Nick's Korean Adventure

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Trying to blast away a cold, I've been craving spicy foods - the hotter the better. My cravings led me to get reacquainted with Korean BBQ, so I tried my hand at Bulgogi and Bi Bim Bap.

Bulgogi is thinly sliced and marinated beef, cooked quickly over a hot grill. The first time I had it was when I coached soccer, and we had a season-ending potluck. One of my girls was Korean and her parents whipped up this amazing bulgogi. People snapped up those hot slices with their fingers right off the grill.

Bulgogi is also a common ingredient in bi bim bap, a mixture of rice, vegetables, and a fiery sweet red pepper sauce. It's topped with a sunnyside-up egg and often a sprinkling of Sriracha, and scarfed with chopsticks into the general direction of one's happy mouth.

I prefer "bap" with crispy rice, served in restaurants in a hot bowl still cooking it as you eat it. You can emulate this at home with a cast iron pan. If you marinate the beef and make the sauce ahead of time, the cooking goes pretty fast, so have everything ready.

These recipes are an amalgamation of ones from Julia Moskin, mykoreankitchen.com, and my own variations.

First make the Bulgogi

Ingredients

- 1 pound well-marbled, boneless sirloin, tenderloin or skirt steak

- 4 large garlic cloves

- 1 cup peeled, chopped ripe Asian or Bosc pear (this helps tenderize the meat)

- 3/4 cup finely chopped onion

- 1 teaspoon finely chopped ginger

- 1 scallion, chopped

- 2 tablespoons soy sauce

- 1 tablespoon roasted sesame oil

- 1 tablespoon light brown sugar or honey

- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

- 1/2 teaspoon sesame seeds, toasted

Directions

1. Wrap beef in plastic wrap or butcher paper and place in freezer for 1 to 2 hours to firm up.

2. Cut beef across the grain into thin slices. If cooking in a skillet, slices should be less than 1/8 inch thick; do not worry if they are a bit ragged. If cooking on the grill, uniform slices, 1/8-inch thick, are best.

3. In a food processor, combine garlic, pear, onion and ginger and process until very smooth and creamy, about 1 minute.

4. In a bowl or sealable plastic bag, combine steak, marinade, scallion, soy sauce, sesame oil, brown sugar and pepper and mix well. Cover or seal, then refrigerate at least 30 minutes or overnight.

Assemble everything else (you'll need more ingredients, as noted below):

5. While the beef is marinating, make rice according to packet directions, enough for two cups.

6. Toast 2 more TBS of sesame seeds, and set aside.

7. Make the BBQ sauce: mix together 2 TBS gochujang (Korean red pepper paste, available in an Asian market); 1 TBS sesame oil; 1 TBS sugar; 1 TBS water; 1 TBS sesame seeds, roasted a few minutes in a pan; 1 TBS rice or apple cider vinegar; 1 minced garlic clove. (I did not have gochujang and used a mix of Thai red pepper paste, Sambal Oelek with a bit of commercial BBQ sauce, and it was fine.) You should end up with a fiery, sweet and garlicky condiment.

8. Prepare 2 cups or more each, as you desire, of julienned carrots, broccoli, spinach, mushrooms, bean sprouts, hot peppers such as shoshito. Toss in a light mix of garlic salt if you like.

9. Heat a cast iron pan on high with 1 TBS of sesame oil and spread the cooked rice in the pan. Keep an eye on this for five minutes or so until you have a nice crispy brown crust. Place the julienned spinach on top of the rice to steam.

10. Quickly grill the meat and vegetables (except spinach) on aluminum foil, or use a cast-iron grill pan or large skillet and heat over high heat, with a spot of cooking oil or spray. Turn often. The meat cooks quickly!

11. Place the rice/spinach mix in a bowl, top with meat and vegetables and toasted sesame seeds. Keep warm.

12. Fry an egg sunny side up for each serving.

13. Top each bowl with an egg and have plenty of Korean BBQ sauce on hand (along with Sriracha if you want).

Eat heartily with chopsticks - or your fingers, if you dare. Wish each other a good meal - or jal meokkesseumnida - in Korean. (Heck, if you mastered this recipe, you can say that like a native!)

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Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht & Roumel, PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for "Current" magazine.

Published: Thu, Mar 24, 2016

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