The Korean Braised Short Ribs That Take Me Back to My Childhood

Chef Esther Choi's Kalbi Jjim was inspired by her grandmother's recipe, with a few new twists.

December 22, 2018

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When I was growing up, my halmoni (“grandma” in Korean) would always tell me that food is all about giving—that love is the secret ingredient that can make any dish or chef great. I’ve realized throughout my career as a chef and restaurateur that what she meant by love was simply the effort and care we put into food, the thoughtfulness and attention to detail that are the unwritten heart of any recipe.

The recipe I created for this kalbi jjim, Korean braised short ribs, embodies both my philosophy on cooking and also tells a story of who I am as a chef. It’s something my halmoni used to make for my family and friends on special occasions, like holidays and birthdays. Smelling the aroma—the pungent soy sauce cooking with garlic and onions, combined with the sweet essence of the fruits—even now brings me back to my childhood days of being excited for guests to come over and enjoy a party with great food. Of course, when I opened the second outpost of my restaurant mŏkbar in Brooklyn, the first thought I had was, I need to put kalbi jjim on the menu. It’s a celebratory dish that everyone should be able to have whenever they want. At least that’s my theory.

The short ribs get a nice, even sear on Bosch's induction slide-in range. Photo by Dave Katz

I’ve tweaked my family’s recipe to better fit a restaurant setting, and also added some techniques that I’ve learned throughout my classical training as a chef. My cooking style has always been to keep the flavors traditional to Korean cuisine, and then make them my own by using what I have learned and collected over my career.

Traditionally, this dish is typically more like a stew, with the vegetables and meat all braised together in one pot. However, I adjusted the recipe so that each ingredient is cooked separately according to its needs. At the restaurant, we cook the short ribs with the traditional marinade, but roast vegetables on the side and then serve them together. This way, you can cook everything to perfection without worrying that the vegetables will become too mushy or overcooked, which is a common mistake in cooking kalbi jjim.

This is a recipe that is so special to my family, and it is definitely a crowd-pleaser you can easily make for guests. I even checked with my halmoni and she approves—so much so that now I am always in charge of the kalbi jjim!

The difference is in the details

If you want to make this kalbi jjim at home, make sure you keep these tips and tricks in mind to make sure it comes out just right:

Buy good-quality short ribs

I really believe that great ingredients are a key element to any dish. It not only starts with where you buy your ingredients, but it also falls into the category of love and thoughtfulness. When picking out short ribs, good marbling is crucial, because the fat renders throughout when it’s cooked low and slow, which really highlights the other flavors. It also gives the short ribs the melt-in-your-mouth texture that you really want in this dish.

Don't skimp on the sear

And when I say sear, I mean sear. You want a nice, dark brown crust. I really believe that this is the key differentiator between good kalbi jjim and great kalbi jjim. It’s important to sear on all sides, even the little ones. That way, you know you’re locking in those juices and giving that signature, caramelized depth of flavor to the meat.

Get creative with how it's served

Kalbi jjim is usually served with rice and an assortment of sides (called banchan), but it doesn’t have to be. We like to serve it with lettuce cups or steamed buns so it can be eaten as a wrap. You can even serve it in a sandwich, on a bun or a roll with some mayo and pickles (kimchi or slaw would also be perfect), or anything else you can think of. The recipe can be as dynamic as your imagination will allow.

Experiment with the marinade

This marinade sticks pretty close to the classic Korean recipe with a few notable exceptions, like Asian pear and kombu. I do really think my little additions make a difference, but if you can’t find Asian pear, it’s totally fine to swap in another fruit or use grocery store pears; I’ve seen recipes using apples, plums, and even kiwi. The point is to stick with some of the basic key ingredients (like the soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, and garlic), but not be afraid to have fun and play around with the recipe.

We're firm believers in the fact that little things can make a big impact. The quality and freshness of ingredients can take a simple dish from good to great. And home appliances that are reliable and intuitive—like the induction slide-in range we used to make this dish—can streamline getting dinner on the table, making your entire week less stressful. We've partnered with Bosch to celebrate these small but vital boosts in our day-to-day lives, with recipes, videos, and more.

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Esther Choi

Written by: Esther Choi

Chef/owner of Mokbar in NYC

1 Comment

Sarah D. June 28, 2019
Our family loves eating galbijjim, too!!! ^_^ We add half an Asian pear (grated and with it's juices), along with adding multyeot (malt), instead of sugar. It's SO GOOD! The Asian pear makes the short ribs SO TENDER. My son and daughter enjoy galbijjim so much, I try to make it at least once a month, or when guests come over. :)