The Affair of the Garlic Cloves

COOKING ADVENTURE #26: Bulgogi

Sleep is important. Given enough time to get the required 8 to 10 hours of sleep, our brains can then function the next day without much issue and can perform even the most difficult tasks with a clear head. Well, folks, long story short, I didn’t get enough sleep on Monday night. In fact, I got probably 4-5 hours at best. I even had time to sleep in the next morning. But no. I was determined to get up bright and early and get work done. And then I had to go to my day job until 8. When I got home at roughly 8:30, my eyes were practically rolling up into my head with fatigue. In reflection, I know if wasn’t the best time to try and attempt something simple as broiling already prepared meat and vegetables. But, yes, I did try. Never again.

Bulgogi is a Korean dish consisting of rib-eye steak, an unusual marinade containing Asian pear and garlic, onion, and lettuce leaves. Yes, quite strange indeed. The recipe is similar to my Shashlyk recipe that I did about a month and a half ago and I figured since there weren’t any skewers involved in this one, it would probably be easier. Hahahaha…

Thankfully I read the directions a day before actually making this recipe. The instructions clearly state that the steak must be marinaded for a minimum of 4 hours and upto 24. I decided to prepare the marinade in the a.m. and then when I got home, I’d actually cook the meat. This was a very good idea, I’ve decided. I’ve I’d been trying to do this at night in my brain-dead state, I’d have probably A.) Woken the neighbors B.) Cut myself accidentally with the santoku knife or C.) Measured something completely wrong and ruined the recipe.

The marinade called for sesame seeds, something I don’t usually keep in my spice arsenal. I had to pick these up from the store and I doubt I’ll have much use for them in the future. You never know, I suppose… I scooped one measly little tsp. of them into a pan and heated them on the stove on medium/low heat. While I waited for them to turn golden brown, I turned to the rest of the ingredients. The recipe calls for 1/2 of an Asian pear. Personally, I wish I’d used the whole thing. I’ll explain why in a moment. I cut it into small cubes with a paring knife (ha, ha) and placed those in a bowl. Next comes the garlic.

Oh, garlic. If there is any food that I’d be caught in an affair with it would probably be garlic. I love the stuff. I’m 1/2 Portuguese if that explains anything. Usually if a recipe calls for a clove of garlic, I’ll add another, just because I always find I can’t get enough of the stuff. That was not the case with the Bulgogi. It called for 3 cloves to cut up and put in the marinade. Even I took a step back and reread the directions just to make sure they were right. That’s a lot of garlic. I can understand one and definitely two but three for the tiny amount of marinade that I was making was definitely too much. However, because I wanted to follow the directions properly this time, I cracked 3 cloves, chopped them up and added them to the pear. The smell literally overtook the kitchen within moments… which didn’t bother me any.

Next came the liquid ingredients: 2 tbsp. soy sauce, 1/4 cup of a sweet white wine (I used Pinot Grigio), 2 tbsp. sesame oil, 1 tsp. honey, 3 tbsp. sugar, and 1 tsp. ground pepper. I added all of the ingredients together with the pear and garlic into my Magic Bullet and pulsed the mixture a couple of times to break up the items and blend them a little. The Magic Bullet doesn’t so much “break things up” as it just mushes them together. So when I unscrewed the blade attachment from the cup, I stared at something that mildly resembled vomit. There is no other way to say it, folks.

I took my toasted sesame seeds and poured them into the mixture. Each seed hissed as it hit the chunky marinade. When several fell together, they would snap and crackle. Next came the onion. I didn’t take any chances, guys. The recipe called for 1/2 of a white onion. I used 1/4. I made an executive decision based on past experiences and I think I made the right one. I cut the onion into half-moon slices and added those to the marinade. After mixing, it was time to add the meat.

Now, there are very specific instructions on how to cut the rib eye steak to the right thickness, width, and length. I ignored all of them. I used the kind of steak that goes in beef stew because I figured it would be easier to cut than an entire rib eye. I didn’t even do that. I was running out of time that morning and had to get ready for work. So I basically just opened the package and dumped all of the pieces in to marinade. Then I put a top on the container and shoved it in the fridge. Off to work I went.

That evening, exhausted and barely awake, I returned and removed my marinaded steak from the fridge. I snagged a baking pan and covered it with a sheet of tinfoil. I then poured the marinade, the steak, and the onions onto it and spread them out so that they all had even coverage. The directions wanted me to move my top oven rack to the highest place so that they were directly under the broiler. I opened the oven door and reached in to try and adjust the rack.

And it wouldn’t move. I tried sliding it further back and lifting up, I tried pulling it out entirely, tried to lift it at an angle, and pretty much swore death on it if it didn’t get moving. Nada. After about ten minutes of that, I just gave up and put the pan in. The rack was on the second level from the top so it wasn’t too bad, I supposed. I looked at the directions once more. They wanted me to turn the heat up on the broiler to 550 degrees. My eyes bulged. Huh?? My oven doesn’t even go up to 550! And the only time I’ve set it to 500 was when I was baking my cheesecake back in January. I decided to play it safe. I set it for 400 and increased the time that it needed to stay in the oven.

Ten minutes passed and I took it out to flip the meat over. I put it back in and waited another ten. When it came out, I checked the insides of the meat to see if it had cooked. Not quite. Pink insides stared at me in the face. I slid the pan back in for another five minutes. This did the trick finally.

The recipe then states to take your lettuce and wash the leaves. Then you wrap the meat and onion up in them to serve. I bought the wrong kind of lettuce. Oops. I bought iceberg lettuce, the kind already pre-cut and completely shrunk into itself to the point that you couldn’t stretch it out if you wanted to. I picked out some of the largest pieces and tried to lay them out anyway. Then I placed the meat onto each one with a few onions here and there. The one thing that I forgot to add were shallots or green onion (which I know by now is practically impossible to find in Maine).

I took my first bite of the meat. Garlic infused my senses, practically drowning out all of the other flavors except for maybe the sesame. Oh, if only I’d just used two cloves instead of three… It didn’t ruin the recipe, don’t get me wrong. I just feel as though it would be better to be able to taste the other flavors, too. I ended up thoroughly enjoying it though and would definitely make it again as a type of party food if the occasion called for it.

Next week on Cooking Adventures, I’ll be trying my luck at a delectable Glazed Kiwi Tart that I spotted in an early issue of Hannaford’s Fresh magazine. (The Bulgogi came from the same magazine.) Stay tuned!

~KSilva

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