Bulgogi, along with bibimbap, is probably one of the most famous Korean dishes. Being that this dish is so famous, it can easily be put into a rigid system of rules and guidelines, but I’m here to completely make this recipe my own, and recommend that you do the same!
The “stereotypical” ingredients for making bulgogi consists of good quality thin strips of beef (the same thickness used for sukiyaki or shabu shabu) marinated in a soy sauce based sauce, a few vegetables, and Korean vermicelli or glass noodles.
Beef in Korea is actually quite expensive and is eaten on special occasions; we often eat a lot of pork when dining out. I happened to have frozen chicken breast in the fridge so guess what I decided to put into my bulgogi- that’s right, chicken. What other ingredients did I put into my bulgogi? The other things that I happened to have in my fridge.
Before you go out and buy all the ingredients you see on a specific recipe, think about what’s inside your refrigerator and think of ways to incorporate the ingredients into the recipe. Tweak the recipe to fit the ingredients you have at hand instead of obsessing over replicating a recipe perfectly.
Bulgogi can be made with a broth, and also can be made like a stir-fry to top rice. Since it’s pretty cold in Korea these days (It does not feel like spring at all…) I decided to make a hearty bulgogi with broth.
Let us begin! Serves two greedy people, or three normal people.
Before prepping anything else, start with the stock- I used two big dried sardines and two dried chilies. If you can’t take the spice, omit the chili but I recommend putting them in- it creates another layer of complexity within the dish. Boil the stock on medium heat until the sardines soften, and then reserve for later use.
I used two medium-sized chicken breasts. If you use frozen ones, make sure they are defrosted all the way and then pat them dry with a kitchen towel.
Cut thinly so that the marinade can really seep into the meat.
Put into a bowl.
Now for the marinade!
Three fairly large cloves of garlic were used for my version, but if you’re not a big fan of garlic feel free to use one or two. Mince finely and add to the meat.
Add one tablespoon of cheong-ha (청하) which is similar to sake. It’s mellower than soju, and is a little sweet. Adding a little sweet alcohol into meat dishes seems to intensify flavors and also mask any unpleasant odors from the meat.
Add three tablespoons of soy sauce. I added three to the marinade, and then later when I put the meat in the broth and simmered it for a couple of minutes, finished it with two tablespoons of another type of soy sauce. I think I’ve explained this before, but in Korean cooking there are two main types of soy sauce, one has a bolder stronger flavor while the other is used to gently season mainly soups. I used the stronger soy sauce to marinade the meat, and later used the gentler soy sauce to season the broth to taste.
I also used one table spoon of mee-hyang (미향) which is basically like a Korean version of mirin, which is used widely in Japanese cooking. It works similar to using cheong-ha, being that it is mildly alcoholic, but it has other mysterious ingredients in it that I don’t know about that apparently tenderizes meat and deepens the flavor of the broth.
One half tablespoon of brown sugar.
The star ingredient in my marinade: Jocheong (grain syrup)!
Isn’t it beautiful? Jocheong is made by fermenting grain and then boiling it until it becomes something like a very sticky taffy. It’s like honey, minus the bees, very sweet and in my case flavored with Doraji (도라지) which is balloon flower (it’s actually not even a flower. It’s a root that looks similar to ginseng but has a milder earthier taste and is often eaten as a healthy side-dish).
I recently received them as gifts (thank you!!!) and plan to incorporate them in many recipes that are coming soon 🙂
Add one tablespoon. Jocheong can be a bit expensive, but can be used in so many different dishes- I urge you to buy some if you have the chance. If it is a bit difficult to find, try any other grain syrup that can be found in all Korean grocery stores or you could even use honey. Bulgogi is deliciously sweet, and simply adding sugar doesn’t give it its delicate flavor, so I really recommend using some syrup to sweeten it instead.
This is the basic marinade. Gently massage the chicken with a cooking utensil, or in my case my plastic glove-protected hand.
Leave the chicken to rest for a couple of minutes. In the meantime, cut up all of your vegetables.
I used one rather small long green onion (cut the green leafy bits into two inch pieces and cut the stalks at an angle), one small onion sliced (not too thinly), carrot flowers, a small bunch of paeng-i mushrooms (used often in bulgogi), and two hot chilies for some added spice.
For those of you who would like to learn how to make some rather deformed carrot “flowers”:
I shall do better next time.
Cut a shallow angle, and then cut another shallow angle meeting the first one. You’re literally cutting little triangles out of the side of the carrot.
tah-dah! Simple things like cutting vegetables a bit differently can brighten up your day.
Mix in the onions, green part of the long green onion, and carrots in with the meat so that they absorb some of the marinade as well. You could leave it overnight for the flavors to really deepen, but I think an hour or two is enough.
While waiting for the marinade to seep in, prepare the vermicelli.
It’s called Dang myun (당면) in Korean and is made out of potato starch.
Soak the noodles in the water so that they become more malleable and easier to work with. Use a bigger bowl than the one I used above.
In time they will look like this!
When you are ready to cook, first of all heat up your stock, and when it starts to bubble add in your meat and veg.
Remove any foam that forms on the surface and cook until the meat is cooked and vegetables are soft. Then add the stalks of the green onion and the hot chilies.
Slap on the vermicelli noodles. It looks like it’s too much, but trust me the noodles are like spinach, they soak up the broth and settle into the soup nicely.
Finally, top with the paeng-i mushrooms.
Sprinkle with toasted white sesame seeds and enjoy with freshly steamed rice!
All of the ingredients really soak up all of the delicious marinade and you’re left with a heart-warming savory pot of bulgogi. No need for ladling individual portions into bowls, just stick your chopsticks straight in; it feels cozier that way 🙂
I hope you enjoyed my recipe; it’s so easy to make but so delicious.
Until next time!