Summer Grilling with Korean-Style Beef Short Ribs (Kalbi)

English: Preparing grill for grilling, grill w...
Time to get grilling! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here in Seattle, we don’t expect summer–the most elusive of all seasons–to make a gracious appearance until after July 4th.

One week post-Independence Day, I am happy to report that the past few days have been gloriously sunny! The temps have rolled into the 70’s and 80’s, and we’re even starting to complain about the heat.

While true Seattleites have no qualms about being pelted by raindrops while guarding the grill, it’s always more pleasant when skies are blue and steaks aren’t sodden.

I know better than to take our gorgeous weather for granted so we have a few outdoor-centric activities planned for the next few days and that, of course, includes a barbecue.

Call me a snob but I’m not a burgers and hotdogs (bratwurst, yes, but I don‘t consider them one and the same) kinda gal. I prefer sate, pork chops and chicken wings, foods we always had at our family barbecues growing up. That being said, my husband usually insists on throwing some patties and buns on the grill, “just in case people don’t care for sate.” Seriously?

Sure, it involves more prepping and elbow grease—as chief marinator and head sate-skewerer, I should know—but if you gather family and friends, it makes for easy work and a fun evening of chattering and gossip. And who could argue that tender, deeply marinated chicken morsels–flame-licked and kaffir lime-spiked–dipped into peanut sauce isn’t heaven on a hot and sticky summer’s day, or at anytime, really?

Now that I have you salivating over chicken sate, I’m going to tell you about a relatively new addition to my grilling repertoire—kalbi or Korean-style beef short ribs (sorry!).

To be honest, I don’t eat much red meat but I’ll happily eat kalbi. For some reason, my taste buds don’t register kalbi as beef. Similarly, rare flank steak or oxtail don’t taste beefy to me either.

I’ve eaten kalbi at Korean restaurants, and every time I’ve marveled at the meat so tender it melted like butter in my mouth.

Fortunately, I didn’t have to wonder for very long.

I was enlightened when my friend and fellow food-writer extraordinaire Susan Kim shared her grandma’s kalbi recipe (and a few more) with me for “The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook.” The revelation was extraordinary, much like an initiation into a reverent circle of all-knowing Asian grandmas, which producing the cookbook was! It seems that every Korean grandmother has her own secret to tenderizing meat, ranging from soda (Coke or 7-up) to Asian pears, and in Sang Jung Choi’s case, kiwis. [Curious if kiwis are native to Korea? So was I, and as it turns out, they are.]

These methods and ingredients may seem unorthodox to the American cook but trust me, the results are impressive.

So what are you waiting for? It’s time to get grillin’!

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Korean Barbecued Beef Short Ribs (Kalbi)

From The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook; Photo credit: Lara Ferroni

All Korean grandmothers have their own little secrets for making and tenderizing kalbi. Soda, sugar, and Asian pears are all common tenderizing agents. Grandma Sang Jung Choi massages kiwis into Korean-style short ribs—beef ribs cut about ¼ inch thick across the bone (instead of between bones) with three bones per slice—they are often available in Asian markets. Your butcher may also have the similarly cut flanken-style or cross-cut beef chuck short ribs; just ask if the slices can be cut a little thinner. Kalbi is lovely with cabbage kimchi.

Time: 30 minutes plus marinating
Makes: 6 to 8 servings as part of a multicourse family-style meal

4 pounds Korean-style beef short ribs
2 kiwis, peeled and pureed in a blender
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped (2 tablespoons)
1-inch piece fresh ginger, grated (1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon Korean red pepper powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
20-ounce bottle lemon-lime soda
Vegetable oil for brushing

Using your hands, massage the short ribs with the kiwi purée. Sprinkle each piece evenly with sugar and let sit while you make the marinade.

In a medium bowl, mix together the soy sauce, garlic, ginger, sesame seeds, sesame oil, honey, red pepper powder, pepper, and soda. Place the ribs in a single layer in a wide shallow pan and pour the marinade over, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator, turning occasionally, for at least 1 hour, or preferably 12 hours.

Prepare a medium charcoal fire (you can hold your hand over the rack for no more than 3 or 4 seconds) with the rack 4 to 6 inches from the coals, or preheat a gas grill to medium. While the grill is heating up, drain the ribs from the marinade. Reserve the marinade for basting, if desired.

Brush the grill rack with oil and grill the ribs in batches until they turn caramel brown and develop slightly charred edges, 6 to 8 minutes on each side. Baste with the reserved marinade during the first 10 minutes of grilling if you like.

Pat’s Notes: If you prefer, omit the soda and add more sugar or honey for a little extra sweetness.

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This post is  part of #LetsLunch, our monthly Twitter-inspired food bloggers potluck. This month it’s all about barbecue! 

Don’t forget to check out the Let’s Lunchers’ creations below (the list will be constantly updated). And if you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #LetsLunch.

Aleana‘s Home-made Ketchup, Relish & Mustard (BBQ-Friendly Condiments) at Eat My Blog

Charissa‘s Grilled Pulled-Pork Pizza with Roasted Corn (Gluten-Free) at Zest Bakery

Emma‘s Miso-Glazed Grilled Veggies and Polenta at Dreaming of Pots and Pans

Grace‘s Working Mama’s Pork Tenderloin Bao at HapaMama

Jill‘s Steven Raichlen Ribs Interview at Eating My Words

Joe‘s Grilled Cabbage (and Smoky Cabbage and Udon Slaw) at Joe Yonan

Lisa‘s BBQ Salmon with Tahini Dressing and Fresh Herb Salad at Monday Morning Cooking Club

Lucy‘s Taj Ma Hog & Not-So-Secret BBQ Sauce at A Cook and Her Books

Nancie‘s Thai Grilled Chicken Wings with Sweet Hot Garlic Sauce at Nancie McDermott

Pat‘s Korean-Style Beef Shortribs (Kalbi) at The Asian Grandmother’s Cookbook

Renee‘s Steamed Buns with BBQ Pork at My Kitchen And I

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A cooking frenzy

It’s been three days and I’m still exhausted.

Last Saturday–correction: I started on Friday–I cooked up a storm in my kitchen and invited 10 hungry friends over for lunch.

Remind me never to do that again.

At least I got to test 10 recipes all at one shot and didn’t have to eat leftovers for a week, or so my friend Jess comforted me.

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Anyway, here’s what the menu looked like and a little blabber about each dish (links will go live as I put up recipes on my blog):

Fried Shrimp Rolls (from my friend Carol’s mom Thanh Nguyen)
These were very simple to make, so simple that I made a big boo boo. I was supposed to use spring roll wrappers to wrap the shrimp, but guess what I bought? Wonton skins! Anyway, they still tasted fab dipped in Thai sweet chili sauce. My sis, Mo, suggested trying Japanese mayonnaise as a dipping sauce. Mmm …

Tea Eggs (from the Chong family cookbook)

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Soy sauce, tea bags and star anise (and eggs of course) are the only ingredients that go into making this popular Chinese snack. But there’s definitely a skill involved in cracking the egg shells just-so to create the beautiful marbling effect which I’ve yet to master. Not bad for a first try don’t you think? 

Chinese Pickles (adapted from recipes given to me by Li Chang and Nellie Wong)
I couldn’t resist combining the recipes as they both offered elements I was intrigued with. Li’s recipe uses maple syrup, a substitute for the original ginger syrup that’s not so readily available in the American supermarket. Nellie, on the other hand, included carrots–they add beautiful color!–and she had a very interesting method of cutting her cucumbers.

Chicken Adobo (from Olivia Dyhouse through her sister, Juana Stewart)
So easy, so yummy! I couldn’t resist adding more garlic.

Pepes Jamur or Mushrooms Wrapped in Banana Leaf (from Brigitta Suwanda)

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I admit, I didn’t pound the spice base (comprising lemongrass, shallots, garlic, turmeric, palm sugar, candlenuts) in a mortar and pestle. I used a modern kitchen vice–the food processor.

1-2-3-4-5 Sticky Spare Ribs (adapted from recipes given by Jonathan Liu and Ivy Chan)
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See those numbers up there, that’s the ratio of ingredients: 1 part alcohol to 2 parts vinegar to 3 parts sugar to 4 parts soy sauce, and finally 5 parts water. This is just too much fun and one reason I love this recipe. How many recipes like this are there out there? It’s also easy to prepare and oh-so-delicious. As Jonathan said, it’s got “one of the best ease-of-preparation to tastiness ratios!”

Gai lan or Chinese broccoli in Oyster Sauce
Having eaten this at many dim sum lunches, I attempted to come up with my own concoction. It’s a deceptively simple preparation (or so I thought)–blanch the gai lan and drizzle with an oyster sauce mixture (oyster sauce, wine, sesame oil, broth, and sugar). I cooked about 2 pounds of veggies and they were a little soggy, plus there wasn’t enough sauce. I’m going to have to work on this one. 

Beef, Tomato and Green Pepper Stir-fry (from Mary Lee Chin; recipe is below)
This dish was hands-down everyone’s favorite. It was tasty, the beef so tender, and Mary’s recipe was spot-on, making my life so easy! I suspect Mary, who is a registered dietician, is quite an old hand at writing recipes.

Honeydew sago

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Sago is another name for tapioca pearls, however, you shouldn’t substitute the sago found at the Asian grocery store with the American supermarket version. I have fond memories of many a birthday party where I’d slurp down ice-cold bowls of honeydew bits (sometimes they were balls, sometimes cubed) and sago in coconut milk. In those days, I would pick out and eat the fruit first, but this time round I savored the sago just as much. It’s funny what you learn to appreciate later in life.

My mum’s wedang jahe or ginger tea
You have to love ginger to love this drink. I used 8 oz of fresh ginger to make about 4 cups (or about 8 servings). Yes, that’s a lot of ginger but I’m thrilled to report that all my friends gulped it down! Maybe it was the pandan syrup. 

Please be patient with me as I post the above recipes. All the more reason for you to come back and visit often!

Since it was such a hit, I’ll start off with Mary Lee Chin’s Beef, Tomato and Green Pepper recipe.

Beef, Tomato, and Green Pepper Stir-fry

OK, so I almost forgot to take a photograph and when I got around to it, it was just about gone. Hey, you try making 10 different items, taking notes and photos, and entertaining 10 guests at the same time! 

Don’t let the various steps in this dish fool you: it’s fairly easy to make and the results are delicious. As with all stir-fries, this dish is very versatile. Instead of tomatoes, green pepper and fermented black beans, try using broccoli, green beans, or bok choy with fresh ginger. Served with a bowl of white rice, it makes a complete meal.

Time: 30 minutes (prep), 15 minutes (cook)
Makes: 4 to 6 servings eaten with rice

1 pound round steak, trimmed
1 tablespoon sherry or Shaoxing wine
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 clove garlic, peeled and smashed
2 teaspoons fermented black beans or “dow see,” rinsed and drained (optional but highly recommended)
1 medium onion, cut into 8 to 10 wedges and separated
1 green pepper, cut into 10 to 12 strips
2 stalks celery, trimmed and sliced on the diagonal
2 teaspoons cornstarch, mixed with 3 tablespoons water to form a slurry
2 ripe medium tomatoes, each cut into 8 wedges
1 teaspoon soy sauce, or to taste

So that beef is easier to cut, handle it partly frozen (if it’s fresh, freeze for about 30 minutes). Cut meat along the grain into 1-1/2-inch-wide strips. Then, with your knife at an angle almost parallel to the cutting surface, slice the meat diagonally against the grain into 1/8-inch-thick slices.  

In a medium bowl, toss beef with sherry, oyster and soy sauces, and sugar. Cover the bowl and let the meat marinate in the refrigerator for 10 minutes or up to overnight.

Heat a large wok or skillet over high heat. [Wait about 30 seconds and sprinkle a few drops of water. If the water sizzles and evaporates immediately, the wok is hot enough.] Add 1 tablespoon of oil. Add garlic and fry briefly until lightly browned, about 15 seconds. Discard. Add black beans and onion, and stir-fry 1 minute. Add green pepper and celery. Stir-fry 2 minutes until crisp-tender. Set aside.

Return the same wok to high heat, add 1 tablespoon oil. Divide marinated meat into 4 small batches and stir-fry each batch until pieces are still a little pink, about 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Transfer each batch to a single plate when done

Return cooked vegetables to wok at high heat. Add cooked meat and toss continuously until heated through, about 1 minute. Add cornstarch mixture, and toss to coat meat and vegetables evenly. Cook until mixture thickens and the meat and vegetables look glossy, about 1 minute. Add tomatoes and soy sauce. Toss quickly until heated through, about another minute.

Serve immediately.