Sunday, February 05, 2017

Tri-tip into Bulgogi: From Blah into Bravo JUSTLIKETHAT


Chances are, if you have dined in a Korean restaurant, or are lucky enough to have Korean friends or family, you probably have already tasted bulgogi, a thinly sliced marinated sesame beef barbecue that is indescribably delicious. And, if you live in California, you have probably been served tri-tip barbecue so many times it's a ho-hum deal. Growing up on the east coast, I had never heard of tri-tip. But when I moved out west, it took only a week or two to encounter my first tri-tip.

Tri-tip goes by other names: sirloin or knuckle roast. Tri-tip is the corner piece that is cut off when slicing sirloin steaks. Usually not as tender as the rest of the sirloin, it is just as flavorful and takes well to marinating and grilling. Santa Maria barbecue is just that, marinated and grilled tri-tip. Not much to it, just sugar, garlic, pepper, and salt and the technique of slow-grilling. Why then the avid following of a simple barbecue style?

In the same way as tri-tip barbecue, bulgogi is the most common barbecue of Korea. Ho-hum to those who grew up there and ate it often, but lavishly exciting and exotic to the rest of us.

Tri-tip, bulgogi . . . what's the connection? Bulgogi recipes call for sirloin roast. And tri-tip is sirloin, only less expensive than sirloin steaks. If you have access to tri-tip from your local grocery or warehouse store, then why not, instead of serving the usual tri-tip barbecue, take a tip from Korea, where some of Earth's best barbecue comes from--and add a few more simple ingredients and slices, and voila! You've got irresistible bulgogi--to wow your friends and loved ones, with no more effort than any other barbecue. With bulgogi, you get a lot of wow factor for your effort.


  • 2 pounds sirloin tri-tip, sliced thinly across the grain on the diagonal bias
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon raw sugar
  • 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger root
  • 3 tablespoons mirin sweet cooking wine
  • 3 scallions, chopped (optional--if you substitute chopped white onion, the chances are good that the beef will be cooked before the onions are--raw onion is not yummy to most folks, so I’d either use scallions or skip onions altogether)

Serve with:

Chili paste, like Sriracha brand
Toasted sesame seeds
Green leaf lettuce leaves
Steamed jasmine rice

Arrange the raw tri-tip on the cutting board, and with a very sharp knife, slice across the grain in thin slices (1.8 inch or so). In a resealable large plastic bag, add the sliced tri-tip to the remaining ingredients. Let marinate, refrigerated, for at least 2 hours, or longer, if you have time.

Cook the beef in one layer in a nonstick pan, along with the marinade. Alternately, you could cut each piece of meat thicker--in 1/2 inch slices to make little steaks. Then you could grill those 1/2 inch bulgogi steaks on the grill--this is how we chose to cook it, but authentically, bulgogi is sliced thinly. Another option is to cut the meat into 1 inch cubes and then, skewer them and grill them on a grill.

Serve with steamed rice and allow diners to wrap each piece of bulgogi (if sliced thinly) in a lettuce leaf roll. If sliced thickly, then serve as is, with a salad.

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