Fans of HGTV’s Fixer Upper are quite familiar with the home renovation show’s lovable hosts, Chip and Joanna Gaines, but they may be less acquainted with the home cooking that keeps their gang together. In Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering, Joanna (or “Jo,” as she’s known) Gaines shares all of her family classics, including her Korean mother’s recipe for bulgogi (literally "fire meat"), thin slices of marinated beef meant for grilling over a fire.
I recently had the chance to talk to Jo about the book and her mother’s version of the classic Korean dish, which she adapted along the way, making it sweeter to suit Joanna and her sisters’ American palates. “When we were growing up, we didn’t like ginger, and that’s what you’ll find; people typically use ginger in bulgogi,” Jo explains. “And my mom, just for us, she adapted it, and that’s now literally Chip’s favorite, and my kids’ favorite. I mean, when my mom cooks that, we’re all over there in a heartbeat because we love it so much.”
You know it’s a good dish when both adults and children are clamoring for it. Below, find the story behind Jo’s mother’s famous bulgogi. Try the crowd-pleasing recipe for yourself; this version definitely runs sweeter than traditional Korean bulgogi, so if you’d prefer it less sweet, start with half the amount of brown sugar called for and adjust up or down according to your preference. Enjoy alongside steamed rice and her simple, spicy, refreshing cucumber kimchi “salad” that comes together in no time.
Excerpt from Magnolia Table: A Collection of Recipes for Gathering
My mom grew up in Seoul, South Korea, with a mom who was an amazing cook. I can personally vouch for this because in the 1980s my grandmother and uncle moved in with us in our home in Wichita, Kansas, where I grew up. What I remember most about that time is my grandmother cooking amazing food nonstop. When my grandmother passed away I know my mom regretted never having really learned from her how to cook proper Korean dishes.
She ended up adopting a much more American style of cooking and by the time my sisters and I were on the scene, she had long since perfected a few dishes for my steak-and-potato-loving dad. But around that same time she had a lot of Korean friends living nearby, and she learned enough from them that by the time my kids were born, she was often preparing traditional Korean dishes for them, like seaweed soup.
It’s funny to me that they’re growing up eating much more authentic Korean food than I ever did. Mom’s bulgogi, though, is more of an American-Korean hybrid, much sweeter than traditional bulgogi, and she serves it on a bed of white rice. Mom has us over once a month and this is what she always makes. It’s my kids’ very favorite food in the world, so I knew I had to include it in this book.
Getting the recipe on paper was a bit of a challenge. My mom had no idea what the measurements were or how to describe what she does, because, as she said, she just does it. (Writing this book made me realize just how alike we are in this way.) But eventually, we figured it out, and I’m so glad we did because now I’ve captured the blueprint to what will always be a beloved meal for my kids.
We’ve never had Mom’s bulgogi with anything other than her cucumber kimchi salad, which has a clean, fresh flavor that perfectly complements the sweet barbecued beef.
Mom’s Bulgogi with Cucumber Kimchi Salad
- 3 cups packed light brown sugar (if your tastes run less sweet, start with half and adjust up/down according to taste)
- 1 1/2 cups soy sauce
- 5 tablespoons sparkling dessert wine, such as Banfi Rosa Regale, or sparkling grape juice
- 3 tablespoons sesame oil
- 2 green onions (light and dark green parts), chopped, plus 1/4 cup sliced for serving
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 4 to 5 pounds beef tenderloin, rib-eye, top sirloin, or sirloin steak, thinly sliced (see Note)
- Cucumber Kimchi Salad
- 2 English cucumbers, peeled if desired, cut into ½-inch dice
- 2 green onions (light and dark green parts), thinly sliced on the diagonal
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 to 2 teaspoons gochugaru (Korean red pepper flakes; see Tip)
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoons kosher salt, to taste
- For Serving
- Steamed white rice
- 1 to 2 tablespoons thinly sliced green onion (light and dark green parts) as needed, for garnish
- 3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish
From Magnolia Table by Joanna Gaines. Copyright © 2018 by Joanna Gaines. Reprinted by permission of William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
Are you a fan of Korean bulgogi? Let us know below!