Kal-Bi-style beef ribs
Sometimes when I make an ethnic dish, I try to replicate it as accurately as possible. I go out of my way to acquire authentic ingredients and to keep the preparation as close to the original as I can, complete with wine and, if I'm in the mood, dinner music from the same part of the world, all in an effort to re-create an exact ethnic experience.
When circumstances conspire against doing an ethnic dish the original way, I'm just about as happy to take inspiration from a general idea and build something on the fly.
So it was when I spotted a few packs of beef short ribs cut "flanken" style - thin slices cut across the bones rather than the usual beefy oblongs - and immediately found my mouth watering from thoughts of Korean Kal Bi, thin-sliced ribs marinated in a soy-based liquid, then quickly seared over hot charcoal.
But it was too late in the day to start a long marinade, and too rainy to fire up the charcoal grill. What to do?
Remembering that flanken-cut beef ribs are not only a Korean delicacy but also a Jewish treat, I dug up a few recipes for boiled flanken, a stew-like dish that's simmered slowly in broth with vegetables in a nice, cozy and dry kitchen.
So, without spending too much time worrying about the strange notion of a Korean-Jewish fusion dish, I reasoned that a braised flanken with Korean flavors ought to bring together these disparate worlds in a tasty if thoroughly non-traditional dish that should stick to one's, er, ribs on a cool, rainy almost-autumn evening. A two-hour braise should infuse the meat with as much flavor as a long, cold marinade, and if weather conditions forced me to sacrifice the crispy goodness of grilled meat, the tender, long-simmered alternative wouldn't be hard to swallow.
The result, I thought, was fine, somewhat reminiscent of the Filipino adobo featured in the Sept. 4, 2003 FoodLetter. Here's how it went together:
INGREDIENTS: (Serves two)
4 cloves garlic
1. Peel the garlic and lightly smash each clove. Cut the ginger into several thick "coins." Put the garlic and ginger and the peanut oil in a large, heavy skillet and put over medium-high heat until the vegetables start to sizzle.
2. Put in the beef ribs and brown briefly, just long enough to color both sides. Season to taste with dried red-pepper flakes, but do not add salt or black pepper at this point; because the soy sauce will impart considerable saltiness, it's best to hold final seasoning until the dish is done.
3. Mix the soy sauce, vinegar, sesame oil and hot sauce to taste in a cup. When the ribs are browned, reduce heat to medium and put in the mixed liquids. Add just enough water to barely cover the meat; you shouldn't need more than about 1/2 cup. Trim the roots and any wilted leaves from the scallions, and put them in whole. Bring to a simmer, then reduce heat to low, cover tightly, and cook for 90 minutes to 2 hours or longer, turning the meat occasionally. The longer you simmer, the more tender and flavorful the meat becomes, but it should be ready to eat within an hour and a half.
4. Remove from heat, check seasoning, and remove the garlic, ginger and scallions if you wish. If you have the time and the will power, this dish will benefit from a night in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container; the flavors will blend, and a lot of beef fat will rise to the top and solidify, allowing easy removal. But it smells so incredibly good, it would be awfully hard for me to do this.
5. I underscored its Asian heritage by serving it with steaming white rice, but pasta, noodles or crusty bread would also go well.
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Thursday, Sept. 21, 2006
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