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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

An easy spring dinner that shows off bulgogi’s versatility


Pork bulgogi with spring vegetables in New York, April 5, 2023. The salty-sweet, zingy marinade that grounds this beloved Korean dish coats vegetables and pork, in this interpretation from Melissa Clark. Food styled by Simon Andrews.

By Melissa Clark


Just as there is no one right way to simmer up a marinara sauce, nor a single “correct” apple pie, there are myriad recipes for making bulgogi.


A classic Korean dish of beef marinated in some combination of soy sauce, sugar, garlic and ginger, the meat is then grilled until the sauce caramelizes and condenses, turning salty and sweet, zingy and umami-rich. It’s those heady flavors mixed with the char that give the dish its deep appeal, making it one of the most beloved preparations of Korean cuisine — and one of the most adaptable.


As my colleague Eric Kim put it a few years ago in a fascinating deep dive, versatility is one of bulgogi’s virtues.


“If you grew up in a Korean household,” he wrote, “then the dish wasn’t just occasional barbecue; it was dinner on the regular, a quick pan-fry on the stovetop.”


This weeknight recipe embodies that easygoing spirit. Its foundation is the marinade, which can be quickly whisked together with pantry staples. (If your pantry doesn’t already include gochujang, the Korean fermented soybean and chile paste, you can rectify that by buying some at an Asian market, at a large supermarket or online.) Here, I’ve paired the marinade with thinly sliced pork (as you’d find in a traditional jeyuk bokkeum, but with less chile) and loads of vegetables. But think of this recipe as the kind of template that you can — and should — make your own.


Substitute other proteins, such as chicken, turkey, tofu or, more traditionally, beef, for the pork. Any quick-cooking vegetables — broccoli, asparagus, hakurei turnips, green beans, bell peppers and zucchini — will all work in place of the sugar snap peas and radishes, depending on the season. But if you like mushrooms, it’s worth keeping them in the mix for their earthy, meaty character.


In grilled bulgogi recipes, the char is essential — in fact, the term bulgogi means “fire meat” — yet, in this stovetop version, the pork might not even brown. Instead, the goal here is to sear the meat long enough to cook it through, while the sauce thickens and intensifies. Just take care not to overcook the pork, so it doesn’t toughen, and the flavor remains deep and wonderful.


To serve, spoon the heady mixture over rice, or fold it into lettuce leaves — or do both. There are so many great options when it comes to bulgogi.


Pork Bulgogi With Spring Vegetables


In this easy recipe, a deeply flavored Korean bulgogi marinade is paired with sliced pork, which is seared in a skillet with snow peas, radishes and mushrooms. You can use the basic recipe as a template, substituting other proteins like chicken, tofu or, most traditionally, beef for the pork, and whatever quick-cooking vegetables you like: cherry tomatoes, zucchini, broccoli florets are all great options. Don’t worry about browning the pork here. The goal is to sear it long enough to just cook it through, while the sauce condenses and caramelizes, coating the meat and vegetables.


Yield: 4 servings

Total time: 50 minutes



Ingredients:


For the Marinade and Sauce:

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup gochujang

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon white sesame seeds, plus more for serving

2 tablespoons neutral oil, such as grapeseed, avocado or sunflower

1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

2 cloves garlic, finely grated or minced

1 (2-inch) piece ginger, finely grated or minced

2 scallions, thinly sliced

For the Pork and Vegetables:

1 pound boneless pork chops, tenderloin or loin, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon neutral oil, such as grapeseed, avocado or sunflower

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, sliced (about 1 1/2 cups)

1/2 cup thinly sliced radishes (about 5)

6 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced

8 ounces snow peas, strings removed and halved crosswise (about 2 1/2 cups)

Cooked rice or lettuce leaves, for serving



Preparation:


1. Make the marinade: Add marinade ingredients to a medium bowl and whisk until combined. In a small bowl, reserve half the marinade at room temperature for serving.

2. Add pork to the marinade in the medium bowl and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.

3. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add neutral oil. Once the oil is hot, add mushrooms. Let sear, stirring once or twice, until just tender and caramelized, 4 to 7 minutes.

4. Raise heat to high. Add pork along with its marinade, radishes, snow peas and all but 2 tablespoons of the scallions (reserve for garnish) to pan. Let cook, stirring often, until the pork is just cooked through, about 3 to 5 minutes. (Take care not to overcook it; it won’t brown, and it may still look slightly pink inside).

5. Garnish with reserved scallions and sesame seeds, and serve hot over rice with reserved marinade for drizzling.

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