Third time is the charm


I’ve been having no luck making Asian food lately. I tried my Dad’s strip steak with oyster sauce a couple of weeks ago and it turned out to be an inedible mess (and wasted some prime steaks in the process). Not too long ago, a typical Filipino dish called adobo which I’ve successfully made countless of times and is the easiest dish to put together, was also a semi-disaster as I ended up with rubbery chicken legs (okay I accidentally left the heat on high instead of simmer).

           Asian food is not my forte. I feel so disconcerted whenever people ask me to teach them to cook Chinese food simply because I am Cantonese and I love to cook. Now I do love to eat Asian food, but cooking it perfectly seems to elude me: my heat is never high enough, I am timid in pouring out enough fish sauce and soy sauce and I’m clueless about most vegetables that go into them.

So it was with much trepidation that I decided to make Beef Bulgogi – a dish that I have never made from scratch. Do things come in threes?

As with most savory dishes, measurements are purely approximate. I grilled my co-worker, who was half-Korean, about how her mother prepared it at home. Beef Bulgogi gets its tenderness from the pear puree and its sweetness from sugar syrup. However, my co-worker uses honey and since I just made caramel earlier that day, I didn’t fancy boiling more sugar and decided – honey it is.

Beef Bulgogi

  • 1 lb. beef, cut into thin slices
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 small Asian pear
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 small onion (or ½ medium)
  • 1 inch-chunk of ginger root, peeled
  • 2 tbs. sesame oil
  • 3 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 tbs. cooking wine (I used sake since I had no Korean cooking wine)
  • 1 tbs. mirin (I just decided to add this and may not qualify as Korean)
  • 4 tbs. honey
  • 1 tbs. fish sauce

Chop the pear, onion and ginger root into small pieces and together with the garlic cloves, puree in a food processor. In a measuring cup, combine soy sauce, cooking wine, mirin, honey, pear puree, sesame oil,fish sauce and green onions. Adjust for taste before stirring it into the meat. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok. Sauté the beef in batches. Fond (caramelized bits) will start to build up on the sides; you can use some pieces of beef to pick up this browning. After the last batch is cooked, return all the sautéed beef in the pan, pour in the rest of the marinade and cook on high for a while, scraping the fond into the sauce.

Garnish with some sliced green onions and serve with steamed rice.

Cooking Notes:

            To be able to slice the beef thinly, it needs to be partly frozen. I will use sirloin next time to make this dish, because the tenderloin tips I used nearly fell apart after they were cooked. The amounts are purely approximate. That is why I put it in a measuring cup first to gauge the flavor of the marinade before pouring it on the meat. Fish sauce is not a typical part of this dish, but I felt there was a savory component missing and I knew this would pull the flavors together.

            The dish was delicious especially with a bowl of hot steaming rice to soak up the juices! And it was better than any store-bought marinade for sure!