Say it out loud…
It’s one of my favorite dishes, I rarely get to have it, and I’ve never tried making it.
On the surface it sounds like a simple dish – a Korean staple, a bowl of rice, with some vegetables and meat on top. It’s both that simple and significantly more complex at the same time. First off, from my infinitesimally small exposure to Korean food, it’s obvious there is some variation in the world of Bibimbap. Second, each of the vegetable and meat components that decorate the rice need to be approached separately – as you can see in the photo above, all the items are neatly segregated with their own personal space on the rice-bed, just waiting to be mixed at eating-time. The finishing touch in this case, and in all the versions I’ve had, is a fried egg with a nice runny yolk. Cooking the ingredients separately gives you the opportunity for a different approach on each, and each gets to contribute a distinct bit to the finished dish – a bit that’s still distinguishable after mixing.
This is a fine time to issue the disclaimer that I’ve done before when offering a recipe for a dish that’s both outside of my own culinary heritage and a centerpiece in its own cuisine: This is not meant to be an authentic preparation. If a Korean could identify what I was trying to make based on the photos here, I’d be happy. I’ve messed with and guessed plenty of things in this dish, but I can say this regardless – It came out fantastic.
For sanities sake, I’ll lay all the components that went into mine and how it was assembled. Prep everything first and it goes pretty quickly (marinating time aside.)
The longest to prepare, at least in duration, as it needs to marinate. I’ve made kalbi before using thin across-the-bones slices of short ribs (purchased from an Asian market) and used a similar marinade for the beef here. In hindsight, I should have went back to market for more. Instead I got creative (stupid) and figured I’d be able to slice and thinly-pound some regular English-style short ribs (in my defense, they had all the buzzwords: Local, organic, grass). I should have ended that experiment when I ended up sending a beef rocket across the kitchen airspace and into the dining room where it thudded to a bloody stop on the floor. I’ll buy the pre-sliced ribs next time.
The point here is that the beef should be something thin and grillable. It needs to cook quickly as the marinade has a lot of sugar in it and will char up on you something fierce. I went for the broiler since it was miserable outside and I didn’t feel like messing with charcoal.
This marinade is similar to the one I used for the kalbi last time, which ended up being an amalgamation of several different sources. The keys seem to be some sweet, some salty, with a ton of garlic and ginger.
- 1/2 C soy sauce
- 2 TB sesame oil
- 6 cloves garlic
- 2 thumb tip sized pieces of ginger
- 3 TB brown sugar
- 1 Asian pear
Put the whole mess in a food processor, puree until smooth, and marinate the beef in it overnight.
One item of note is the Asian pear – these things are so cool! They are the shape of an apple, have a good deal more crunch than a regular pear, are very juicy and taste a little like concord grapes to me. If you haven’t tried one before, get to it.
I added toasted sesame seeds to some of the vegetables, and they were also sprinkled on the finished dish. Just put them in a dry pan over medium heat, shaking pretty constantly until they start getting some color and you can smell ‘em.
The vegetable bits (Namul is the Korean name for them) each get cooked separately which adds a little time, and also the opportunity for tweaking them. I think what I did was fairly standard, except maybe the cucumbers:
Carrots: Julienned, quickly stir-fried with sesame oil with salt and pepper
Bean Sprouts: Rinsed, quickly stir-fried with peanut oil and salt and pepper. Tossed with some sesame seeds.
Spinach: 1 lb of baby spinach, rinsed, cooked with a little sesame oil, garlic, salt and pepper until well wilted. Take off the heat, drain liquid and toss with sesame seeds.
(See a pattern developing here? Time to break it.)
Cukes: I don’t know how far from traditional this goes (it didn’t seem out of place), but I was thinking about something cool, crunchy and acidic to go with the warm, oily, softened veggies. I was thinking of the pickled veggies you get with Vietnamese rice and noodle dishes – sliced cucumbers, soaked in rice vinegar with a little salt and sugar while everything else was cooking.
Once everything’s ready, it’s time for assembly. Some traditional versions finish the dish in a heavy stone bowl over the heat to get the rice in the bottom nice and crunchy. I used a suggestion from a Boston Globe article to assemble the dish in a cast iron pan and it was fantastic. I didn’t (lack of patience) let the rice get crunchy, but as I was putting it all together, I realized the big 12” pan would make a nice communal dish. Molly obviously had no problem with us all eating out of the same “dish.”
Everything gets its own spot on the rice, all topped off with a fried egg (in this case, 3 of them – we weren’t sharing those) and some more sesame seeds. Once I stirred up my area, I added some kimchi for a bit of heat.
One of the biggest changes I made was leaving out the traditional hot pepper paste – I didn’t think I’d be able to get an acceptable level of heat (“Ah! Too spicy!” She yells) for all 3 of us. We had a little bit of homemade sesame vinaigrette on it to bring everything together.
Happy new year to everyone out there!