Korean Short Ribs

Korean barbecue solves the challenges of cooking short ribs.

12th Mar 2009

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Short ribs and I don't have a good history. The first time I tried to make these with Blake we ended up with a collection of tough, greasy, hunks of impenetrable meat. The second time I solved the toughness factor by cooking them for ages, but forgot about the fat.  Even after stashing the pot of short ribs in the fridge for a day so I could easily skim some off, I still felt like I had dunked the meat in fryer grease. That's not to say they didn't taste good--they were indelibly beefy and succulent--but it's just not a dish I can see myself making that often. Tellingly I haven't made it in a year in a half and I don't plan to. I've seen a different side of short ribs that I like a lot better.

It's called galbi (or kabli for those following the McCune-Reischauer romanization of Korean), and instead of trying to coddle the hunks into submission, it just hacks them up into thin slices and then tosses them in a quick Korean barbecue marinade.  After a bath they go on a blazing hot grill.  Four minutes on each side and they're done. Honestly, these cook as quickly as steaks.  And that's not where the similarities end.  Like the best marbled ribeye, these were insanely tender, juicy, and filled with an incredible beefy flavor.  Though they were only 1/2 an inch thick, they were more satisfying than most of the steaks I've had in the past year.  I almost felt guilty because they were so cheap.  I paid about $8.66 for a little over 2 pounds.  Why on earth doesn't every one eat these?

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Part of the problem has to be the specific way of cutting these things.  It's called the "flaken cut", and they are about 1/2 inch thick cut straight through the bone.  Even my mean cleaver couldn't hack through these things.  You really need a band saw.  Butchers have the equipment, but are often confused about the process.

Luckily, I had a short cut.  I just recently found Joongboo Market , which is about 5 minutes drive away from my house.  They have piles and piles of pre-cut short ribs ready to go, plus everything else I'd never for my marinade.

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Even the marinade is easy.  It's a mixture of ingredients you can find at normal grocery stores.  But since I was at a Korean grocery store, I looked for more authentic versions of the basics.  This was my first time with soy sauce that wasn't from a regular grocery store, and the difference in flavor was unbelievable.  If you can imagine the difference between regular olive oil and expensive extra-virgin olive oil, that's rather like the experience of trying this.  It was slightly fizzy, and almost gulpable.

The Korean grocery store had loads of premade sauces for this dish ready to go, but it was so easy to make my own.  For a recipe I found this great post by Nook & Pantry .  I'm not sure if there is an official recipe, but most of the ones I looked at seemed very simlar.  I just loved the addition of an Asian pear to the marinade.   At the end of this I actually began to wonder whether this was too easy. This recipe could have easily been a Dinner Tonight recipe. It has few ingredients, and besides a marinade, can be made in minutes.

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I'm fascinated that a tough cut, loaded with connective tissue can be turned into one of the tenderest cuts of meat I've ever eaten without a long cooking process.  It's an incredible dish, and one I'll be having quite often.

I still haven't solved all my problems with short ribs.  Certainly, they are still fatty.  Though it looks like you'll be able to gnaw on a dozen of these and still feel sprightly, the luxurious pieces are best eaten in moderation.  After about three, I was stuffed.  Just pair these with a lot of veggies and maybe a little kimchi, and you'll be fine.

Obviously a charcoal grill is the best fire for the meat.  But it's still awfully cold here in Chicago so I used the broiler.  I didn't get those nice grill marks, but the flavor was still there.

Korean Short Rib Barbecue (Galbi)
Serves 3-4

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  • 2 pounds flanken-style short ribs/spare ribs
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1 Asian pear, peeled and diced
  • 1/4 cup rice wine
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 4 scallions, chopped

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Puree the pear in a blender.   Pour the juice into a large bowl.

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Add the soy sauce, rice wine, brown sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and scallions.  Whisk until combined.

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Dump in the short ribs.  Toss until covered.  Stash in the fridge for 5 hours or so.

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Preheat the broiler or a grill.  Remove the meat from the marinade.  Place underneath the broiler or on top of the grill and cook for 4 minutes per side.

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Serve.

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