Barbecue! The searing heat of open flames, the tantalizing sizzle of cooking meat, the rising smoke that tells you that piece of beef has been on the grill just a bit too long. Its iconic, its perfect for summer, itshappening in the middle of your table?
These marinated scraps of short ribs and sirloin may be cooked on a charcoal grill, but that grills on your table and the meats managed with chopsticks. This cue isnt American, its Korean, and its causing quite a stir in cities all over the country. What started as a niche party dish in Korean districts and homes has grown into a gourmet trend, and even wine bars like Chicagoland’s Flight now serve some permutation of Korean-style BBQ.
The most popular form of Korean barbecue, known as gal bi or kalbi, consists of beef short ribsoften cut off the bone, but traditionally served on itprepared in a complex marinade for up to 2 days, then served raw to diners who cook it right there and eat it on the spot. Its a popular picnic dish in Korea, a fixture as regular as Italian food in Japan, and a grand social experience wherever you are. Friends soon jockey to see who can cook meat faster, the group cooking fosters conversation, and the rewardssucculently grilled, juicy, umami-rich pieces of meat fresh of the grillare well worth the extra effort. Often these scraps of shortrib are wrapped in cool lettuce, dipped in some sauce, and devoured; one thinks of Atkins-friendly burgers, but trust us, this stuff is much better.
The meat is undoubtedly the star of the show, but the complete Korean barbecue experience offers a wide variety of tastes, via the accompanying banchan, or side dishes. If the meat is a new twist on an old favorite, then banchan are new experiences whose results may vary: its a mix of leafy vegetables, pickles, and the Korean staple kimchi. Kimchi especially may take some getting used to; prepared by salting, pickling, or fermenting various vegetables, its flavor varies from sweet to spicy and is always a pleasant shock to the tongue. Though considered a side dish, banchan is not meant to be combined with the meat but rather complements it. Each ingredient should be savored separately.
According to the good people at The Food Section, you should also avoid using the aforementioned lettuce to create a leafy burritoproper gal bi consumption involves tearing off small shreds of lettuce, wrapping each piece individually, and chowing down that way. Its a bit less hearty than a huge beef wrap, perhaps, but far more polite.
Politeness can be a big deal, particularly if youre at a formal or family Korean gathering. Rules range from proper placement of chopsticks (dont stick em in your rice bowl) to ideal pace of eating (dont finish too fast or too slow). But Korean barbecue, particularly in America, is generally a very informal occasion, so unless youre warned otherwise, dont worry about etiquette.
If youd like to hunt down a Korean barbecue restaurant, look for your nearest Koreatown; youll definitely find some. Or you could try out some Fusion cuisine; if the restaurant has Korean influences, youll probably see gal bi on the menu. And if you want to make it yourself, you can give this recipe a shot. It uses steaks, but if youre concerned with authenticity you can easily find gal bi cut short ribs at your local Korean grocery store.