Galbi Jjim 갈비찜 (Braised Beef Short Ribs)

My lone yet all-important contribution to this year’s Chuseok spread: galbi jjim. A holiday favorite loved by many, every year the recipe gets a tad better as I learn tips from restaurant owners. Two noticeable changes this year were the sauce (slurry vs pure liquid) and cooking/resting time, both resulting in more flavorful, fall-off-the-bone short ribs. I’ve been cooking this dish for a long time with tweaks along the way, but I’m pretty confident this recipe will stand because how fast they were eaten upon serving.

High-quality beef is a premium in Korea, but there isn’t a huge difference between fresh and frozen short ribs to warrant spending over $100 dollars on fresh beef—particularly when most of the “beefiness” is drowned out by the braising sauce. So, at half the price, I was able to procure 2.4 kg (5 lbs) of frozen short ribs from the local market, which is enough to feed 4 normal adults. If money is the least of your concerns and you’re treating elders or guests, going the premium route (which can run up to $300 at most department stores) will undoubtedly score you bonus points.

Remember, this is galbi jjim utilizing beef short ribs (so-galbi-jjim) and not pork (dweji-galbi-jjim), but the techniques used to make both are very similar. Since this dish takes considerable time to cook, it’s best to make in large batches for group dining or a potluck addition. For those wanting some extra heat, don’t hesitate to throw in some gochugaru and Korea’s hottest chili pepper (Cheongyang gochu)—leaving you with another popular variant called maeun galbi jjim (aka spicy braised short ribs).

Soak short ribs in water for a minimum 30 minutes to an hour. Meat should be a light shade of pink after blood is partially removed. Make sure the ribs are not sticking together before submerging them in water.

After 30 minutes of bathing in cold to lukewarm water, the ribs should look something like this. Remember, there’s no need to cut off excess fat unless there’s a membrane/sheath covering; otherwise, you’re losing tremendous flavor from the beef fat.

In a large pot, add short ribs and one tbsp of whole black peppercorns plus water to cover. Once boiling, add a half cup of rice wine or soju. Keep at a rapid boil for 5-10 minutes.

Unnecessary to skim off foam since you’ll be draining the entire pot after 10 minutes. If you dislike having fatty deposits in your final sauce, you can draw out more of the fatty oil by boiling a few minutes longer.

Drain and rinse the short ribs individually under running water to remove excess debris and possible bone fragments. Don’t cut off excess fat from meat and unnecessary to score unless the ribs are big and thick (fist-like in size).

Despite a short boil, the ribs have reduced in size considerably and some have detached from the bone. Don’t worry if that affects presentation, we’re only aiming for extreme flavor and tenderness.

If you rinse the ribs properly, you should have unwanted fat and bone deposits sitting at the bottom of your colander. You want perfectly clean ribs? Use a scrubber or toothbrush to remove even more debris that might be sticking to the meat.

After ribs are thoroughly cleaned, return short ribs to the pot and pour in sauce, add more water to partially cover ribs. Don’t worry about the water thinning out the sauce as it will reduce over time.

Without a blender at my disposal, I had to go the long route and grate aromatics individually then strain out liquid into a mixing bowl. To save time and energy, I highly recommend you blend the following ingredients: half an onion, 7-8 garlic cloves, 1 tbsp ginger, and 1/2 cup rice wine. Blend until smooth and strain out liquid into a mixing bowl. Add remaining sauce components into mixing bowl: 3/4 cup soy sauce, 4 tbsp brown sugar, 1 tbsp maesil cheong (plum syrup), 2 tbsp sesame oil, and 1 tsp of ground pepper.

Don’t hesitate to add or omit aromatics to your liking; mine is garlic and onion heavy while a touch of ginger and sesame oil finish out the sauce. Lastly, sugar is a key component in the sauce. If available, I highly recommend blending/grating an Asian pear for not only sweetness but as a tenderizing agent for meats.

Taste and adjust to preference, but the sauce should start off salty-sweet, mellowing out over time as the salinity in the soy evaporate while garlic/ginger/onion/sesame oil aromatics come to life. The sauce is forgiving, meaning you have a one-hour window to adjust the sauce while it’s braising down into a thick sauce all the while being soaked up by the short ribs and garnishes during rest time. If you want some extra heat, there’s nothing wrong with adding some dried red chili peppers or diced Cheongyang chili peppers.

Prepare and add traditional garnishes such as chestnuts, jujubes, ginkgo nuts and pine nuts (if available). Like many traditional dishes, ingredients should be similar in size and cut. Carrots are not traditional but are included for aesthetics; potatoes were omitted due to starch content that would naturally thicken up the sauce.

Jujubes are hand-cut with the aim of removing the center seed. Slice like you would an apple until you reach the core, discard the seed, and then tightly roll before slicing into thin pieces. Gingko nuts are removed from outer shells and then pan-fried to help remove the skin covering. The skin will blister within a few minutes, let cool, and then remove to expose the shiny green nuts. Garnish accordingly.

Bring to a rapid boil, then reduce to low heat with covering; one hour. Turn off heat and rest for 20 minutes allowing sauce to permeate the meat. Add carrots, chestnuts, and jujubes to the pot and mix thoroughly to coat. Cover and set at low heat for another 20 minutes.

The sauce should reduce considerably when you’re near the end, but most importantly, sample the meat and check for desired tenderness. These ribs were on the smaller side, so a total cooking time of 1.5 hours was enough to get them soft and tender with no resistance at all. For larger cuts, two hours will most likely do the trick. Lastly, I added some oligodang/mulyeot (a type of sweet rice syrup) to add extra sheen to the meat and garnishes.

Always important to get feedback from Becker, which he approved long before I even started cooking. Lucky for him, he got to sample some of the freshly cooked ribs after the first boil down.

Probably 80% of the ribs detached from the bones, with larger ones staying attached and plated at the top for appearance. No fancy garnishes to dress up the plate–simply a huge bowl of succulent beef short ribs devoured within minutes upon serving.

Final note: there might be some leftover condensed sauce with beef fat remaining, so make sure to freeze for later use. This is excellent for seasoning practically any Korean soups and stews where soy sauce is used as seasoning.

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