If you’ve never had Korean barbecue, you should feel cheated. I desperately miss the grill we used to frequent in Oakland, California, a big restaurant with high powered fans over each table and waitresses who would hurry to the tables with pans full of real, honest-to-goodness wood charcoal, weaving through the aisles and dodging customers in what surely must violate all kinds of codes. Folks would grill pieces of marinated, succulent, thin-sliced sirloin, then wrap it in lettuce leaves with a dab of miso, a jalapeno or garlic slice for the brave, and sesame-scallion salad. In Korean, it’s called bulgogi. In America, it’s called dee-licious.All is not lost, though. If you have relocated from the Bay Area, you’re tired of the slow cooker, or you just plain want some barbecue meat in the middle of winter, I have the perfect recipe for you.
Korean BBQ Lettuce Wraps
Serves: 2 with no abandon, or 4 more reserved people, with rice and a side dish or soup.
2 lbs. thinly sliced sirloin, rib steak, or flank steak (an Asian supermarket will stock this, or slice your own)
3-4 scallions, chopped
1 T. chopped garlic
5 T. soy sauce (I use imported Kikkoman, also worth a trip the Asian market to buy)
2 T. sesame oil
1/8 cup sugar
2 T. sake or Chinese cooking wine
Combine all ingredients in A. to marinate meat for 2-12 hours. To cook steak, either grill on high heat (sugars will carmelize and it will cook very quickly), or place in one layer in a roasting pan with marinade and broil on high for 5-10 minutes (again, keep an eye on it, as it will burn easily). When meat is browned and tasty-looking, remove to cutting board, chop into bite-sized pieces, and place on serving platter.
Serve with rice, a side dish such as a vegetable stirfry or a soup, a variety of kimchi if you have access to such things, and the following:
a head of romaine lettuce, washed and drained well and leaves separated
3-4 green onions, sliced LENGTHWISE several times with tip of knife to create thin ribbons, then cut at 2-3 inch lengths
2 t. sesame oil
1 t. soy sauce
1 t. sesame seeds (I use the black sesame seeds with salt available in Japanese markets, but white ones are fine)
For the wraps, chop the bottom ribs off the biggest leaves of romaine, and set aside tops of leaves in pretty pile to serve. Chop the ribs finely. Place in a bowl, then add scallion ribbons and the inner leaves of the romaine, chopped. Mix sesame oil, soy sauce, and sesame seeds in small bowl for dressing. Toss salad with dressing at the last minute. DO NOT ADD DRESSING UNTIL IMMEDIATELY PRIOR TO SERVING, since it will make the lettuce limp rather quickly.
To assemble wraps, place a few pieces of meat and some of the dressed salad on a lettuce leaf. For a more authentic version, add a dab of miso or Korean bean paste, which is darker and more rustic than the standard Japanese white miso but tastes similar, a slice of raw garlic, and/or a slice of jalapeno. Koreans don’t generally add kimchi to their wraps, but I’ve seen some Americans doing that and they seemed happy, so go for it if that appeals to you.