June 17, 2017

Korean-Mexican Braised Short Ribs (and Bibimbap)

My first experience of Korean-Mexican fusion was a Korean Taco Truck in Vancouver a few years back. Almost immediately, curiosity overwhelmed confusion and I decided that this was something I really needed to try. So, I bellied up to the window and got myself an order of mixed tacos - Galbi (short rib) and Bulgogi (shredded beef). On the plate, it's easy to see why these two amazing cuisines can come together so deliciously, despite the huge geographical distance and cultural differences.

Since that first unexpected demonstration of fusion that really works, the combination of Korean and Mexican has shown up again and again, and it seems to get tastier each time. And then I received a package from some friends in Australia, which included a bottle of Chipotle Gochujang sauce from their local restaurant, Hispanic Mechanic.

Gochujang is an essential ingredient in Korean cuisine; a spicy, fermented chilli paste that is used either on its own and as a base for other sauces. The spiciness of this condiment predates New World peppers, with the heat in those earlier versions being likely provided by sancho (Zanthoxylum piperitum) and black pepper, although chillies have been used since at least the early 1600s. This particular fusion iteration relied on chipotle, a smoked, dried jalapeño pepper, and is more the texture of a thick Mexican-style hot sauce.

Now, I'm not gonna lie, the first date the sauce had in our house was with some pork neck steaks in a presentation that skewed neither east nor west (but was delicious), but after gawking at the Hispanic Mechanic menu, I was determined to hunt down some beef spare ribs. I wasn't able to find the thin, flanken cut that would be closer to what is used in a traditional Korean Galbi recipe, so I opted for braising rather than grilling - Galbijjim (갈비찜, Galbi Jjim, or Kalbi Jjim), more or less, rather than grilled Galbi. I'm looking forward to trying this sauce with pulled chicken, too.

Korean-Mexican Braised Short Ribs

1 kg Short ribs, browned in 1 Tablespoon peanut oil
5 fresh large shiitake, sliced in half (stems removed)
1/4 cup less sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup sake
2 Tablespoons chipotle gochujang
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1/2 tablespoon honey
3 scallions
4 cloves garlic
2 cups beef or veal broth
1 inch ginger, chopped
3 red chiles, deseeded

Braise 3 hours in an oven preheated to 170°C (340°F), remove the meat from bone, shred, mix with some braising liquid. There may be some fatty bits, and you don't want to wholly discard those. Chop up some of it and mix it in with the meat and braising liquid. If you have a lot of fat, you won't want to use it all or it will be too rich. Thinly slice the shiitake mushrooms and set aside as a separate item.

And what did we do with this marvellous, meltingly tender and unctuous short rib meat? We made Bibimbap, of course.

Bibimbap (비빔밥) is Korean for "mixed rice" and is generally made by adding various toppings to a base of one of a number of different rice varieties. It is often served in a (very hot) heated stone bowl, but not always. There is a tremendous variation from one bibimbap to the next, as it is infinitely customizable depending on what toppings are available and/or selected, from all vegetarian, to a mixture of meat and vegetables, to raw egg (or egg yolk) added at the last minute (usually in the hot stone bowl versions). There is a wonderful array of different flavours and textures to enjoy.

For our Bibimbap, I went with plain, white, medium-grain rice, the shredded short rib meat and braised shiitake mushrooms, ginger-soy braised cabbage, sesame carrot, and an absolutely fantastic zucchini bokkeum (볶음, stir fry) that is good hot or cold and makes a terrific banchan (반찬, side dish). It will get its own post very soon (I note that banchan are normally served in the middle of the table, for diners to help themselves, but I couldn't resist putting it right in the bowl for the picture). Final garnish was shredded green onion, although if I'd had them at the time, I would have added Mexican pickled red onion. In fact, we made tacos from the remaining short rib meat a couple of days later, for which I whipped up a batch of the pickled onions expressly.

While there are an assortment of different sauces used as the finishing touch on a bowl of bibimbap (including, for example ssamjang, sesame sauce, citrus-soy, and a variety of spicy options, often based on gochujang) we went with more of the chipotle gochujang, which amplified the flavours used in the braising liquid.

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