Table-top Cooking: Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps

There’s something about having a grill at the table that makes any meal an occasion. Add friends on a cold winter evening and it becomes a down-right event! A couple of weeks ago we brought our grill and butane stove to our friends’ home for a feast of our favorite flavors from Korea — bulgogi lettuce wraps, kochujang chicken, watercress dumplings, and lots of laughs. Everything but the bulgogi meat was cooked before it was brought to the table, so only the bulgogi needed attention during dinner.

The bulgogi lettuce wraps were quickly renamed “lettuce burritos” by the junior diners at the table since the rolls required as-you-eat assembly (think: fajitas). Thin slices of garlicky sesame flavored beef are quickly cooked, then are wrapped in a lettuce leaf already layered with rice, pickled vegetables and kimchee. The contrast between hot and spicy meat, neutral rice, cool lettuce, and piquant veggie pickles is quite addictive. Each diner makes her own wrap and can play with proportion and flavors to suit their own taste.

We’ve seen the butane stove and canisters at most of the Korean chain stores here in metro DC, including H Mart and Lotte, as well as Korean Korner in Wheaton. For setting up the stove and grill, and sources for stoves on Oahu or West Coast, see our original post.

We first tried bulgogi lettuce wraps several years ago at another friend’s home, where we sat down to this lovely feast after a lesson in making homemade napa kimchee! Our hostess, June, cooked the bulgogi meat at the stove so we “students” could focus on the assembly of the rolls and oohing and ahhing over our homemade kimchee. Even without a tabletop grill, assembling bulgogi lettuce wraps at the table can add a nice spark to your next weekend family meal or dinner party!

Inspired by June L-S
For 4-6 adults, a part of a multi-course meal

For the Beef Marinade:
1 lb (450g) thinly sliced rib-eye, flank or skirt steak
1/2 Nashi pear, thinly sliced
1 tsp. sea salt
3 TBL toasted sesame oil
2 tsp. raw sugar
1 finger of ginger, peeled and sliced
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp. light soy sauce

Combine meat with all seasonings for marinade in non-metal bowl or zipper plastic bag, and marinate at least 8 hours or overnight. The pear is added less for flavor than as a natural meat tenderizer. If nashi pear is not available, you can use 1 kiwi or a slice of papaya to accomplish the same thing, but June warns not too marinate more than 3-4 hours if you use these fruits because they are much more potent tenderizers than the pear, and will turn the meat to mush! (Sounds like a great science experiment, doesn’t it?)

Have ready at the table:
Small container of oil for grill
Washed and dried green and/or red lettuce leaves, torn into 4” pieces
Pickled radish and/or cucumbers (recipe below)
Bowls of cooked medium grain rice, 1 for each diner

Remove meat from refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Drain marinade and discard. Gently pat meat dry.

If using butane stove and grill at table, pre-heat grill over medium-high, and add about 1 TBL oil to grill plate. Carefully add slices of meat using tongs or long chopsticks to keep yourself away from hot oil. Oil may sputter, so take care — we seated the children present at the heads of the table so they were farthest away from the grill and stove.

Turn heat down to medium-low, and turn meat over once to brown both sides. Diners can help themselves directly from the grill as the meat cooks. Using clean tongs or chopsticks, remove meat to serving plate if it cooks faster than people are eating.

Let each person assemble their own wraps:
* Lay a piece of lettuce on your plate
* Add a mouthful of rice, about 1 TBL or so, on top of the lettuce
* Add a couple of slices of pickled cucumber, radish and kimchee
* Top with one slice of bulgogi
* Wrap lettuce around fillings
* Munch, swallow, repeat!

Possible accompaniments: miso soup, watercress or spinach with sesame dressing, or dumplings.

Use this basic method and dressing for either daikon or cucumber
If you want both pickles, repeat recipe for each vegetable

1/2 small daikon radish OR
1 English of other long cucumber
2-3 TBL sugar

Peel daikon and cut lengthwise, then thinly slice into half-moons or thin strips.

If using cucumber, peel leaving thin stripes of green peel for contrast, then cut in half cross-wise on the diagonal, then lengthwise. Thinly slice cucumber on the diagonal.

Place vegetable in colander set over a bowl or plate. Sprinkle sugar evenly over and through vegetable. Set aside for 30-45 minutes to just wilt veggies (cucumber will take longer than daikon). Meanwhile make dressing.

3 TBL rice vinegar
1/2 tsp. raw sugar
1/2 -3/4 tsp. sea salt
1/2-1 tsp Korean red pepper flakes (can substitute Aleppo pepper)

Combine vinegar, sugar and salt in medium bowl. Taste for tartness — salt will mellow the sharpness of vinegar, but it should still be tart. Add pepper flakes and mix through.

Do not rinse vegetable! Add lightly sweetened, wilted vegetable to dressing and set aside for about 1 hour for flavors to infuse. Divide pickles into 2-3 small serving bowls and place bowls around the table to allow each diner to easily reach the pickles as they assemble their bulgogi rolls.

More Table-top cooking:
Vietnamese style BBQ Pork