Ever wonder why “kalbi” is sometimes spelled “galbi?” This is because of a couple tricky letters in the Korean alphabet that are very difficult to pronounce. The first Korean letter in kalbi (kahl’-bee) looks sort of like the number seven. The sound it makes is a combination of the English letters “k” and “g.” Are you trying it? Difficult, isn’t it! Another difficult sound for non-Korean speakers is found in kalbi and the other most popular Korean meat dish, bulgogi. It looks like “bull-go’-gee,” right? But that would be incorrect. The third Korean letter in this word (or the English “L” in kalbi and bulgogi) looks sort of like a number 2 with square corners. The sound it makes is a combination of the English letters “R” and “L.” It is a real tongue-twister! So the proper pronunciation (difficult to spell out on here without hearing it) is more like “boorl’-go-gee” and said quickly, the “r” sound actually starts migrating its way to the beginning of the word, “brool’-go-gee.” Now try saying kalbi again, with a k/g beginning sound and a r/l sound. Tricky!
So now that you know how to say it, you can learn how to make it! If you’ve ever eaten Korean barbecue at a Korean restaurant, you know it isn’t cheap. But if you make it at home, you can feed about 4 people for the same price as one in a restaurant! The following recipe is hands-down the BEST kalbi marinade you will ever taste. My Korean in-laws all agree it is better than any restaurant and definitely better than any grocery store version. It’s simple and delicious. Don’t skip out on or substitute any ingredients, at least the first time you make it. I promise you will love it. Plan ahead, though, because it needs to marinate for a day.
Best Korean Kalbi – serves 4 or 5 people
4 lb. Kalbi (about 4 or 5 strips per person)
5 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cup soy sauce
2 cups sugar (It may seem like a lot, but just remember you are not consuming this. Leave it all in!)
1/3 cup pineapple juice (traditionally, ground Asian pear is used, but trust me, this is perfect!)
2 tablespoons minced garlic
1/4 tablespoon black pepper
1/3 cup white wine
1 large or 2 small white or yellow onions, cut into thick rings
1 bunch green onions, cut into 3 inch pieces
1 orange, leave on rind, cut into rings
1/4 cup sesame oil
Important step: Rinse kalbi under cool water and rub the bones with your fingers to make sure there are no small bone fragments. Some soak the meat in water for a few hours to draw out the blood, theoretically leaving more room for marinade, but I have found there to be no difference from just rinsing.
What to look for in the grocery store..."Beef Short Ribs." MUCH cheaper at Asian markets. Notice on the sticker the letters "LA." This also means you have the right one!
Combine all ingredients in a large pot. I use an 8.5 quart stock pot. Marinade the meat for about 24 hours. Flip it a few times and push down the meat as much as you can to make sure as much of it is covered by the marinade as possible. Flip carefully using your hands so the meat doesn’t separate from the bones. You’ll have to clear out a lot of room in your fridge for this or if it is cold enough outside, you can leave it out on a deck or in the garage where no animals can get to it. In the winter, it is nearly the same temperature as the refrigerator here, so I leave it out on our upper deck.
Grill on charcoal grill until desired doneness, preferably medium-medium rare, just a few minutes on each side. Watch it closely while grilling. The meat is thin and easily overcooked. Grill in batches and have people eating the cooked kalbi while the next batch is going. If you wait to eat until all is cooked, the meat on the bottom of the pile will become chewy. Try a piece from your first batch after grilling. If it is really chewy, you are overcooking it.
Kalbi on the grill
How to enjoy it:
At the restaurant, it is usually served with a multitude of vegetable side dishes (the table is covered with tiny bowls) including the ever-present kimchi. You will also find lettuce and delicious flavored green onions along with some brown bean paste. The kalbi is cut with scissors into little bite-size squares which is placed in a piece of lettuce to make a wrap. Add some green onions in there with a little of the paste, wrap it up and enjoy! I love putting garlic cloves on the grill and adding them to the wraps. Delicious!
At home, though, we go the simple route and cut each piece into three sections, one bone for each piece and eat it as is with our fingers with a side of rice, kimchi, and maybe some dried seaweed.
I hope you make this at home and love it as much as we do. I am salivating writing about it!