Bulgolgi, or Korean-style gilled beef, has a way of making people fall in love with it after the first bite. Thinly sliced beef seasoned with a mixture of savory-sweet flavors and cooked until incredibly tender will do that to you.
In this recipe, we're taking all the key flavor elements of bulgogi and bringing them to your weeknight kitchen. It all starts with an ingenious, make-ahead marinade, made with a surprise ingredient of pears, to both season and tenderize affordable flank steak. Soy sauce, a bit of brown sugar, and pepper are added as well for a special mid-week dinner that's no more work, but definitely more delightful, than your usual routine.
What Is Bulgogi?
Bulgogi is a traditional Korean preparation of beef or pork in which thin slices of meat are marinated in the juice and flesh of ripe fruit (with some ginger, soy sauce, sugar, and pepper for good measure) and then grilled on a barbecue to caramelized, smoky perfection.
In this recipe, we're taking a deeper look at the marinade itself and how it can bring beef to the weeknight table
For Your Information
- This bulgogi recipe uses flank steak, but more classical recipes use beef rib eye, pork shoulder, or even beef short ribs. You'll need 2 pounds of meat.
- The meat should sit in the marinade for a minimum of 2 hours. Anything less and the meat won't be tender. Longer doesn't hurt, but be sure to store the meat in the fridge if marinating for more than 2 hours.
Key Steps for the Best Weeknight Bulgogi
- Choosing the right beef for a weeknight. Flank steak isn't the traditional cut for bulgogi but it's widely available, pretty affordable as far as beef goes, and won't require any additional butchering. Once you've mastered this version, feel free to move onto beef rib eye or even short ribs using the same marinade in this recipe.
- Pear makes for a powerful marinade. Asian pears (or even ripe Bosc pears) are the key to a powerful marinade. Like Pineapple, papaya, and kiwi, these pears are high in similar enzymes that tenderize the meat. The pear also adds a layer of fruity sweetness that complements the rich caramel notes from the brown sugar.
- Cooking the beef hot and fast. True bulgogi is cooked on a grill or griddle where the flames cook the meat, leaving a smoky kiss. When time and weather permit, absolutely give bulgogi on the grill a try, but for weeknights, a wide, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat is best. Be sure to cook the beef in two batches so that the beef browns rather than steams from overcrowding.
Storing the Marinated Meat
Once the meat is in the marinade, you've got two choices: Cook it that evening or store for longer for those nights when making a meal from start to finish feels unlikely. If you're not going to cook the beef within 12 hours, move it to the freezer for longer-term storage. Unlike other marinades, don't expect the meat to change in color as it sits.
Traditional bulgogi is served with a variety of pickled and fresh vegetables and wrapped in lettuce wraps. For weeknight dinners, rice makes a perfect bed for this simple and slightly saucy beef dinner. Be sure to serve this bulgogi with a sprinkling of green onions to garnish.
How To Make Weeknight-Style Bulgogi
Serves 6 to 8
What You Need
green pears, such as Asian or bosc
1 (2-inch) piece
fresh ginger, peeled
scallions, thinly sliced, white and green parts separated
tamari or soy sauce
packed light brown sugar
toasted (Asian) sesame oil
red pepper flakes
vegetable oil, divided
Measuring cups and spoons
Cutting board and chef’s knife
Large zip-top bag
Large mixing bowl
Large wide skillet
Grate the pear, ginger, and garlic. Grate the pears on the large holes of a box grater into a large bowl. Don’t worry about getting too close to the core, just make sure to collect the juices along with the peel and flesh of the pear. Grate the ginger and garlic on the small holes of the grater into the same bowl.
Make the marinade. Add the white parts of the scallions, tamari or soy sauce, brown sugar, sesame oil, and red pepper flakes and stir to combine.
Thinly slice the steak. Slice the steak into thin pieces across the grain of the meat. Add to the marinade and toss to coat.
Marinate the steak for 30 minutes to 8 hours. Cover the bowl and let the beef marinate for 30 minutes to 8 hours (refrigerate if marinating for more than 30 minutes). Alternately, you can transfer the marinade and meat to a gallon zip-top bag and freeze for future use.
Cook over medium-high heat in two batches. When ready to cook, remove the bulgogi from the refrigerator if needed. Heat a large, wide skillet over medium-high heat — cast iron is best, but avoid nonstick. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and half the meat. Sear until slightly charred and cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes on each side. Trasfer to a serving dish. Repeat with the remaining oil and bulgogi.
Finish the bulgogi. Add the scallion greens to the bulgogi and toss to combine. Serve immediately.
Storage: Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.