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Kalbi and kimchi: Koreatown comfort food

Los Angeles–style Korean short ribs are “as amazing as anything from Austin to the Carolinas.”

Los Angeles–style Korean short ribs are “as amazing as anything from Austin to the Carolinas,” said Roy Choi in L.A. Son (Ecco). Softened up by a spicy-sweet marinade, then grilled till “charred and crusty,” they’re our town’s version of American barbecue, filtered through Korea.

I serve kalbi with steamed white rice, macaroni salad, and, of course, kimchi. I was 2 when my family immigrated to L.A. from South Korea in 1972, and for a long time I needed kimchi like a car needs gasoline. “Everything I am comes from kimchi.” You can use store-bought, but I recommend you pick up some kochukaru at an Asian market and make your own in a big pickle jar. You need to give it two weeks’ lead time, and when you’re assembling the ingredients, industrial gloves are “optional but recommended.”

Recipe of the week
Kalbi with kimchi

  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • ½ onion, chopped
  • 1 kiwifruit, peeled
  • ½ cup garlic cloves, peeled
  • ½ bunch scallions, chopped
  • ½ cup mirin
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ cup sesame oil
  • 2½ tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 1½ lbs boneless or bone-in short ribs, thinly sliced
  • Canola oil

Combine all ingredients but ribs and oil in a blender and puree. Pour the marinade over the short ribs and massage it in. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour and up to 2 days.

Heat a grill or grill pan. Season with oil. Grill ribs until charred, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to plates or bowls.
Serves 4 to 6.

Kimchi

  • 1 cup kochukaru (Korean chili powder)
  • 1 cup onion, peeled
  • 15 garlic cloves, peeled
  • ¼ cup fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 tbsp each kosher salt, sugar, oyster sauce, and natural (not seasoned) rice vinegar
  • ¼ cup plus 2 tbsp fish sauce
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1 large napa cabbage, halved
  • ½ bunch chives, cut into 1-inch batons
  • ½ cup jarred oysters
  • 1 tbsp salted baby shrimp

Make a paste by combining first 10 ingredients and ½ cup water in a blender. Puree, then set aside.

In a large bowl, mix 4 cups water with 1 tbsp kosher salt. Add cabbage and soak for 2 to 3 hours at room temperature; drain. Mix chives, oysters, and salted shrimp with ½ cup of the paste and layer between cabbage leaves. Coat cabbage exterior with remaining paste.

Stuff cabbage into a 1-gallon jar and seal tightly (you can split the cabbage halves again if you need to). Keep jar at room temperature for 2 days, then transfer the jar to your refrigerator. The kimchi will be ready to eat in about 2 weeks and can be kept refrigerated indefinitely.

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