Considering how much Korean food I ate as a small child, it’s surprising that I don’t have more Korean recipes on the website yet (time to get on that!). We lived in Korea for a few years, from when I was in preschool until the first grade. Although we lived on base, my mother and her Korean friend would quite often take me along on their shopping trips to Itaewon. While all the different shops were fun, my favorite thing about Itaewon was the rows of food vendors lined up on the sidewalks. I could never resist the smell of yaki mandu (which still has a Pavlovian effect on me to this day!) and other Korean staples.
Although I didn’t understand it, I quickly learned that I had a bit of a magic touch when it came to the vendors in Korea.
All I had to do was smile sweetly at the vendor, give a little toss of my platinum curls, and say hello by shouting out “Anyong haseyo!” The Korean women would clap their hands with delight and nearly fall over each other to offer me whatever they had just made. The men would grin and pinch my cheeks, offering me a juicy Asian pear, or even dolls, bells and dresses! Always grateful, I’d clap my hands on to cheeks in joy, take their proffered gifts and offer a “Gamsa hamnida” (which means thank you). I still have a boxful of Korean dolls, each of which holds a special memory.
One of the most common offerings of food was Galbi beef, a Korean barbeque short rib. I absolutely loved Galbi because there was something that felt so right about holding a piece of beef in my little hand and gnawing the meat off of tiny bones. Every time I eat it I still feel like a preschooler who’s just been given a special gift from a stranger.
When I moved to Hawaii right before Middle School, I was delighted that Galbi was still so abundantly available, only it was called Kalbi Ribs instead. All the little old Korean ladies at my church loved to bring the tasty ribs to potlucks, and they were at pretty much every holiday gathering I went to.
Eager to learn the secret to the perfect kalbi beef ribs recipe, I began asking questions and joining the older women in the kitchen at various events. They taught me that the key to a good marinade for kalbi ribs is a balance of flavors, both sweet and savory. Traditionally, honey or sugar was used for sweetening the marinade. But all the Korean women I knew agreed that the best ingredient to use now, is a citrus soda like 7-UP, Sprite or Squirt. They say that not only is it sweet, but the carbonation and citrus also help to tenderize the meat.
I remember watching the wives of vendors in Korea grating Asian pears, at a lot of the food booths. When I asked the Korean women I know about the Asian pear, they agreed that you need to grate both Asian pear and onion into your kalbi marinade, which imparts more flavor than simply chopping them. Some of the women in Hawaii that I talked to make their Galbi incredibly sweet with soda, Asian pear and sugar in the marinade. I think that has been a bit westernized because I don’t remember the Galbi in Korea being nearly as sweet, so I leave the extra sugar out of my Korean beef recipe.
Now, two important keys to making kalbi ribs are to make sure you buy Korean style short ribs, and to soak them before marinating. The Korean style ribs are cut perpendicular to the bone, so you end up with an 6-10 inch strip of meat and three small bone segments attached. You can definitely find them at any Asian grocery store, but they’re often at local grocers and butchers as well. When we buy our next cow, I plan to ask for this as our rib cut. Now, because the bones are cut during the slicing process, there is a lot of bone dust on the ribs. Soaking them before marinating makes sure this dust is rinsed away and helps with the texture of the meat.
Although the ribs are best on the grill, you can also cook them indoors. Using an indoor grill press they need to cook about 6 minutes, or you can cook them in a large skillet on very high heat for 3-5 minutes each side.
If you were to order these Korean short ribs in a restaurant, especially a Hawaiian restaurant, you’ll usually get the entire strip of beef with three bones attached. When I serve the ribs, I usually use scissors after cooking them to cut them into three separate pieces. While our Chinese students have no trouble chewing around the bones, most Americans tend to find it difficult, so one bone per piece makes it easier to handle.
But the real reason I cut them is that it helps stretch my meat and save me money! I find that if I leave it in the long strips, people usually take two, which is six of the smaller pieces. But if I cut them, people usually take no more than four. Great technique for a party or potluck!
Are there any Korean food recipes you’d like to see on Eating Richly soon?
Korean Kalbi Beef Ribs RecipePrep time: 30 minutes Cook time: 15 minutes Total time: 45 minutes Yield: 6 servings
- 3-4 lbs
Flanken style short ribs (12-15 pieces)
medium Asian pear
white or yellow onion
- 2 TBS
freshly grated ginger
- 1 cup
- 1 cup
- 1/4 cup
garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 tsp
red pepper flakes
- 3 TBS
- 1/2 cup
chopped green onions
- Place ribs in a large casserole dish and fill with water until ribs are covered. Let sit in the fridge at least 30 minutes, then pour off water and rinse ribs and dish.
- Return ribs to the casserole dish. Grate the flesh of an Asian pear and half of an onion over the ribs. Add grated ginger.
- Pour soy sauce, soda and sesame oil over the ribs. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes then use tongs stir marinade, shift ribs around and make sure ribs are all soaking.
- Cover the dish and refrigerate at least 30 minutes (overnight is better).
- Heat a grill (medium high if you’re using gas). Use tongs to place ribs on the grill and cook for 3-4 minutes each side.
- Garnish with sesame seeds and green onion. Serve with rice.