The well known options around Asian cuisine in America are dominated by Chinese, Japanese and Thai restaurants. One unfortunate side effect is that the amazing food from Korea gets crowded out. My favorite Korean recipe is easily the workhorse dish of the country – the Pad Thai of Korea, if you will – BiBimBap with Beef Bulgogi. It’s a combination of grilled, marinated beef, vegetables, rice and a fried egg. On the side is this awesome spicy red sauce that’s sort of like a slightly sweet and subtler Sriracha.
Discovering Korean Food
Until moving to Chicago after college, I had basically no exposure to Korean food. Even in Chicago, the number of pure Korean restaurants, with their small private rooms and habachis in the center of the table, are vastly outnumbered by the pervasive BYOB Thai restaurants.
Fortunately, there are numerous Asian fusion restaurants that reach slightly from their cultural charter into other territories. A place with both a bowl of udon noodles as well as panang curry on the menu. This is the type of place where I first discovered (what is sometimes written as) bi-bim-bop. It was the tender, slightly sweet, marinated beef that was crispy on the edges that hooked me right away. I also liked how it came with a generous portion of vegetables and short grain brown rice. The egg on the side and the spicy sauce simply put it over the top.
Years later, my wife and I discovered a neighborhood restaurant called “Korean Buddhist Vegetarian Cuisine” that served bibimbap in sizzling hot stone bowls. Another nearby restaurant called it “Michael Jackson’s favorite”. I never understood that one, but they still did a great job with it.
Making Your Own Bi-Bim-Bap
Overall, it’s a very simple looking dish, though it requires more prep than most dishes, depending on how precise you want your vegetable cuts to be. I tend to spend more than most on the prep as I enjoy the challenge of getting every carrot matchstick to be a uniform size and length. That aside, you’ll also need to allow at least 2 hours to marinade the beef.
I do make a few changes from the traditional preparation. First, I don’t use sprouts. There are too many incidents of food borne illness involving sprouts, so I stay away unless I’m making them myself. Second, I don’t use mushrooms. So what’s left? I put a focus on seasonal vegetables that will cook and chill well. Here I used carrots, snap peas, spinach and cucumbers.
Unlike nearly every other Asian sauce (e.g. peanut sauce, teriyaki sauce, ponzu sauce and pad thai sauce), I have yet to find this anywhere in a bottle. This recipe here is adapted from the cookbook Modernist Cuisine At Home and was their Korean BBQ Wing Sauce.
While making it yourself isn’t that hard, the problem is that the key ingredient in it may be hard for you to find. It’s called gochujang and is a paste made from from fermented peppers, rice and soybeans. Alone, it’s pretty tough to eat. Mixed with other ingredients like garlic, soy sauce and sugar and it magically transforms into sort of a spicy korean ketchup. Try it with waffle fries.
Kimch, on the other hand is something you should probably buy – until you’re adventurous enough to try making it at home. A traditional kimchi preparation usually involves putting the cabbage and peppers into a terra cotta pot to pickle, burying it underground and waiting several weeks. I’m sure there’s a shortcut here somewhere. One is to buy it already made.
60 minutesCook time:
1 hour 30 mins
Yield: 4 servings
Beef Bulgogi Marinade
- 1 pound Strip or Ribeye Steak
- 1/3 cup Soy Sauce (tamari)
- 1/4 cup Beer
- 1 Tablespoon Dark Sesame Oil
- 3+ Cloves Garlic (crushed)
- 2 Tablespoons Scallions (chopped)
- 2 Tablespoons Toasted Sesame Seeds
- 1 Tablespoon Fresh Ginger
Spicy Red Sauce
- 1/2 cup Gochujang
- 1/3 cup Sugar
- 5 Tablespoons Soy Sauce (tamari)
- 2 Tablespoons Beer or Mirin
- 1 Tablespoon Dark Sesame Oil
- 1 Tablespoon Garlic
- 1 Tablespoon Ginger
Rice and Vegetables
- 4 Carrots, trimmed to about 1/4″ width and 4″ in length
- 1 cup Cooked and drained spinach
- 1 Japanese (seedless) Cucumber
- 1 cup Cooked snap peas
- 2 cups Cooked Short Grain White or Brown Rice
- First, make the bulgogi sauce and marinade the beef. The beef should be sliced very thin. This is easiest do do if it is very slightly frozen. Mix all of the marinade ingredients together in a large bowl. Reserve 1/3 cup of the marinade for the vegetables.
- Add the beef to the bowl, cover and marinade for at least 2 hours.
- Combine all of the red sauce ingredients and set aside
- Prep each of the vegetables and place them in a separate dish. The carrots, spinach and snap peas should be cooked until they are just about done in boiling water and then plunged into an ice bath
- Pour a small amount of the reserved marinade over each of the vegetables and lightly toss
- Place oil in a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the beef for 1-3 minutes per side, depending on thickness
- Optional: cook an egg to your liking (over easy, over hard, etc.) at the last minute to serve with the bulgogi
- Place rice in a bowl, top with vegetables, beef and the egg. Serve with kimchi and spicy sauce on the side