One of the hors d’oeuvres that I made for John’s housewarming was Korean BBQ beef in lettuce cups. I used my Korean kalbi (BBQ short ribs) marinade on thin slices of prime rib, but lean pork would work well too (see the kalbi recipe here). The sweet and savoury marinade contrasted nicely with the sour and spicy kimchi. These were flavourful, easy to eat, easy to make, carbohydrate-free, and everyone’s favourite of the items that I made. If you wanted to serve these as an entree for a sit down meal, serve the beef with white rice on the side and allow your guests to assemble their own lettuce wraps.
Korean Lettuce Wraps with BBQ Beef or Pork Recipe
This recipe makes a lot of hors d’oeuvres, but can be scaled down. The marinated meat can also be divided into smaller portions and then frozen for future use.
3 to 4 pounds lean and tender beef or pork, thinly sliced (Note: I used filet mignon.)
1 container kimchi (Note: Some brands of kimchi use MSG (monosodium glutamate. Try to find one that doesn’t contain MSG.)
4 or 5 small heads of iceberg lettuce or Boston lettuce or butter lettuce, with individual leaves washed, dried, and separated
1 cup soy sauce (brand Kikkoman)
1/2 cup + 4 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.)
4 tbsp honey
1/4 cup toasted sesame oil (brand Kadoya)
4 tbsp mirin or Shaoxing rice wine
large pinch of ground black pepper
coarse Kosher sea salt
6 cloves garlic, finely minced
toasted white sesame seeds (optional for garnish)
thinly sliced green onions (optional for garnish)
In a large bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sugar, honey, sesame oil, mirin or Shaoxing rice wine, black pepper, a pinch or two of salt, and garlic, until the sugar dissolves. Then add the thinly sliced beef or pork, a few pieces at a time, tossing gently until all pieces of meat are well coated with the marinade. Marinate the beef overnight in the refrigerator and stir every few hours. You could also transfer the meat and marinade to a large plastic Ziploc bag. If you wanted to make these well in advance for an event, you could freeze it after it has fully marinated. Simply defrost in the refrigerator and then cook as per the following directions. If desired, you could save the leftover marinade, bring it to a boil in a small sauce pot, simmer until it reduces and thickens, and then brush it onto the cooked pieces of meat.
When ready, cook on a hot BBQ or grill or cast iron pan, flipping once, until just cooked through. The meat cooks very quickly and it should be nicely browned. Do not overcook the meat. To assemble the lettuce wraps, place one or two slices of beef down the centre of a lettuce cup, top with a piece of kimchi, and then garnish with a light sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced green onions (if using). Serve warm or at room temperature. If desired, serve with hot, white sticky rice on the side. Alternatively, you could place all of the components separately and allow your guests to assemble their own lettuce wraps.