Recipe: Bulgogi (불고기) and Bulgogi Jeongol/Hot Pot (불고기 전골)

Long days feel even longer in winter here and when you've trekked home from freezing temperatures outside and want a nice homely meal but with little effort, having some prepped bulgigi on hand to cook is a great way to get quick meals with less time in the kitchen. And less time in the kitchen leaves more personal time for other things which, we all know is increasingly becoming a scarce thing.

When your local Korean mart (or any mart for that matter) has beef on sale in bulk, buy the damn thing, get it marinated and store it away for easy but filling meals. It's also much more economical than buying store/factory made bulgogi. (And  plus, who knows what sort of additives may have gone into that?)

This is a two-for-one recipe as it'll show you how to make the easy but delish marinade for your bulgogi. The bulgogi then can be used to make another easy dish called bulgogi jeongol which is a simple and non-spicy stew, or hot pot, that can be enjoyed by everyone from kids to adults. Of course, you can just cook up the bulgogi on its own in a pan or a grill and serve with plenty of leafy vegetables and ssamjang to have your own bulgogi barbecue party at home :)

In between the recipe I've detailed some tips on how to really make it good so take note!

Bulgogi Marinade (불고기)
Makes approximately 6-8 servings of bulgogi

- 1.2 kg of Bulgogi Meat (this meat is usually specified at Korean marts on the labeling but if you're getting from elsewhere, thinly shaved rib-eye or flank steak will do)
- 1 Apple (peeled, cored and roughly chopped into pieces)
- 1 small Onion (chopped into small pieces)
- 1 cup of Soy Sauce 
- 1/4 cup of Sugar
- 1 tbsp of Oligodang (올리고당) or Honey
- 1.5 tbsp of Maeshil Concentrate (매실액)
- 2 tbsp of Soju, Mirin or other similar Cooking Alcohol
- 1 tbsp of minced Garlic
- 1/2 tbsp of mined Ginger
- 1 tsp of crushed Black Pepper
- 2 tbsp of Sesame Oil

Bulgogi Jeongol (불고기 전골):
Two Servings

- 1/2 kg of the prepped Bulgogi 
- 2 Shiitake Mushrooms
- 1 package of Enoki Mushrooms
- 1/2 a Carrot
- 1/2 an Onion
- 1 bunch Bok Choy 
- 2 Green Chili Peppers (spicy or non spicy depending on your preference)
- 1 Green Onion
- Small handful of Cellophane Noodles 
- 2 cups of Water
- 1 tbsp of Sesame Oil

1. Dump all the ingredients for the bulgogi marinade in your processor/blender and blend until you get a slightly thick liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning to your preference (some prefer a bit sweeter/saltier). The apple not only adds a natural sweet taste to the marinade but also works to tenderize the meat. Adding in some Asian Pear to the marinade (before blending) is also an optional but nice addition. 

2. Lay out your bulgogi meat in a lockable container.

Optionally to save time in future cooking, you can add some chopped onions, carrots, mushrooms to the bulgogi mix. This way you can just cook future batches as is and already have some vegetables on hand. For this batch, I added about half a carrot, cut into matchsticks, and about 2 sliced Shiitake mushrooms.

2. After you've tasted and adjusted the seasoning to your liking, pour the marinade over the meat (and veggies if you added them). Gently give them a mix so the marinade reaches all the nooks and crannies of the meat. Close the lid and refrigerate for a few hours to let the meat marinate (overnight is best but at least 2-3 hours if you're short on time).

After marinating, the meat should have a slight tan hue from the soy sauce-based marinade. You can store the bulgogi batch in your fridge for up to a week or two but anything longer than that you should divide and portion into ziplock bags and freeze for future eats.

The next few steps will now detail how to make Bulgogi Jeongol with your homemade bulgogi.

1. Slice your onion, peppers, green onion and shiitake mushrooms. Cut your carrot into thin matchsticks, chop the bottom ends off your bok choy and enoki mushrooms. Alternatively you can add or substitute with other vegetables and ingredients such as napa cabbage, bell peppers, tofu, etc. 

2. Arrange your cellophane noodles in a big bowl. Boil a few cups of water and add it the bowl of noodles and let sit for a few minutes so they'll soften.

3. In a slightly oiled deep pot, cook the 1/2 kg of prepped bulgogi for just a few minutes on medium-high heat. Two things to take note here:
- the bulgogi is beef, already thin and will be cooked again so cooking the meat in this step should be done minimally (just a minute or two)
- the meat is fragile so refrain from stirring it around too much during cooking lest you want a lot of crumbled bits of meat

Take the meat out and set aside on a plate.

4. Scoop out any big bits of oil in the reserved cooked marinade in the pot but keep the rest of the liquid in. Drain the hot water from your bowl of noodles and add the noodles to the bottom of the pot you cooked your bulgogi in.

5. Arrange your vegetables and jeongol ingredients around on top of the noodles to your liking. Place the set aside, cooked bulgogi on top of the vegetables, in the center of the pot, and the chopped green onion on top of the bulgogi.

6. Add the water and then bring to a gentle boil on medium-high heat for no more than five minutes. Stir the whole thing to combine once or twice during cooking and taste and season to your liking.

Cooking it any longer will make the bulgogi tough. The key to this is to have everything- from the bulgogi to the vegetables- be nice and tender.

Add just a small drizzle of sesame oil on top and serve immediately with rice and side dishes.

Warm, hearty and fast, this dish is made all the more enjoyable when eaten with good folks. It's guaranteed to melt you- both outside and in.