Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Kalbi Jjim (갈비찜)

FYI, I've got a much prettier, updated, easier to follow version of this recipe, if you're interested.

Kalbi jjim translated is "steamed ribs," but I think a more accurate description is braised short ribs. As with all homey comfort foods, every family has their own special recipe. Here's mine:

*NOTE: this recipe calls for a few specialty ingredients that might not be available in your regular grocery store but I'm going to do my best to offer accessible substitutions.

[serves 4]
2.5 lb package of short ribs, the kind in the Asian grocery store is specifically for this dish but you could use what you find in the grocery store. You could also use pork ribs if you want.
1/2 Korean radish, roughly chopped - Korean radish is a big fat white radish, you could definitely use daikon or white radish instead, but since these are smaller, you'll need 2 or 3.
2 carrots, roughly chopped
1/2 white sweet potato, diced - This is actually my substitution for chestnuts, which my mom would use, but we didn't have any. If you have some chestnuts, you could toss in 1 cup. You could use orange sweet potato but I like the white because the carrots already add orange color.
1/2 sweet onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed
2" piece of ginger, grated
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce (like I've mentioned many times, our family is sensitive to salt, but if you prefer salty food and don't mind overloading on sodium, go ahead and use regular soy sauce)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
1-1/2 cup water

I peeled the garlic, carrots, and sweet potato; crushed the garlic, roughly chopped the carrots, and diced the sweet potato. I like the sweet potatoes to be small and bite-sized so when you find one, it's a delicious little treat.
Peeled the radish and chopped it into big chunks.

Roughly chopped half an onion and set aside for later. I'll explain why below.
I like to handle the meat after I've prepared all of the vegetables so that I don't cross-contaminate anything; even though the dish is going to be fully cooked and beef isn't as deadly as raw chicken, it's still good practice.
I scored the meat so that the sauce and flavors could really penetrate and make it tastier.
Piece by piece, I made a few cuts into the meat, like so:
before
after
I grated the ginger. I always see recipes describing the length of the ginger piece to use (hence, why I wrote 2" piece). But what you're looking for is about 1/2 teaspoon of grated ginger in the end.
Then I mixed all of the ingredients for the sauce together.
I threw all of the ingredients into a pot. I like to start by layering the meat on the bottom and sprinkling the veggies on top.
Then I poured in the sauce and water, put it on high heat, and covered.
Once it came to a boil, I took off the cover and gave it a gentle stir just to distribute the ingredients better and make sure everything got a chance to simmer in the sauce. I say gentle because all of the vegetables get really soft and if you just get in there and roughly stir it, you'll mush them all up. It'll look like there's more liquid in the pot than what you started with because the meat is shrinking as it cooks and the vegetables are releasing a lot of liquid (mostly the radishes). After I stirred, I put the cover back on and lowered the heat and let it simmer for 1-1/2 hours. Letting it cook for a long time over a gentle heat is why the meat ends up so tender. The slow, gentle heat breaks down the collagen and leaves the meat really soft.
I said to set aside the onions because I like to add them at the end and let them just cook for 5 minutes to add a different textural element. Otherwise, all of the vegetables are really mushy and you can't tell them apart. Plus, overcooked onions tend to have a slimy texture, which I'm not a fan of. Texture is a really big part of food for me.
I included this not-so-attractive photo to show how tender the meat is and how soft the veggies are once the dish is ready.

Serve with white short-grain rice (Korean/Japanese rice).

** You might notice that there's a lot of grease floating at the top of the pot, rendered from the meat. You have three choices here:
  1. You can leave it alone if you're not really going to eat the sauce.
  2. You can use a turkey baster to suck off some of the grease, which is what I do.
  3. Or if you have the time, you can make this one day ahead and put the pot in the fridge overnight. In the morning you can peel/scrape off the layer of hardened lard sitting on top and just warm it up again when you're ready to eat.
Enjoy.

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