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and/or thinly sliced green onions for garnish (optional). Serve immediately with white sticky rice (Japanese rice), kimchi, and a side of your choice.