After his trip to L.A., Ole came home determined to recreate the Korean BBQ from Kogi Taco Truck here in Minnesota. This is his interpretation of the infamous Korean barbecue short ribs, stuffed inside a warm corn tortilla and covered in a healthy amount of Napa cabbage slaw and sriracha.
A few times a year I go out of town for work, and while it is a burden for the family left at home, I try to make the best of it. My destinations are usually major metropolitan areas in another part of the country, and my favorite activity to do if I have some down time is to seek out interesting local cuisine. I have a few rules though when it comes time to choose my eatery:
- No chains
- Local/regional is preferred
- The harder it is to find, the better
- Use the internet
On a recent trip to Los Angeles I was presented with a bit of a challenge. I knew exactly what I wanted, but tracking it down was another matter.
For over a year I’ve been hearing about the Korean taco trend that has overtaken the L.A. street food scene. The most famous is Kogi BBQ, a truck-based operation that is always on the move. Luckily, they post a schedule of their stops on their website, so finding them shouldn’t have been very hard. Right? Wrong.
I was only in town on Sunday and Monday, and guess which days they don’t run? Yep, Sunday and Monday. Nuts. Additional investigation turned up a ray of hope. Kogi’s menu is served at one bar in L.A. I was in luck. Conveniently, it is only about ten minutes away from the airport, so Korean tacos were back on my menu.
After I was done working, I headed over to The Alibi Room to taste what I’d been hearing about. Let me tell you, it was worth the effort. Warm corn tortillas housed a perfect mix of Korean BBQ, dressed with a wonderfully fresh cabbage-based slaw. Now, since this was my first time back to L.A. in about ten years and it could very well be another ten before I get there again, I needed to make the most of my dining experience. So, naturally, I ordered almost everything on the menu.
Well, not quite, but I did have tacos with short ribs (classic Koren BBQ fare), pork, tofu and calamari. You must realize that not only did I intend to sample and enjoy the food, but I also planned to deconstruct the dish, identify the ingredients, and export this local delight back to the frozen lands of my home. After properly documenting my experience, I headed for the airport confident with my assessment of the specimen.
Upon my return home, I began searching for existing recipes for Korean tacos. I did find a few, but none seemed to hold true to the original and my intent was to recreate the experience for my wonderful family. The following is, in my opinion, a fairly accurate remake.
Begin with the meat and marinade. Assemble your marinade using soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin, sesame oil, ginger and garlic. Set a 1/2 cup aside, and pour the rest over the meat. If you have the time, let this marinate overnight, but if you’re pressed, a few hours will have to do.
Regarding the meat: Since short ribs are usually associated with Korean BBQ we’ll go down that road, however, if you’re not into red meat feel free to use chicken, or if you’re not into meat at all, you can try tofu. For our purpose, we’ll talk about short ribs. If you’re shooting for authenticity, you’ll probably need to talk to a decent butcher or go to a well-stocked Asian market for flanken-style beef short ribs. This kind of short rib should consist of a meaty rack sliced around ½-inch thick perpendicular to the bone, so the resulting cuts are long thin rectangles with five bone cross-sections in them. If you can’t find these or don’t want to bother, a good substitute is a bone-in rib steak (or rib eye) cut to about the same thickness.
For the slaw, thinly slice the Napa cabbage and daikon (a little coarser); add bean sprouts and rough-chopped cilantro, too. If you can’t find daikon, you can use water chestnuts cut into strips.
Make a dressing with soy sauce, mirin, lime juice, olive oil, sesame seeds and sriracha chili sauce. This might seem similar to the marinade, and it is, but the difference is that we want this a little more sour (extra lime juice) and have some spice to it.
Pour the dressing over the vegetable ingredients, stir to combine and refrigerate until it’s time to use.
When you’re ready to eat, fire up the grill and scrape it clean. You want a nice hot grill, about 550 degrees or so. Throw your protein of choice on, but don’t go far. These are thin pieces and the grill is hot. The intent here is to flash cook the meat while simultaneously caramelizing the marinade. Flip after about three minutes and remove after another three; wrap these in foil and set aside. If you are doing chicken, you will want to lower the heat a bit and extend the cooking time.
The last step on the grill is to warm the tortillas. Turn your grill down to medium and spread one layer of tortillas on the grate. You’re just trying to warm and soften them a little so flip them after about 45 seconds and remove after another minute. A few grill lines aid in the final presentation.
Head inside and chop your meat into small pieces being careful to avoid some of the tougher bits near the bone.
Now all that’s left is to assemble. Tortilla, meat, slaw, done. I like to add one last squeeze of lime and some extra chili sauce, it looks nice, and enhances all the flavors to boot.
I couldn’t take my family to L.A. with me, but at least I could bring the fresh fusion flavors of the West Coast back to them.
3 pounds flanken-style beef short ribs
1 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup mirin
1/4 cup sesame oil
6 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons fresh peeled ginger
3 cups Napa cabbage, chopped
1 cup daikon, diced into matchsticks
1 cup bean sprouts
6 scallions, diced
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon sriracha or chili pepper sauce
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
10-15 yellow corn tortillas
Begin by cutting off excess fat from the short ribs. You can also remove the membrane under the bone side of the rib. Place in a large flat dish or in a zip-top bag.
In a food processor, blend together soy sauce, brown sugar, mirin, sesame oil, garlic, scallions and ginger. Reserve 1/2 cup of sauce and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Pour the rest of the sauce over the short ribs, ensuring all ribs are covered. Seal tightly and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for up to 24 hours.
To prepare the slaw: Place Napa cabbage, daikon, spouts, scallions and cilantro together in a medium to large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together lime juice, soy sauce, mirin and sriracha. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss to coat. Store covered in the fridge until ready to serve.
Reduce the extra marinade ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is thick. Place in a serving bowl to drizzle on tacos.
Heat your grill to 550° F or so**. The intent here is to flash cook the meat while simultaneously caramelizing the marinade. Place your short ribs on the grill. Cook for three minutes and flip. Cook an additional three minutes, wrap in foil and set aside.
Lower grill heat to medium. Place corn tortillas on the grill. Flip after 45 seconds. Grill for another 45 seconds and remove.
Cut short ribs into strips, avoiding the bones. Assemble your Korean tacos: Corn tortilla, barbecued short ribs, a drizzle of Korean barbecue sauce, Napa cabbage slaw and extra sriracha to match your tastes. Serve immediately.
**If you are doing chicken, you will want to lower the heat a bit and extend the cooking time.
Makes 10-15 Korean BBQ tacos.