since childhood, i’ve learned the two signs that a korean house gathering is going to be a legit celebration: galbi and sushi. korean bbq and california rolls. half-charred sweet&soysaucy meat and circles of rice with avocado and fake crab.
so when special occasions come up, or when a craving strikes, i often feel compelled to make galbi too. (i give up on sushi.)
the problem is, when the weather is butt freezing cold, ain’t nobody got time for standing outside over a grill flipping pieces of meat.
enter galbi jjim. (the jj makes a sound that’s like a cross between a j and ch, fyi)
this braised shortribs dish hints at all the flavors of your usual korean bbq beef,but mellows it out in a homey, comforting, wintry way. it’s kind of a beef stew with korean flair…the shortrib chunks get all soft and tender and melty, the juices impart deliciousness to everything they touch, and the stuff goes perfectly over rice. this isn’t a dish for rushed weeknights… unless you use a crockpot and set it in the morning. the meat cannot be rushed.
if you watched this week’s top chef, what tom colicchio has called “one of the best episodes ever,” you’ll see roy choi’s shoutout to this dish and a glimpse of his preparation.
the second problem, however, is that i don’t trust most online recipes for korean food — but especially galbi, and therefore galbi jjim.
most galbi recipes i’ve found online have been off. some of them call for fish sauce, some of them call for a scant couple tablespoons of soy sauce to pounds of meat, some of them don’t have anything sesame, some say to add cilantro…and the biggest issue i’ve seen with pretty much every online recipe is that NONE of them call for enough sugar.
the most delicious galbi has a noticeable sweetness that marries well with the saltiness of soy sauce, nuttiness of sesame oil and the strong eau de garlic.
also, the most delicious galbi comes from my aunt.
and it turns out, there IS a foolproof secret to making galbi perfectly balanced.
you may not believe it because it’s so simple…
you might also think “dayam that’s a lot of sugar”…
but it’s true. this is legit.
the secret to awesome galbi is an equal proportion of soy sauce to water to sugar.
in case you’re a visual learner, i’ve even started an infographic, which i’ll be building out in a future post focused more specifically on the bbq galbi:
and the beauty of this 1:1:1 rule is that i have found it holds true in many different asiany sauces, in galbi, and of course also in galbi jjim. this secret formula is much easier to remember than any particular cups and tablespoons of stuff that must be calculated with precision for different sized batches.
the few times i have strayed from this formula due to eyeballing amounts or because i ran out of one thing or another, the result has been unbalanced… but stick with the 1:1:1, and you’re golden.
of course, there’s more to the recipe than just soy sauce, water and sugar, but this is the foundation for everything else to build on. and this is the secret to The Awesome.
the fun part about the secret is that it is also freestylable, as long as you keep the proportions in mind. you can substitute the sugar, in particular, for a variety of things, like:
- honey, but use less of it since smaller amounts of honey are just as sweet as larger amounts of sugar
- ginger ale or sprite, but use a little less water
- crushed up pears or kiwi, but don’t let it sit too long because the kiwi’s proteases will overtenderize the meat if you marinate too long (my aunt has a phD in biochemistry and she warned me about the proteases in her original recipe. no joke.)
OR, if you’re feeling wild, you can sub sugar as i have in this particular instance… for maple syrup. whaaaat!
it’s true, i used the decidedly-not-korean maple syrup, and it was delicious. here’s how i did it. if you’re feeling less adventurous, use sugar, and implement the 1:1:1 formula.
makes 1 big ass potful
what you need:
- 3 lbs thick-cut beef shortribs cut into 1-inch cube chunks (i buy a pack of it, boneless, from costco, but bone-in is actually preferable. just make sure it’s cut thick and not thin sliced like the kind that’s made for grilling)
- 2 small onions, sliced into half-moons
- 3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 cup soy sauce
- 1 cup water
- 3/4 cup maple syrup
- 2 Tbsp toasted sesame oil (i just eyeball a couple swirls around the pot)
- 1/4 cup rice wine / shaoxing wine / sherry cooking wine
- 1 cup baby carrots chopped in half (or chop up a regular sized carrot, duh)
- three small potatoes, chopped into bite-size pieces (alternatively, use chestnuts, radishes, or any sturdy starchy vegetable… or leave this out altogether)
- handful of mushrooms, chopped (i used baby bellas)
- toasted sesame seeds (optional)
- 1-2 stalks of scallions, chopped (optional, but it makes the dish look prettier)
what you do:
in a big dutch oven, lightly brown the meat over medium heat with the onions. you don’t need a hardcore sear… you just want to give the stuff a head start. when the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic and stir until fragrant.
add the soy sauce, water, maple syrup, sesame oil and rice wine. crank up the heat until the liquids boil, then bring it low to a simmer. cover and simmer for about 45 minutes.
add the carrots, potatoes and mushrooms and continue to simmer for another 45 minutes.
check for doneness by pulling out a meat chunk and trying to split it with a fork. if it feels heavy, gives easily and feels soft when you chew it, it’s done. if it’s tough and you have to work to chew it, let it simmer more. for the 3 lbs of boneless meat that i used, 1.5 hours total cooking time was perfect.
serve the meat and vegetables over a bowl of short-grain white rice and be sure to pour some of the juices over the entire thing so that the rice soaks up the deliciousness. garnish with chopped scallions and a sprinkle of sesame seeds if you like.