What is Bulgogi?
Bulgogi is a marinated and grilled beef dish commonly prepared in Korea. This dish is one of the most famous elements of Korean cuisine, along with kimchi, and it can be found in many Korean restaurants and communities outside of Korea. It is also very easy to prepare at home, and it can be a nice twist on regular barbecue for people who feel like experimenting with some new and interesting foods, especially in the summer months, when outdoor grilling can be enjoyable, but monotonous when the same foods are eaten repeatedly.
The marinade for bulgogi can include a number of ingredients, depending on the taste of the cook. Sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil are common base ingredients, and things like sliced scallions, sesame seeds, vinegar, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, and black pepper may be added. Some cooks slice their beef very thinly and marinate it for around an hour before grilling, while others marinate pieces of beef whole overnight and slice them before cooking. If ingredients such as vinegar are added, people should be aware that excessive marinading could cause the meat to become soft and mushy, which is not desired.
Traditionally, bulgogi is prepared on a grill, although it can also be pan fried. Once the meat is cooked, it can be eaten plain, served with leafy greens like lettuce which can be wrapped around the meat with a dab of a condiment such as ssamjang, or eaten over rice or cellophane noodles. Some people like to eat bulgogi with vegetable side dishes, or to grill vegetables along with the meat. Fans of bulgogi might also want to explore variations like serving it in sandwiches, or saving it to eat cold as a snack.
While classically made with beef, variations on bulgogi can be made with chicken and pork as well. Like many traditional dishes, there is no one right way to make bulgogi, and individual Korean cooks may differ in their precise definition of the dish, and in the recipes they use. Cooks should feel free to adjust the marinade to taste, and to explore variations on ways to serve it until they settle on a flavor and a method they enjoy.
Some Korean markets carry beef which has already been sliced for bulgogi, makign the dish more convenient to prepare. Cooks can also buy whole cuts of beef, which may be frozen for half an hour to firm up the meat before slicing to make it easier to handle. A variety of cuts can be used, with cuts which are generally less tender requiring more marination to soften.
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