Recipe: Korean BBQ Marinade

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Being the primary cook in my household, I was shocked to realize recently that I had no idea how to make one of my favorite marinades. My partner always handles the grilling of galbi (Korean short ribs) plus tofu or tempeh for me, but it seemed silly not to know what went into the sauce for this deeply flavored, salty and sweet Korean-style barbecue. Fortunately, it's pretty simple and now that I know, I can share it with you, too.

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Gregory tells me that he learned how to make galbi, or kalbi, marinade by watching his mom, although it's never exactly the same twice. I had to analyze his process with eagle eyes as he threw in a little of this and a little of that, never picking up a measuring spoon or cup. I finally came up with the proportions in the recipe below; it met with his approval but he says you should always taste and adjust to your liking (good advice for most recipes, really!).

Alongside the customary soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ginger, he might sweeten it with brown sugar, white sugar, honey, soda (some people swear by 7-Up; others prefer Coke), and/or Asian pear juice, which tenderizes the meat. The marinade can be used on beef short ribs, tofu, tempeh, or even vegetables. Once on the grill, the sauce caramelizes and provides an irresistible smoky, savory, sweet flavor.

Korean BBQ Marinade

Makes about 1/2 cup – enough for 6 beef short ribs, 1 (14-ounce) block extra firm tofu, or 2 (8-ounce) blocks tempeh

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup fresh Asian pear juice or puree (optional)*
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2-3 cloves garlic, crushed
1-2 scallions, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
Dash of freshly ground black pepper

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust quantities, if desired.

Use sauce to marinate beef short ribs (see Korean Barbecued Short-Ribs for details) or slabs of extra firm tofu (drained and pressed) or tempeh. Place the protein in a shallow dish or zip-top bag and coat evenly with marinade. Marinate for at least 2 hours and up to a day, turning at least once.

*Note: Asian pear juice helps to tenderize meat and also gives the marinade a sweeter flavor. Making 1/4 cup of juice requires about 1/4 to 1/2 of an Asian pear. Use a juicer or blender or finely grate the pear and squeeze to extract the juice.

Related: Recipe: Yangnyeomjang - Korean Seasoning Sauce

(Images: Emily Ho)

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