Short Ribs at Home, With a Touch of Sweetness
By DAVID TANIS
February may or may not be grilling season, depending upon your temperament and the climate where you live. I like to grill year-round, sometimes on an outdoor barbecue (even if there’s snow), sometimes in the fireplace. Also handy is a ridged stovetop grill, and of course there’s the broiler if need be. This means that kebabs, wings and even grilled vegetables are always an option, sunshine or not.
Korean restaurants often have tabletop grills designed to let diners cook their own meal. One day, when my dining room is properly ventilated, I may get one of those, too. In the meantime, my other grills work fine to make galbi, Korean short ribs — utterly simple and completely delicious.
Everyone I know loves short ribs, but most people consider them only suitable for long braising. It’s a tough cut of beef, after all. But most cuts of beef will be tender if they are thinly sliced and quickly seared over a hot fire. For Korean cooks, grilling short ribs is as natural as cooking hamburgers.
Galbi is a fine thing to eat in a restaurant, to be sure, but it also makes for a wonderful and easy home-cooked meal. First you need to get the beef, though. There are two ways to proceed. If you buy English-style short ribs, which are cut along the bone, you must butterfly the meat into a thin, long strip. This is easier than it sounds, and it is what most restaurants do.
Home cooks, however, usually buy their ribs flanken-style, in which a band saw is used to cut across the ribs, creating half-inch slices of beef dotted with three little bones. Most Asian groceries sell packages of short ribs cut just this way. Your butcher may also prepare them for you. Give the beef a cold-water bath to remove any bone fragments, and it is ready to season.
The traditional marinade is a flavorful mixture of soy sauce, garlic and sugar, often with the addition of sesame oil and ginger. Some cooks add honey or even cola, and many recommend adding a bit of puréed fruit, like pear, kiwi or pineapple, to help tenderize the meat (it’s the acidity and enzymes that do it). In Western cuisine, it’s rare to find savory dishes that emphasize sugar (barbecue sauce being the exception), but a balance of sweet and salty is common in Asian dishes, and with these short ribs, sugar is an essential ingredient. It’s a good idea to let the ribs marinate for at least two hours to allow the seasoning to penetrate; marinating overnight is even better.
To eat the galbi, it is customary to wrap a small piece of grilled beef in a lettuce leaf, along with a spoonful of steamed rice and a dab of ssamjang, the spicy Korean bean paste, adding hot chiles and raw garlic to taste. I see no reason not to follow this custom, but if you want to eat your short ribs with a knife and fork, or with your fingers, go right ahead.
Korean-Style Short Ribs
- TOTAL TIME
- 30 minutes, plus several hours’ marinating
- 3 pounds short ribs, cut in 1/2-inch slices across the bones (flanken-style)
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/3 cup rice wine
- 1 tablespoon sesame oil
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne or gochujang
- 1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
- 8 garlic cloves, peeled
- 1 small Asian pear, peeled, cored and quartered (or use an ordinary pear or tart apple)
- 1 1-inch chunk of ginger, peeled
- 2 teaspoons sesame seeds
- Lettuce leaves
- Sliced red or green hot pepper, optional
- Ssamjang (spicy Korean soybean paste), for dipping, optional
- Steamed rice, optional
- Rinse short ribs in cold water, pat dry and place in a wide shallow bowl. In another bowl, mix together soy sauce, brown sugar, rice wine, sesame oil, black pepper and cayenne.
- Put onion, garlic, pear and ginger in the work bowl of a food processor. Grind ingredients to a smooth purée, then add to soy sauce mixture. Add sesame seeds. Thin with ¼ cup water. Pour marinade over short ribs and mix well. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or overnight. Bring to room temperature, drain and discard marinade.
- Cook short ribs on a hot grill or under the broiler for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until nicely browned but juicy. Pile grilled meat on a platter and serve immediately with lettuce leaves on the side. Accompany with sliced hot peppers, ssamjang and steamed rice, if desired.
- About 20 slices, 4 to 6 servings