Ever have Kalbi? I have, and I love it. Recently, I discovered how to make it, and I thought I would share it here.
A Korean gal taught me this, and I just finished preparing it for about the tenth time, because it tastes so good. These days I make sure I never leave the grocery store without the ingredients for it; it is such a favorite at our house. I have my own version of the recipe memorized, and once I get started I can literally have it put together and in the fridge in about two minutes. Then we just have to wait a few days for the meat to marinate, which can be a trial at times.
This is most commonly known around here as Kalbi, but I have also seen it spelled Kalbe or even Galbi or Garbi. Some Koreans insist on one spelling or another, but as it is a word translated from Korean pictograms, I don't think it much matters. They all sound the same when a Korean person says them, in any event. Kalbi is good enough for me; this is what most of the menus around here say.
Kalbi is traditionally used with Flanken-style ribs, but works well with any thin slice of meat. I first had it on skirt steak, and was completely hooked. I suppose it would work for chicken or pork, as well, but traditionally there are different recipes for them.
One of the coolest things about this is that while it is absolutely authentic, all the ingredients are easily found in most normal American supermarket-type grocery stores. No need to track down an Asian market for any exotic ingredients.
Here is the recipe for the marinade for up to about two pounds of meat:
Place in mixing bowl and whisk thoroughly to dissolve sugar:
1 cup sugar (brown preferred, but white will do)
1 cup soy sauce
3 cups water (warm works best)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
Add and stir in:
1/2 large onion, sliced from top to bottom, (stem to root) then sliced into about 1/4" half rings, and sectioned (whatever kind of onion is handy, I typically use sweet)
1 bunch scallions ("green onions," sliced into about 2" pieces, including both the green and the white parts.)
2 tablespoons minced garlic (or even more, if you like garlic like I do. Freshly minced is best, but you can use the stuff in a jar if you really must)
1/2 tablespoon of whole black peppercorns, ground. (I suppose you could use the pre-ground stuff, but why?).
2 tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)
1 tablespoon of Sriracha ("Rooster Sauce," also optional*)
Place meat in marinade†, and place in refrigerator for at least 24 hours. The longer the better, though. (within reason) I typically marinate mine for 72 hours, to give it plenty of time to penetrate the meat. (anything less and you are cheating yourself of flavor)
Step four: Take out, shake off, and cook to desired doneness by your preferred method‡
Step five: Serve, and impress the heck out of your friends, neighbors, and family with your secret cook-fu technique.**
†I usually make the marinade in a mixing bowl, then combine it with the meat in a 1 gallon ziplock bag, mix thoroughly, squeeze out the air, seal, then place the bag in the rinsed mixing bowl and put it in the fridge. This ensures the meat is all submerged, and the mixing bowl will catch any leaks or dribbles. If you elect to just put it in the mixing bowl in the fridge, cover it with a lid or plastic wrap, and turn the meat every day to make sure it is evenly marinated.
*I like mine with a bit of heat, so I add about a tablespoon of Sriracha sauce. Really, almost any kind of heat will do, including sliced chiles, or even red pepper flakes. I would avoid vinegar-based sauces like Tabasco and so on, though. The vinegar, I think, would add an undesirable flavor. While vinegar is often used in Asian dishes, this particular marinade is not supposed to taste tangy, at all. But, again, hot sauce or chiles are optional and not at all needed for authentic flavor.
Really, the only constants that should be absolutely adhered to are the one part sugar, one part soy sauce, and three parts water. The other ingredients can be varied in quantity according to taste. The above listed quantities are the ones I have arrived at to suit my own taste, after experimenting a bit, and I think they are a good starting point. These quantities taste the most like the stuff I've had in local Korean restaurants.
‡Regarding cooking, traditionally the meat is cooked on a grill, but really it can be cooked in a pan over medium-high heat, or even broiled. Because of the sugar content of the marinade, however, I would recommend that if broiling, do not use the broiling pan that came with your oven. Any of the marinade that drips onto the pan will turn into a rock-hard substance that is almost impossible to clean off. I typically use a cooling rack over foil in a sheet pan when broiling, but usually if not grilling I will just pan fry it. Much easier to clean up afterwards, as you can just deglaze the pan with a little water, then rinse it out.
I usually prefer my beef medium-rare, but I think in this case, at least when using thin slices of meat, well-done is more suited and traditional. Most important is to get come good carmelization going on each side.
(I do plan to try it with a small roast, someday, however, and in that case I will probably go a day or two more than the 72 hours of marinating, and then cook it normally, which as I said for me is medium rare.)
**Regarding serving, this goes quite well with plain white rice and steamed veggies. Melted butter with a couple drops of sesame oil stirred in would make a very nice topping for the veggies. I really mean a couple of drops, though. People who have never used sesame oil should be cautioned to respect it. It is very powerful stuff. It's one thing when most of it remains in the left-behind marinade, but quite another when applied directly to food. A little goes a very long way, and a little too much can easily spoil a dish.
For a pretty presentation, press the rice into a small bowl to mold, then upend the bowl on the plate leaving just the molded rice, and top it with some finely-sliced scallions. Then pour the sesame butter over the veggies and sprinkle with sesame seeds. If serving with chopsticks, cut the meat into bite-sized chunks before serving. If using flanken-style ribs, simply slice between the bones, leaving them intact.By the way, they tell me it is perfectly permissible to eat the rib sections with your fingers, chopsticks or no. This stuff is that good. ;)
Oh, another possible recipe variation. Although I have never tried it, I suspect it might be feasible to use a sugar substitute to make this, which would make it diabetes-friendly, although really, I don't think the meat absorbs all that much sugar. Most of it stays in the leftover marinade.
Anyway, please try it, I am quite sure you and your family will like it. It tastes amazing, and is a traditional Korean dish even American guys can easily make. ;).