Mysteries of Korea Town; Kalbi Style Flank Steak

July 20, 2011
1 Ratings
  • Prep time 8 hours 30 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Serves 4
Author Notes

I lived in the LA area for many years. LA has the largest Korean population outside of Seoul. I love Korean food and I love the people, many of whom operated retail stores in my old neighborhood. But the cuisine is a mystery I’ve been trying to puzzle out piece by piece. At one time there were very few good references in book form. Happily that has changed. You can Google anything but just because it’s on the Internet doesn’t mean that it’s any good. There are now some fine books you can turn to.
I’m pretty good at Korean style barbecue but the pickles and so on which accompany every meal remain a deep mystery. When I revisit LA and Orange County I like to stock up on lots of this stuff. The Kogi Truck proved that Korean could be the next wave in cuisine.
This steak is best cooked outside over either a gas grill or a wood charcoal fire (the latter is preferred). You will need that hot spice element in the marinade; in this case gochujang, which is a chili and bean paste mixture. You can find that or other similar concoctions in Asian markets. Sriracha is an acceptable but not exactly first choice substitute*. Look around on those shelves. Read the labels. Serve this steak with short grain rice and kimchi or other Korean pickles. HMart and Marukai each have an entire aisle of kimchis...and then, "Forget it Jake, it's Korea Town." - pierino

Test Kitchen Notes

This recipe produced one of the best steaks I've ever had. Its brilliance lies in the subtle sweetness of the Asian pear -- no other sweetener is added -- and the generous use of whole sesame seeds, which provide a nutty flavor and delightful crunch to the grilled meat. As with any pierino recipe, follow this one to the letter. Slitting the beef before soaking it in the marinade for a full 8 hours, and turning it but one time once it was on the grill, ensured meat that was tender and fragrant inside, crisp on the outside and outrageously tasty. Thank you, pierino!! - AntoniaJames —AntoniaJames

What You'll Need
  • 1 ½ pound flank steak (or use flanken ribs)
  • ¼ cup dark soy sauce
  • ¼ cup sesame oil
  • ½ ripe asian pear, peeled. Go ahead and eat the other half
  • 1 tablespoon gochujang or other chili bean paste, sriracha being your last resort
  • 1 tablespoon honey (or substitute maple syrup)
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 2 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1 small piece of ginger thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon gochugaru (very optional)**
  1. Cut the peeled pear half into chunks and puree in your sturdy blender
  2. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, gochujang, gochugaru (if using) and honey to blender and pulse a few times
  3. Turn the blender contents into a bowl and add the garlic, ginger and sesame seeds to complete the marinade
  4. With a sharp knife score the top of the flank steak with four or five bias cuts. Cover the steak with the marinade and refrigerate for up to 8 hours
  5. Fire up your grill (remember wood is preferred). Grill the marinated steak turning only once. Test with an instant read thermometer for doneness---sorry, I don’t trust the finger poke method. For me 120F works. After the steak has rested, slice very thinly, again on the bias
  6. *Note to cook: I like sriracha aka “rooster sauce” but it’s become almost like ketchup in recipes. The chili and bean pastes add subtle and more complex flavor notes
  7. ** If you can find it, this Korean hot red pepper powder is wonderful. I call it "Korean crack." Wonderfully aromatic. I received some from a Korean born friend of mine and fell in love with it right away.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • creamtea
  • Boomdog02
  • CarlaCooks
  • pierino
  • boulangere
Standup commis flâneur, and food historian. Pierino's background is in Italian and Spanish cooking but of late he's focused on frozen desserts. He is now finishing his cookbook, MALAVIDA! Can it get worse? Yes, it can. Visit the Malavida Brass Knuckle cooking page at Facebook and your posts are welcome there.

29 Reviews

creamtea July 17, 2016
Just tried this, though using a ridged grill pan and boneless beef ribs. They were delicious.
Michele August 31, 2014
Is dark soy sauce the very thick also labeled as black soy sauce in the asian market?
Boomdog02 February 10, 2014
I have also used Kikwi as a substitute for the pear...I'm told any tropical fruit...Kiwi, pineapple,mango, papaya all have the same enzyme that tenderizes the meat.
Sarah D. May 1, 2013
Oh wow...I've never tried a spicy beef steak before. My husband just asked me yesterday why Koreans don't have spicy Korean beef short ribs and only have spicy pork belly or spicy chicken. Haha...I will definitely have to try this recipe now that I found it!!
pierino May 2, 2013
If you happen to live in or be visiting the LA area be sure to check out the Diamond Jamboree Center in Irvine. It's a collection of almost exclusively Asian shops and restaurants; noodle shops, dim sum, sushi and a fantastic bakery. The center is anchored by a large HMart (korean chain). You can find any kind of Korean ingredient you could possibly want. Located on Alton Parkway between Von Karman and Jamboree.
Sarah D. May 2, 2013
Oh yeah...we go there every so often. We love 85 degree bakery and eating dimsum at Capital Seafood. Not to mention shopping at Hmart. There's an Hmart in Garden Grove, too. We also like Arirang market in Garden Grove because they sell better LA style galbi meat. We've tried Hmart's meat and it was just too tough. Didn't taste as good as Arirang's.
pierino May 2, 2013
Glad to hear you already know about Diamond Jamboree. Perhaps my favorite stop is Ajisen for noodles. Here's a link to my blog post about them I love the statue which greets you as you enter. It looks sort of like a transgendered Bob's Big Boy.
I also love the Marukai Market in Gardena. Artesia and Western. There is a food court at the entrance which has one of the best ramen shops I've ever been to. I think it's name is Shiro something? Anyway, it's on the right as you walk in.
Sarah D. May 3, 2013
Oh yeah, we love Ajisen!! :) My husband actually loves the Korean dishes I make for him because he knows the recipes were passed down to me by my late grandmother and are very authentic. Too bad I can't make the complicated stuff, like spicy raw crab, though I wish I could. :-P My grandma's were the best! :)
CarlaCooks February 26, 2012
I made this last night and it was wonderful! I didn't have a pear, so I used half an apple, which worked fine. I grilled the meat on my cast-iron grilling pan. The flavor was so true to the flavors of the beef I've enjoyed in LA's Korean Town. Thanks for a great recipe!
pierino September 11, 2011
To boulangere, you could try. But if you can find sambal on your supermarket shelves in the Asian section that might work better.
boulangere September 11, 2011
Oh, yeah, thanks! I actually prefer smabal olek to sriracha.
boulangere September 11, 2011
I've never scored flank steak before marinading. Thanks for the tip. Gorgeous, deep flavors here. I live in a Korean-challenged area. Would I be close to gochujang if I mixed black bean paste with Sriracha?
AntoniaJames August 30, 2011
Made this again last night for a small dinner party which included some young children. Everyone loved it!! This is one of the best food52 recipes of the year. Simply outstanding!! ;o)
pierino September 1, 2011
Thanks AJ, I like it too. Maybe someday I'll have an actual winner here. I just picked up "The Kimchi Chronicles" which supposedly ties in with a PBS series. No idea when it get's broadcast. The newest edition of Gastronomica (University of Calfornia Press) just landed in my mailbox. It includes an essay discussing both sauerkraut and kimchi which I'm really looking forward to reading.
Midge September 3, 2011
I'm with AJ. I made it again with flank steak and it was amazing. Short ribs are next.
AntoniaJames August 4, 2011
This steak is amazing. We served it with grilled sliced veggies (yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant) and corn on the cob. What a perfect summer dinner. My sons reduced the leftover marinade slightly and spooned it all over the vegetables. The steak was declared, on first bite, "Killer!" ;o)
pierino August 4, 2011
Thanks AJ. So far I haven't killed anyone and have my fingers crossed that it will never happen.
AntoniaJames August 4, 2011
I think "Killer" means "Excellent!" or "Superb!" It's one of those odd slang words in current use (like "Sick!") which sounds really bad but actually means just the opposite. ;o)
Midge July 25, 2011
I used your marinade for skirt steak, charcoal-grilled and served with a quick kim-chi, and man, was it awesome.
pierino July 25, 2011
Thanks for experimenting. I thnk it works well with most kinds of beef grilled over sizzling hot heat. You can use it for short ribs too but the ribs need to be prepped so that they cook quickly on a grill rather than as a braise.
AntoniaJames July 22, 2011
On our "try this one soon" list. Looks fantastic!! ;o)
fiveandspice July 21, 2011
Awesome! Love Korean food, but I almost never make it. I need to give this a go.
pierino July 21, 2011
Susan G, thanks for pointing out the "cut and paste" error in the ingredients which is now fixed. I love bipimbap too. I was going to turn in a recipe but I don't think I can make deadline. But the basic ingredients I use are spinach, shitake mushrooms, extra firm tofu, gochujang and the necessary poached egg to finish. You can expand from there.
gingerroot July 20, 2011
Love gochujang. This sounds delicious.
susan G. July 20, 2011
I'll be using this sauce for something else... looks too good to pass up! Fortunately, pilgrimages to H Mart resulted in gochujang, which I've enjoyed in bibimbap. If you have instructions for that, I'd love to see it.
susan G. July 20, 2011
(2nd line 'soy sauce' should be sesame oil, I guess; and that's toasted oil, isn't it?)
hardlikearmour July 20, 2011
This sounds fabulous. Love the asian pear in the marinade. I'm pleasantly surprised you are allowing for a gas grill ;)
pierino July 20, 2011
I know I'm going to hear from you guys on my sriracha opinion, so bring it. I have nothing but admiration for the guy who developed it and began by selling it door to door. But it's now joined the great American pantheon of most missused ingredients. It's a wonderful product but also an example of how good stuff goes wrong.
boulangere September 11, 2011