You know that smell you catch a whiff of during those warm summertime evenings when everybody and their uncle is out in the backyard barbecuing? I’m not talking about that run-of-the-mill grilled hamburger smell that wafts over your neighbors fence every weekend, I’m talking about that intoxicating, exotic aroma of soy and garlic marinated beef mixing with the sweet smell of wood smoke. Haven’t smelled it? Well, odds are you don’t have a large Korean population in your neighborhood, so let me frame this scenario a little differently. You know the Korean spot in your local mall’s food court? You know that ridiculously enticing aroma you smell each time you walk by? That’s probably kalbi, or marinated and grilled beef short ribs.
While beef short ribs have grown in popularity over the past few years, I’m surprised to learn that many people have never had them prepared in this style. They are a notoriously tough cut of meat that benefits from long periods of slow, low-heat cooking, but when cut in the flanken style (perpendicular to the bone), marinated in a sweet and salty aromatic mixture for a couple of days and cooked quickly on a hot grill, you have a whole different experience at hand. This is the type of eating that is perfectly suited for the backyard. In fact, this is the type of dish that allows one to get in touch with their primordial ancestry. This isn’t filet mignon were talking about, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Kalbi requires a good set of chompers and a willingness to get your hands (and face) dirty pulling the sweet, succulent meat from the three tiny bones that run the length of the rib. In my mind, a little messiness is well worth the experience of eating these sweet and savory morsels. Not only do they pack an incredibly beefy flavor, but the perfect amount of charring on the grill will bring out the soy, garlic, sesame oil and sugars in the marinade, perfuming the air with a mix of aromas that are certain to get your salivary glands flowing.
Next time you’re looking to grill something a little bit out of the ordinary or spot some beautiful flanken-style beef ribs at the grocery store, do yourself a favor and try out this recipe. Your neighbors are guaranteed to be jealous.
KALBI (GRILLED KOREAN SHORT RIBS)
Adapted from David Chang’s, Momofuku
When shopping for the flanken-style short ribs in this recipe, look for those with a thickness between 1/3 and 1/2-inch in thickness. Short ribs that are cut too thinly will cook far too quickly over the heat of a hot grill, leaving you with dry, overcooked jerky-like ribs. David Chang’s mother used Mott’s apple juice in her family recipe for kalbi — a brilliant addition to this marinade considering its unique sweet and slightly sour flavor. After you’ve made the marinade and before you’ve added it to the ribs, give it a try and adjust the flavor to fit your own taste. It shouldn’t need more salt, but adjust for sweetness by adding a few pinches of brown sugar if you’d like it on the sweeter side, and increase the acidity by adding a splash of rice vinegar. The short ribs will taste best if you allow them to sit in the marinade overnight, and will further intensify in flavor if left for a couple of days, turning the bag every so often to distribute the liquid. For maximum flavor and authenticity, I recommend grilling these guys over charcoal. Gas grilling will still yield outstanding results, but the ribs won’t have the same smoky character that comes from grilling over live embers. I like to grill the ribs over fairly high heat to promote quick caramelization and retention of as much juice as possible. The goal is grill/color them quickly to prevent them from overcooking by drying out the flesh. Keep in mind that the marinade is high in sugar and will have the tendency to burn quickly if you are not careful. Keep and eye on these — they go fast.
- 2 cups apple juice, preferably Motts
- 1/2 cup soy sauce, preferably usukuchi (light soy sauce)
- 1/2 yellow onion, thinly sliced
- 5 to 6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon grated ginger
- 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- Brown sugar and rice vinegar to taste
- 2 1/2 – 3 pounds flanken-style cut beef short ribs
- Leaf lettuces for garnish
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, lightly toasted
- 1/3 cup scallions, thinly sliced
- In a medium bowl, combine the apple juice, soy sauce, onion, garlic, ginger, sesame oil, black pepper, and crushed red pepper flakes, stirring until well incorporated.
- Place the short ribs in a large, heavy-duty zip top bag and pour in the marinade over the top. Remove as much air as possible from the bag and massage the meat to distribute the marinade evenly. Allow the ribs to marinate overnight in the refrigerator, or as long as two days, turning the bag over and redistributing the marinade every so often.
- Remove the ribs from the refrigerator and allow them to come to room temperature. Prepare a charcoal grill for direct grilling over high heat or preheat a gas grill on high until hot. Drain off as much marinade as possible from the short ribs before laying them across the grill grate. Grill over high heat until well-caramelized and just beginning to char in spots, about 2-3 minutes. Flip the ribs and repeat on the second side, moving the ribs occasionally to avoid any flareups, until just cooked to medium.
- Remove the ribs from the grill and allow them to rest. When you are ready to serve, line a platter with leaf lettuce, pile on the short ribs and garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve at once.