With a gentle swoosh of their Hanboks (the Korean Kimono), the waitresses slid between our cross-legged forms. They laid out a pile of marinated beef on the charcoal braziers and left a bewildering array of kim-chi fanned out along the table. Their part in this gustatory opera done for now, they swished away again, leaving us confused and silent in our peaceful tissue screened dining room. Luckily our hosts were there to explain the procedure for tackling this entirely foreign meal. First a lettuce leaf, followed by a small pad of short grain rice, your choice of kim-chi (I went for the cucumber) and then freshly grilled beef on top. Bundle it all up into a neat little package and eat. It seemed a little insubstantial but what the hey…..
After an explosion of flavour, hot and cold elements, spice, sweetness and meltingly tender beef, I was left with grease free lips and a stunned expression on my face. It was possibly the tastiest bite of food I’d ever had.
I was 20 years old and on a world tour with my band in Seoul, Korea. The record company were treating us to a meal at a very flash BBQ restaurant. Tickled by my excitement over this new food experience, they happily led me through a two hour journey through one of the best meals of my life. I rounded it off with a bowl of cold spicy noodles. Two days later we were off to the Philippines and then it was over two decades till I got to experience those flavours again.
The memory of this meal bubbled up to the surface the other day when I was staring at two venison back-straps I’d just finished aging on the bone and was wondering what to do with (see Tackling the beast). It seemed like it would be an ideal candidate for the bulgogi (Korean BBQ as outlined above) treatment. The back-straps were super tender. I could have spread them like butter all over the chopping board they were so soft. You could just as easily do this recipe with a tender fillet of beef or even pork.
Ironically, when I had a peek at my diary from the tour, all I had to say about the meal I’ve recounted above was that it was “delicious”. Such economy of prose!
Venison Bulgogi marinade
1 small brown onion (140g), sliced
100g sliced pear
16g chopped garlic (3 x cloves)
26g (1 x large thumb) peeled and sliced ginger
30g brown sugar
12g (1 ½ tbsp.) Korean chilli powder (Kochukaru)
Throw all these ingredients into a blender and thoroughly blitz.
I used this whole batch of marinade for 700g of sliced venison back-strap but I’m sure it would have been enough for twice that amount. Combine the meat and marinade and leave overnight. If you vac pack it you could get away with just 2 hours.
Grill the venison (or other meat of your choice) and then serve it with lettuce leaves (butercrunch is my preference), steamed short grain rice and an array of kim-chi and/or pickled veges of your choice. The most fun way to enjoy this dish is to cook everything in the centre of the table on a grill over a portable burner of some kind. Then everyone can cook their own meat to the desired doneness. There are many kinds of kim-chi you can buy and unlimited kinds you can make. Put out a selection of condiments for people to choose from. Kewpie mayo, Siracha, Kochujang(Korean fermented pepper paste)….whatever tickles your fancy. The key with this kind of meal is to just relax and compile a bunch of ingredients and accompaniments you like the idea of eating together and get to it!
One accompaniment I’m particularly fond of is compressed cucumber.
To make this you’ll need to have some fish sauce vinaigrette on hand, which is something you’ll want in your fridge anyway. A condiment for life, perhaps. It goes a little something like this:
¼ cup of sugar
¼ cup of water
2 tbsp of water
½ cup of fish sauce
Juice of 1 lime
1 minced chilli (no seeds or membrane)
1 minced clove of garlic
Throw it all in a jar and shake it till the sugar is dissolved.
To make the compressed cucumber, peel and seed the cucumber and slice into batons. Throw it in a vac bag and add some fish sauce vinaigrette (say 75g of vinaigrette to 200g of cucumber). Vac it and then open it up. It’s ready straight away.