After trying Kogi Tacos for the first time a couple weeks ago, I wanted to try and make them at home. I made these on the grill, and they were just as good as the ones I had in Los Angeles.
The meat for bulgogi is traditionally ribeye cut super thin against the grain. When I was young, and before Korean markets became ubiquitous in New Jersey, my mom would go to the regular grocery store and try to explain to American butchers how she wanted it cut. They always had a hard time figuring it out. (You want me to do what to this? Are you sure?)
I always found the experience remarkably embarrassing. As a kid, I despised any event that made us stick out or otherwise exacerbated our differentness. It’s part of the reason why there are almost no pictures of me between the ages of 5 and 18. Stopping to take a photo was the epitome of the Asian stereotype, and I wasn’t about to perpetuate it.
These days, Korean markets abound, and any good korean market will have the ribeye already cut and packaged this way. You can probably ask a butcher at a regular grocery store to do it for you because, these days, most butchers are usually familiar with bulgogi. Or you can just tell them you need it cut for philly cheese steaks.
Kogi Tacos Recipe:
1. Marinade it: the marinade is pretty simple. I used 1/4C soy, 1/4 rice wine vinegar, 3 minced cloves garlic, 1T toasted sesame oil, and 1-2T brown sugar. This makes enough marinade for about 2 pounds of meat.
I marinated the meat for about an hour, making sure to mix the meat around in the marinade. Over the course of the hour, the meat changes to a wonderfully dark hue. And the smell is enchanting. Whenever I drink in that savory aroma, I think God must think to himself, “That’s exactly how I intended for those things to go together. I’m glad they figured that out.”
2. Grill it: bulgogi translates to “fire meat” so the best way to prepare it is on the grill. The thing is, once ribeye gets sliced up for bulgogi, the pieces are too small to cook on a grill. So, you will need some foil. This is how my mom made this whenever we were grilling out at a church picnic or when we went camping.
The heat from the grill will make it hard for the foil to stay put. Depending on the width of the grill grates, you might be able to tuck the ends of the foil under so that it stays put (this usually applies to charcoal grill grates and hibachi grills). But, for my grill, I put a little bit of the meat on each corner to weight it down.
Once weighed down, you need to take a chopstick and poke holes in the foil. This lets some of the fat/grease drip down and lets the heat come up. When I was young, I would insist, and I mean insist, that I get to do this. I wanted to make sure that the holes were set in staggered rows of holes set equidistantly apart. That’s the earliest food OCD I can remember.
On this particular day, I used a fork, which works just as well, if not better. And I didn’t particularly care if the holes were set equidistantly apart. Although, you generally want to make sure you have good airflow.
Once you’ve got the air holes, put the rest of the meat on the foil on the grill.
Eat it: When the meat looks good enough to eat, it is. It’s the beauty of thinly sliced meat. Shortly before the meat was done, I put some corn tortillas on a grill for a bit to get them nice and toasted.
I put some bulgogi in a tortilla with some pico. It seems remarkably simple, but the best tacos are. And, that’s how I had the yogi tacos in Los Angeles. It worked there, so I wasn’t about to change the formula.
Instantly, the flavors reminded me of the kogi tacos that I had a couple weeks ago. The bulgogi tasted like the kind of bulgogi my mom used to make. And the marinade flavors played really nicely with the tomatoes, red onions, and cilantro of the pico de gallo. It was damn good. My wife liked them too.
We ate way more tacos than we usually eat during a meal. Each of us felt a deep urge to continue eating more of the tacos, even though we were both gratuitously full. After we finished the meal, we stayed up on the roof and enjoyed a mercifully comfortable Chicago summer evening. It was Saturday night, and it was not long before we were treated to the view of the fireworks from Navy Pier.