Sunday Dinner: It’s Games on with Korean ribs

Eric Akis

The Winter Olympics are being held in and around the city of Pyeongchang, South Korea. So I thought this would be an ideal time to offer a recipe for a Korean dish one could enjoy while watching the games. Viewing all that athletic activity can make one hungry, after all.

When I was contemplating what to make, Korean-style barbecue short ribs were the first thing that came to mind. It’s a succulent, tasty and popular way to prepare this cut of beef, and when thinking about them, I developed a big-time desire to eat some.

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Short ribs are a cross section of rib bones cut from beef shoulder. When many Canadians think of them, they envision thickly cut pieces of meat you need to braise for hours to make tender.

But for Korean-style ribs, the short ribs are thinly cut into one-centimetre-thick long strips that become tender by marinating the meat, not by slowly cooking it. The result is short ribs that take minutes to cook, not hours.

Researching recipes for Korean-style barbecue short ribs, I found that what goes into a marinade can vary from source to source. My recipe blends ingredients I saw commonly used, and includes such things as onion, sesame oil, soy sauce, mirin, garlic, black pepper and grated Asian pear.

If you’re wondering why someone would include pear in a marinade, well, for one thing, it will add flavour. But more importantly, grated pear is added because the enzymes in that fruit can break down protein and help to tenderize the meat.

Once they’re marinated, you can grill the ribs, cut them into smaller bites and serve them as a snack or appetizer.

You can also make a meal of the short ribs by serving them with steamed rice and small, whole lettuce leaves. Wrap up pieces of the short rib, being mindful of the bones, in the lettuce leaves with the dipping sauce and green-onion salad recipes below.

The Korean soybean paste, red-pepper paste and red-pepper powder used in the dip and salad recipes can be found at stores selling Korean foods. In Victoria, they include Korean Food Market at 1551 Cedar Hill Cross Rd., and A Mart Korean Grocery, 652 Yates St.

Korean-style Barbecue Beef Short Ribs 

Meaty, succulent and flavourful ribs you can snack on or build a meal around.

Preparation time: 15 minutes, plus 12 or more hours marinating time

Cooking time: 10 to 12 minutes

Makes: Four main-course servings; six to eight appetizer servings

1/2 cup soy sauce (Note 1)

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup mirin (see Note 2)

2 Tbsp rice vinegar

1/3 cup grated yellow or white onion

1/2 cup peeled and grated Asian pear (see Note 3)

2 Tbsp minced garlic

1 Tbsp sesame oil

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

8 thinly cut (about 1/2-inch thick) strips of beef short rib (see Note 4)

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

• vegetable oil for the grill

2 green onions, thinly sliced (optional)

Make marinade by placing the first nine ingredients in a bowl.

Place ribs in a 13x9-inch glass or other non-reactive (non-aluminum) dish. Add the brown sugar and toss to coat the ribs with it.

Now arrange the ribs in the dish in an even, slightly overlapping layer. Pour the marinade over the ribs.

Cover, refrigerate and marinate the ribs for at least 12 hours, or up to 24 hours if you want them nice and tender once cooked. Turn the ribs once or twice during the marinating process, then press down on them to ensure they are covered with the marinade.

To cook the ribs, preheat an indoor or outdoor grill to medium heat. Remove the meat from the marinade; discard the marinade. Lightly oil your grill, then grill the ribs five to six minutes per side, until cooked through but still juicy (see Eric’s options).

Serve ribs as a main course with steamed rice, small whole lettuce leaves and the dipping sauce and green-onion salad recipes below. Or cut the ribs into smaller pieces and serve them for a starter or party nibble, arranged on a platter and sprinkled with green onion.

Note 1: I used Kikkoman-brand soy sauce in the marinade.

Note 2: Mirin is a sweet rice wine sold in the Asian foods aisle of many supermarkets.

Note 3: Pale-yellow-skinned Asian pears are sold at most supermarkets. Half a medium-sized one should yield the amount you need grated here.

Note 4: At some supermarkets, unmarinated, thinly cut short ribs needed for this are sometimes labeled Maui-style short ribs, because that’s another popular way to prepare them.

If you can’t find the thinly cut short ribs, ask your butcher to cut them this way for you.

The eight thin strips of short ribs I bought for this recipe weighed 2 1/2 lbs.

Eric’s options: If you don’t have a barbecue or indoor grill, you could also set the ribs in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet. Broil the ribs in the oven, about six inches below the heat source, for four to six minutes per side, until cooked through but still juicy.

Spicy Korean-style Dipping Sauce

This sauce is called Ssamjang in Korean. I’ve given you the option to make it as spicy as you like by mixing in the spicy red-pepper powder to taste.

Dip or spread this mixture on the short ribs.

Preparation time: a few minutes

Cooking time: none

Makes: about 1/2 cup

3 Tbsp shiro (white) miso (see Note) or Korean soybean paste (doenjang)

1 Tbsp Korean-style red pepper paste (gochujang)

2 Tbsp mirin

1 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 medium garlic clove, minced

1 green onion, very thinly sliced

• Korean-style red-pepper powder (gochugaru), to taste (see Note)

Place ingredients, except red-pepper powder, in a small bowl and mix well to combine. Mix in red-pepper powder to taste, adding 1/4 to 1/2 tsp at a time until you’ve reached your desired spice level. Cover and refrigerate sauce until ready to serve with the short ribs.

Note: If you use shiro (white) miso in this recipe, you’ll find it for sale at some supermarkets and at Japanese food stores.

Korean-style Green Onion Salad

This palate awakening salad is more like a condiment you serve with Korean-style meat dishes such as my short rib recipe. Set some of it on the meat before you wrap it up in a lettuce leaf and devour it.

Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus soaking time

Cooking time: None

Makes: Six servings

6 medium green onions, tips and ends trimmed

2 tsp soy sauce

2 tsp rice vinegar

2 tsp Korean red pepper powder (gochugaru)

2 tsp sesame oil

1 tsp sesame seeds

1 tsp granulated sugar

Cut each green onion, crosswise, into four-inch-long pieces. Then cut each piece of green onion in half, lengthwise. With a sharp knife, very thinly slice each half piece of green onion lengthwise into thin strips.

Place the strips of green onion in a bowl, cover with cold water and add a few ice cubes. Let green onion soak in the water 15 minutes. (This soaking and chilling will make the green onion curl and crisp up.)

Drain the green onion well, then dry on a kitchen towel. Wrap them up in that kitchen towel and refrigerate until ready to dress and serve the salad. (You can prepare the green onions to this point a few hours before needed.)

When ready to serve, combine remaining ingredients in a medium bowl. Add the green onions, toss to combine and serve.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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