Third time is the charm


I’ve been having no luck making Asian food lately. I tried my Dad’s strip steak with oyster sauce a couple of weeks ago and it turned out to be an inedible mess (and wasted some prime steaks in the process). Not too long ago, a typical Filipino dish called adobo which I’ve successfully made countless of times and is the easiest dish to put together, was also a semi-disaster as I ended up with rubbery chicken legs (okay I accidentally left the heat on high instead of simmer).

           Asian food is not my forte. I feel so disconcerted whenever people ask me to teach them to cook Chinese food simply because I am Cantonese and I love to cook. Now I do love to eat Asian food, but cooking it perfectly seems to elude me: my heat is never high enough, I am timid in pouring out enough fish sauce and soy sauce and I’m clueless about most vegetables that go into them.

So it was with much trepidation that I decided to make Beef Bulgogi – a dish that I have never made from scratch. Do things come in threes?

As with most savory dishes, measurements are purely approximate. I grilled my co-worker, who was half-Korean, about how her mother prepared it at home. Beef Bulgogi gets its tenderness from the pear puree and its sweetness from sugar syrup. However, my co-worker uses honey and since I just made caramel earlier that day, I didn’t fancy boiling more sugar and decided – honey it is.

Beef Bulgogi

  • 1 lb. beef, cut into thin slices
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 small Asian pear
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1 small onion (or ½ medium)
  • 1 inch-chunk of ginger root, peeled
  • 2 tbs. sesame oil
  • 3 green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 tbs. cooking wine (I used sake since I had no Korean cooking wine)
  • 1 tbs. mirin (I just decided to add this and may not qualify as Korean)
  • 4 tbs. honey
  • 1 tbs. fish sauce

Chop the pear, onion and ginger root into small pieces and together with the garlic cloves, puree in a food processor. In a measuring cup, combine soy sauce, cooking wine, mirin, honey, pear puree, sesame oil,fish sauce and green onions. Adjust for taste before stirring it into the meat. Refrigerate for at least an hour.

Heat a tablespoon of oil in a wok. Sauté the beef in batches. Fond (caramelized bits) will start to build up on the sides; you can use some pieces of beef to pick up this browning. After the last batch is cooked, return all the sautéed beef in the pan, pour in the rest of the marinade and cook on high for a while, scraping the fond into the sauce.

Garnish with some sliced green onions and serve with steamed rice.

Cooking Notes:

            To be able to slice the beef thinly, it needs to be partly frozen. I will use sirloin next time to make this dish, because the tenderloin tips I used nearly fell apart after they were cooked. The amounts are purely approximate. That is why I put it in a measuring cup first to gauge the flavor of the marinade before pouring it on the meat. Fish sauce is not a typical part of this dish, but I felt there was a savory component missing and I knew this would pull the flavors together.

            The dish was delicious especially with a bowl of hot steaming rice to soak up the juices! And it was better than any store-bought marinade for sure!

16 thoughts on “Third time is the charm

  1. Just a hint – when you do stir fries, add a little baking soda to the marinade – it helps to tenderise the meat. 🙂

    This sounds gorgeous!

  2. Third time is definitely a charm, judging from the delicious looking photo of the finished dish, Veron! I'm intrigued by the flavors of fresh ginger and pear with the beef, that sounds like a wonderful combination. And rice…yes, lots of hot steaming rice! 🙂

  3. This is one of the recipes where I've been able to substitute agave syrup as the sweetener, which works really well. By the way, a Singaporean restaurant chef once told me that the reason I can never make noodles the way I have them in restaurants is that our home stoves simply do not get hot enough!

  4. Veron, that looks so tasty! Three cheers for the third try! You always have such good advice. I haven't cooked Asian in quite some time, but you've inspired me to give it another try!

  5. I know exactly how you feel about Asian dishes! Especially Filipino! Even if I live here (in the Philippines) my local dishes are the last that I learn…to the point that now I am so nervous about making them! Especially adobo…hahaha 🙂 Well, you needn't worry anymore because that bulgogi looks mighty tasty! That marinade sounds delicious…thanks for sharing it 🙂

  6. hey hao …pangiao ! i'm frm Hong Kong but speak very little cantonese. Love the food … n everything in the cantonoese cuisine. This dish looks nice . dont know what u fretting about 🙂

  7. Thanks for the tip about which cut of meat to use in this dish. I have a lot of chicnese recipes which call for flank steak but my halal butcher does not carry that. He does carry tenderloin and sirloin though 🙂

  8. Thanks Missy Z – the problem with this is that the tenderloin I used was too tender and it just almost dissolved. That's why I want to a less tender cut of meat like sirloin.
    Thanks Belinda – I never thought there was pear in bulgogi but the combination of all the ingredients was simply divine!
    Hi Lydia – I've never tried agave syrup. Thanks for the info. I know what you mean about home burners…they just can't get that right smokey flavor of a real stir fry.
    Thanks Big boys oven – I actually ate the first batch that I cooked without rice- need to taste it you know ;).
    Thanks T.W. – I hope you give Asian food a try again!
    Thanks K.J.!
    Hi Patricia – I finally got this one right…it broke the curse and restored my confidence a bit.
    Hi Joey – it's funny how we have the same experience about cooking our local dishes. Try the marinade…I love it – I'm never going back to store-bought again!
    Hi Kate! I have been to HK once and I loved it. It's a haven for great food! My dad and grandma were awesom cantonese cooks and I could just kick myself for not learning their secrets.
    Thanks Tanna – I do think this is a charmed dish!
    Hi Nabeela – try the sirloin, I think it will give this dish more meaty texture.
    Hi Desie – it's my favorite korean dish. I use to order it a lot at the kimchi fastfood in Landmark manila!

  9. I love Bulgogi and was googling a recipe source earlier today…little did I know…Looks delicious! I love Vietnamese and Korean foods and B. was wuite surprised when I took him to some pretty serious Korean eats in downtown Paris (my brother lived in the Asian neighborhood). Now it's at least once a week.

  10. I feel so disconcerted whenever people ask me to teach them to cook Chinese food simply because I am Cantonese and I love to cook. Now I do love to eat Asian food, but cooking it perfectly seems to elude me: my heat is never high enough, I am timid in pouring out enough fish sauce and soy sauce and I’m clueless about most vegetables that go into them. I totally understand what you mean. The Beef Bulgogoi looks like perfection to me.

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