seoul food: bulgogi (korean barbecued beef)

bulgogi: Korean barbecued beef
For me, New Malden's greatest contribution to the culture of this nation has been the classic Reginald Iolanthe Perrin's excuse for being late for work, which was "Twenty-two minutes late, badger ate a junction box at New Malden."

But it turns out that New Malden has another claim to fame - it is the centre of the UK's Korean community. It seems a bit odd to me that while there are Koreatowns around the world, from Toronto to Los Angeles, from Sydney to New York, as well as in Brazil and Argentina. Koreans have come to Britain and settled in New Malden, which although it is some ten miles south of London, is hardly a bustling metropolis. New Malden developed with the coming of the railways in the mid 19th century. In fact, New Malden is surrounded by rail and roads (all the easier to leave it) and for people like me, it is just a place that you travel through on the train.

It seems especially odd to me as many years ago I worked in New York, in the heart of Manhattan's K-Town. It was about as far from New Malden as you could imagine. While in New York there were lots of restaurants, grocery stores, book shops and karaoke bars, New Malden just seems grimly suburban by comparison. (Sorry New Malden, but it is!)

While in New York, visiting Korean restaurants for the first time, I quickly learnt to love classics such as bulgogi, kimchi and bibimbap. It always seemed a bit odd to me that there weren't more Korean restaurants back home in London as Korean food seems exactly the kind of food that we like in the UK; it is very similar to Japanese food but a little sweeter and much spicier, heavily flavoured with chillies and sesame; and there is no doubt that these days the British love their spicy food.

Until recently, you had to trek across London down to New Malden to get decent Korean food and ingredients. But it seems as if there is something of a Korean-inspired food revolution going on in London at the moment, with the opening of new restaurants such as Dotori in Finsbury Park, Bibigo in Soho and Kimchee and Asadal in Holborn, as well as the fabulous Kimchi Cult street food truck. And recently, the delicious Gizzi Erskine hosted her pop-up K-Town in trendy Shoreditch.

But if you can't get your Korean fix, this recipe for steak in a sweet soy marinade is a good place to start.

Bulgogi: Korean barbecued beef
(Adapted from David Rosengarten's It's All American Food)

Serves 4
Skill level: Easy

about 600 beef steak, sliced thinly (you could use rump, sirloin, rib eye, skirt or even stewing steak - depending on your budget)
3 tbsp + 2 tsp dark soy sauce (I use Kikkoman)
3 tbsp Chinese rice wine or dry sherry
1½ tbsp + 2 tsp rice wine vinegar
1 tbsp + 2 tsp sesame oil
2 x star anise
1½ tbsp dark brown sugar
1 tbsp toasted sesame seeds (ground in a spice grinder or with a pestle and mortar)
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
4-5 x garlic cloves, very finely chopped
2 tbsp very finely chopped fresh ginger (about 2½ cm)
vegetable oil
5 x spring onions, cut on the diagonal into fine slivers
¼ tsp chilli powder (or according to taste)
¼ tsp sesame seeds
little gem or iceberg lettuce, leaves separated and dried, to serve
plain steamed white rice with green peas, to serve (optional)
Gochujang - Korean chilli paste, to serve (optional - or replace with chilli sauce and a squeeze of lime juice)
Doenjang - Korean soy bean paste, to serve (optional - or replace with miso)
cucumber, de-seeded and cut into matchsticks, to serve


  1. If you can, give the steak a bit of a pounding; (I use a wooden rolling pin). This helps to tenderise the meat and also to flatten it to about 1 centimetre thick.
  2. Make the marinade by combining 3 tablespoons of soy sauce, the Chinese rice wine or sherry, 1½ tablespoons of rice wine vinegar, 1 tablespoon of sesame oil, the star anise, sugar, ground sesame seeds, black pepper, chopped garlic and chopped ginger.
  3. Place the steaks in a large, shallow bowl and pour over the marinade. Turn the meat over in the marinade several times to ensure that it is well coated. Massage it if you want to! Cover and refrigerate for about 1 hour.
  4. 10 minutes before cooking take the steaks out of the fridge.
  5. Heat a large over a medium-high heat. The pan will be hot enough when you can't hover your hand above the pan for more than about 8 seconds.
  6. Shake off the excess marinade. With a pastry brush and lightly brush the side of each steak with a little vegetable oil. Add the steaks to the hot pan and cook on each side for 2 to 3 minutes for medium rare, or longer depending on how you like your steak.
  7. Remove the meat to a chopping board and let it rest for about 1 minute, before thinly slicing on the diagonal.
  8. Bring to the remaining marinade to the boil in a small saucepan and simmer for a couple of minutes. This can then be served on the side if you want more sauce.
  9. Toss the chopped spring onions with 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, 2 teaspoons of rice wine vinegar and 2 teaspoons of sesame oil, chilli powder and sesame seeds. Don't make the onion salad too far in advance as the onion will become soggy and the green parts will wilt.
  10. Serve with the dressed spring onions and lettuce leaves - place a few slices of the meat onto a lettuce leaf. Add a little marinade, cucumber and gochujang or other condiments. Roll up the leaf and eat immediately. Alternatively, serve over steamed rice.


  • The steak can be barbecued over hot coals or on a gas grill. Take the meat out of the fridge for at least 10 minutes before putting on the grill. It will need to cook for about 2 to 3 minutes for each side for medium rare.
  • Should you have any leftovers, this makes a fabulous sandwich.with added cucumber and lettuce.

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