I started planning for round two of Project Food Blog before I even finished my entry for the first round. I liked the idea of making a traditional family dish with the recipe coming from a friend. I knew my friend, Virginia, could help. She’s a terrific cook with a generous spirit. I called her up and we brainstormed some traditional Korean dishes. She helped me decide on bibim bap (mixed vegetables on rice) and bulgogi (marinated beef), something that her family often ate.
Now, for the shopping…I visited two Asian grocery stores within a few miles of our temporary house here in Fort Worth. The vegetables, rice, and seasonings where easy to find, and it was fun to just wander down the aisles. The butcher counter was a slightly different story.
From my conversations with Virginia, I knew I was looking for very thinly sliced beef, and we both believed it would be fairly common to find. Let me emphasize here that I am not at all squeamish, and I thought it was important in the spirit of the challenge to step outside my normal routine. I was not deterred by the lack of labels behind the glass, the various animal body parts in plastic, or clerks who didn’t speak English. I walked slowly up and down the counter case, all along the freezer case, and back to the counter case. Hmmmm…I didn’t really see what I wanted to find.
I found one pile that looked like beef, and was thinly sliced, but it looked basically like scraps left from trimming more favorable portions of the cow. Well, what the heck, the price was only $1.49/lb. Note to my reader – that should have been my first clue. Using sign language and pointing, I placed my order. The clerk reached into the pile with his bare hands and dumped it by the handful into a plastic grocery bag to weigh, then placed it in another plastic grocery bag, knotted it, and handed it over. This probably should have been my second clue.
Once I got my packages home, I was going to prepare the marinade for the beef. I unwrapped the meat with the intent of trimming it. On closer inspection, I noticed that it was really discolored. It also had a lot of fat on it. Now, we don’t have the best knife set in our rental kitchen, but I couldn’t even cut it. No matter what direction in relation to the grain I used, it was too tough. Alright, enough is enough. I threw the whopping $3 of meat in the trash and headed out to the store again.
This time I visited a butcher I knew who could help me figure out what to do. We put our meatheads together and decided that the best course of action was to buy fajita meat. Yeah, that’s right. I bought Texas fajita meat to make Korean bulgogi. Hear me out…fajita meat is sirloin made for marinade and thin slicing. Plus, it isn’t too expensive. Meat crisis over, I went home to make my marinade.
For 1 lb of meat, very thinly sliced
1 cup soy sauce
1/8 cup white sugar
2 Tbsp garlic powder
¼ cup sesame oil
1 bunch spring onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
dash of rice vinegar
Place all ingredients and meat in a gallon sized ziploc bag.
Using your hands, distribute the marinade around and over the beef.
Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. The meat can then be stir fried, broiled, or grilled. You may want to chop it into bite-size pieces, as I did.
Serves 4 to 6
2 cups medium-grain Korean (or Japanese) rice
1 large cucumber, sliced into thin strips
1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
1 1/2 cups spinach, trim stems
2 carrots, julienned
1/2 lb meat, optional
Fried egg as a topping, optional
For making the right rice, which is really important, here’s what Virginia says to do. Rinse the rice to get rid of excess starch. Then put enough water in it so that when you lay your hand flat on the surface of the rice, the water goes up to your big knuckle on your fingers. She uses a rice cooker, but if you want to do on stove, just bring it to a boil and then immediately cover, turn heat down to low, and then let that “steam” for 20 minutes. Do not open lid during the 20 minutes. I used 1½ cups of dry rice and 2 cups of water. I brought it to a boil, then covered and turned down the heat to low and cooked for 20 minutes.
I cooked all vegetables separately and kept them separate until serving.
Soak the cucumber in saltwater for about 20 minutes, then drain.
Place the bean sprouts in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes, and drain.
Cook the spinach in boiling water for no more than 3 minutes and drain very well. I squeezed it with my hands to remove excess water. I seasoned each with a drizzle of sesame oil, a dash of salt, and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.
Sauté carrots in a bit of sesame oil and sprinkle with salt.
Spoon cooked rice in large bowl or platter and arrange vegetables on top.
If you like, the bulgogi and egg can be placed in the center.
This was delicious, and we ate until we were almost sick. We attempted authenticity by eating with chopsticks, but my husband reverted to using a fork because he couldn’t shovel it into his mouth fast enough. Thanks for the recipes, Virginia!