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I’m not sure if there’s anything I love more than a family barbecue.
I always look forward to the few times a year my family gets together over trays of grilled meat surrounded by all the fixings of a food-loving Korean American family.
Of course, a restaurant Korean barbecue spread isn’t the same as our barbecues, but we still whip up quite the crowd-satisfying results. Bulgogi, thinly-cut beef that’s been marinated and quick to cook on a hot grill, might make an appearance. Instead of making soondubu (soft tofu stew) on a hot day, you can make roasted clams, squid or a wrapped-up salmon. And the sides are debatably the best part: japchae (glass noodles), grilled sweet corn, sweet potatoes or one of my sister’s summery, dressed-up salads. Dessert will either be graciously brought in the form of a delicious fruit tart, cheesecake, ice cream or colorful tteok (rice cakes).
This past year, if there has been any barbecuing in my life, it’s just been for myself and my husband in our tiny kitchen in the Bronx, New York. Not that we mind scarfing down all the goodness or that, after, our apartment smells like sweet and smoky, toasted sesame oil heaven! But the best part has always been the group experience of it — lots of laughs, catching up and endless feasting — and we look forward to bringing it back this summer.
Here’s a look into some of my favorites Korean barbecue foods.
The spread for Korean banchan at a restaurant is a beautiful one, but the one I serve up in my household is a minimal version. These are some of the ones usually on our table:
Kimchi Potato Salad
What would a Korean barbecue be without kimchi?
Amongst the banchan at a Korean barbecue restaurant, you might see sometimes see a small plate of macaroni or potato salad. And potato salad is one of my favorite picnic and barbecue sides. With a nice little kick from the kimchi, it’s a dish folks will gladly keep coming back to nibble on.
Put your chopped, cooked potatoes into a large mixing bowl. Set aside.
In a medium-size bowl, combine the chopped kimchi, celery, chives, mayonnaise, sour cream, mustard, red wine vinegar, honey, onion powder, smoked paprika, kosher salt and black pepper. Whisk together well.
Add the wet mixture to the potatoes, and then use a large spoon, fork or rubber spatula to thoroughly combine together.
Cover the bowl and refrigerate for about 2 hours, or at best, overnight, for all the flavors to meld together. Garnish with gochugaru for a little extra spiciness.
With all the meat involved, it's important to factor in some fresh vegetable dishes. These two dishes are incredibly simple to make and both can be made with exactly the same ingredients. With sigeumchi namul (seasoned spinach salad) and kongnamul muchim (soybean sprout salad), it was never hard to convince me to remember to eat my vegetables.
To make the sigeumchi namul, combine the blanched spinach with minced garlic, sesame oil, salt, pepper, chopped scallions and toasted sesame seeds. Mix ingredients thoroughly. Cover bowl in plastic wrap and let it chill in the fridge for about 20 to 30 minutes, then serve.
To make the kongnamul muchim, combine the soybean sprouts with minced garlic, sesame oil, salt, pepper, chopped scallions and toasted sesame seeds. Mix ingredients thoroughly and serve immediately or cover and chill until ready to serve.
The simplest cuts of meat are usually the ones we crave the most for barbecuing. My family definitely loves my dad’s kalbi the most, but all of these cuts shine when grilled over medium-high heat and enjoyed right away.
Samgyeopsal (Pork Belly)
It doesn’t get easier than cooking pork belly. Cooking time depends on thickness, but for the most part, grill it on each side for about two minutes, and if it’s a thick slice, cut it into 1-inch-wide pieces and allow them to grill for another minute or so.
Wusul (Sliced Ox Tongue)
Tender and delicious, this is another easy and quick-to-cook cut. On high heat, grill for about a minute or so on each side (try not to go too well-done with this one — it can get tough!).
LA Kalbi (Short Ribs)
Though the carnivore in me loves all kalbi, LA kalbi, the lateral cut of short rib meat (the "LA" is for lateral — not the city), is my favorite. It’s a good, thick bite of tender meat eaten right off the bone. Though this recipe is written for my favorite cut of kalbi, the marinade can easily be used on chicken, pork, salmon, tofu and mushrooms.
Make your marinade: In a bowl or measuring cup, combine the toasted sesame oil, brown sugar, soy sauce, black pepper and chopped scallions. Mix well until fully combined.
Put your short ribs into another large mixing bowl. Pour the marinade over the short ribs and, using gloved hands, coat and massage the meat well with the marinade and make sure that all the ingredients are coating every inch of the meat possible.
When the meat is well-coated, put all the meat into a large storage container (even adding as much of the leftover marinade as possible from the mixing bowl). Secure your container lid and let it refrigerate overnight, six to eight hours recommended, but if you can’t wait that long, then two hours will suffice. Overnight is best, because the flavor will be more saturated and the sugar will help best tenderize this thicker cut of meat.
Heat your grill to a medium high. Grill the meat for about two to three minutes on each side, using the tongs to flip them. If you want to divide into sections for a crowd: Once grilled on both sides, use kitchen shears to cut each piece into three sections (one bone per section) and continue letting them cook for another minute.
Set aside cooked meat on a serving plate or platter and enjoy!
What is grilled meat without sauce? Here are two simple ones to put together. The best part about the directions for both is that they’re exactly the same: Just pour ingredients into a bowl, stir until fully combined and enjoy with your barbecued meat.
While the sesame oil sauce is better for dipping, the ssamjang is best spooned into a lettuce wrap full of rice and barbecued meat.