L.A. Kalbi Recipe
L.A. kalbi is a uniquely Korean-American dish that uses flanken-style short ribs rather than the butterflied English-style ribs traditionally used in kalbi in Korea. It’s widely accepted that L.A. kalbi originated in the Korean immigrant community in Los Angeles, where home cooks turned to the cheaper flanken-style ribs that were readily available at local Mexican markets. These short ribs, which are thinly cut across multiple ribs so each strip of meat has three little bones along one edge, are perfect for marinating and quickly grilling and result in tender meat that’s sweet, salty, and well-caramelized all over.
The marinade usually has some combination of soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, garlic, ginger, and a sweetener, but every restaurant (and Korean mom) has a different variation. Here grated Asian pear and granulated sugar add sweetness, but you’ll find recipes that call for grated apple or kiwi, honey, brown sugar, and even lemon-lime soda, a sneaky pantry substitute for fruit. Feel free to make substitutions in your own marinade—use apple cider vinegar in place of rice vinegar, an Anjou pear if you can’t find Asian pear, and so on—depending on your taste preferences. Grilling the ribs over charcoal results in the best flavor, as it adds smokiness to the caramelized meat. But you’ll also get good results if you cook them on a gas grill, in a grill pan on the stovetop, or broil them in the oven.
While L.A. kalbi can shine just fine on its own with a simple bowl of rice and some kimchi, this recipe goes all-out with everything you need to enjoy the kalbi in ssam (lettuce wraps): fresh leaf lettuce and perilla leaves for wrapping; pa muchim, a fresh, lightly dressed scallion salad that cuts through the ribs’ meaty sweetness; and hot, cooked short-grain rice. Use a pair of kitchen scissors—a staple in Korean cooking—at the table to cut the three-boned ribs into single-serving pieces, or cut the meat off the bones for easy ssam wrapping. Wash it all down with an ice-cold beer and you’ll be licking your fingers, and the bones, clean. —Irene Yoo
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large or 1 medium Asian pear, peeled, cored, cut into large chunks
1” piece ginger, peeled, coarsely chopped
cup mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
cup soy sauce (not low-sodium)
cup toasted sesame oil
tsp. freshly ground black pepper
lb. ¼”–½”-thick crosscut bone-in beef short ribs (flanken-style; about 12 three-bone strips)
Scallion Salad and Assembly
bunches scallions, cut into 3″ pieces
Tbsp. apple cider vinegar
Tbsp. mirin (sweet Japanese rice wine)
tsp. gochugaru (coarse Korean red pepper powder)
Vegetable oil (for grill)
Toasted sesame seeds and thinly sliced scallions (for serving)
large head of green leaf, red leaf, or Bibb lettuce, leaves separated, torn if large
perilla leaves (optional)
Cooked short-grain rice (for serving)