Among all the meats, many Koreans pick beef as their favorite. It surely depends on personal tastes, but it may also be related to the cultural perception of beef to Korean people. Historically, beef has been an ingredient hard to get in Korea. Thus, beef is one of the most expensive meats, if not the most expensive, in Korean cuisine. And, many Korean beef dishes are still considered as gourmet food and even luxury treats.
However, Koreans have a long history of cooking beef. Our ancestors came up with Korean beef dishes at affordable prices which are shareable among the general population. Let’s take a look at the variety of Korean beef dishes from gourmet to everyday menus.
Bulgogi (불고기 / marinated beef)
Bulgogi is the most famous and popular Korean beef dish globally. ‘Bul’ means fire and ‘gogi’ means meat. Various meat parts such as chuck, ribeye, and loins are thinly sliced and marinated with soy sauce, sweetener, green onions, onions, and rice wine. Koreans use fruits such as Korean pears and apples as a sweetener along with sugar to give natural flavor and to soften the meat. You can grill them over the fire or stir fry them in the pan with other vegetables like mushrooms, carrots, sliced onions, and colored peppers.
The full table for bulgogi sets with lettuce and perilla to make a ssam – a wrap with a slice of cooked meat, rice, ssamjang, and other sliced vegetables like garlic and hot peppers.
Sutbulgui (숯불구이 / charcoal-grilled meat)
‘Sutbul’ means charcoal and ‘gui’ means grilling in Korean. Koreans love the flavor that charcoal gives to the meat. The most popular sutbulgui among Korean beef dishes is sutbul galbi (숯불갈비), the grilled short ribs.
Galbi is prepared in two ways at most Korean BBQ restaurants: Marinated one is called yangnyum-galbi (양념갈비), and an unmarinated one is called sang-galbi (생갈비). Marinate uses the same sauce as bulgogi. Sang-galbi gives a purer meaty flavor. A collection of veggies for ssam (쌈), wrapping the meat with veggies, and a variety of side dishes come out with beef. Sirloin (등심/deungsim) or filet mignon (안심/ansim) are popular parts for sutbulgui.
Many Koreans order a meal after gui. Naengmyeon, Kimchi jjigae, Doenjang jjigae with rice, or Nooroongji (scorched rice soup) are the options for the meal. You don’t have to order the meal, but leave room for the meal if you want to have a full experience of sutbulgui bbq experience.
Gomtang (곰탕 / beef bone soup)
Koreans use the various parts of beef meats, like brisket, shank, and ox’s head, and simmer them slowly for long hours to make gomtang. ‘Gom’ here comes from the verb “Godah” meaning long hours of simmering. Bones are another ingredient often substituting meat not only because the meat is much more expensive but also because bones give heartiness to the soup. Seolleongtang (설렁탕) is the name for the soup with more bones. Gomtang is clearer and has more meat toppings compared to Seolleongtang.
A story goes that one of the kings in the Joseon dynasty ordered to find a way to feed more of his people, and seolleongtang was the result of it.
A bowl of rice, chopped green onion, and Kimchi are regular companions of gomtang. People usually put rice into the soup and mix them together, but you can eat them separately. You can add green onions, salt, and pepper to your taste.
Galbitang (갈비탕 / short rib soup)
Galbitang is similar to gomtang in cooking and eating, but it uses galbi (short ribs) instead of other meat parts or bones. Other ingredients for the soup include radish, onions, Korean leeks, and garlic, and they enhance the flavors of the soup. Another difference from gomtang is that galbitang is seasoned with soy sauce and salt while cooking but gomtang is seasoned when people eat it.
Galbitang is a party food for Koreans. Hosts serve this soup to their guests at many weddings. The guests would be satisfied because the soup is hearty and meaty food. It also had the advantage that the soup is relatively easy to cook for a large number of people. However, as culture changes so does tradition. Recently, wedding food has changed to buffet or western course meals.
Yukgaejang (육개장 / spicy beef soup)
Yukgaejang is a spicy hearty soup and it is one of the gomguk, a type of soup with a long-simmering time. It has a lot of vegetable ingredients as well as meat parts compared to gomtang. Chefs or cooks mix vegetables like fernbrake, oyster mushroom, bean sprout, and Korean leeks with shredded brisket. If you put chicken instead of brisket, then it becomes Dakgaejang; ‘Dak’ means chicken in Korean.
Koreans eat yukgaejang throughout all seasons, but it is specifically popular during summer. People believe they can endure hot summer after eating this hearty and energetic food.
Yukjeon (육전 / pan-fried battered beef)
Jeon is one of the traditional Korean cuisines. Sliced fish, meat, or vegetables are seasoned and coated with wheat flour and egg wash. Then, fry them in oil and you get jeon. It is similar to fritters.
Yukjeon is a kind of jeon, of which the main ingredient is thinly sliced beef. People usually eat it as a side dish with a dipping sauce. In some areas of South Korea, people make a ssam with Yukjeon. In Jinju in Gyeongsangnam-do province, people put yukjeon on top of Naengmyeon as a garnish.
If you are more of a pork fan than beef, here is a list of Korean Pork Dishes for you. Read the post.
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