Grilled Korean Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps (Daeji Bulgogi)


Gochujang is Korean red pepper paste. It has the color of ketchup, spreads like tomato paste, and has a fiery afterburn. I tasted it, then had to restrain myself from eating it straight out of the tub.
If you like trendy ingredients, get in on Gochujang now. I think it is going to be the next big breakout flavor, like chipotles in adobo, or sriracha.

Gochujang is the main ingredient in Korean barbecue’s spicy marinades, and their accompanying dipping sauces. It can be found at most Asian markets. (Or on the internet, of course.) I hear Sunchang brand mentioned a lot, but my experience is limited to the one tub I’m slowly using up.

Pork Belly is traditional in Korea’s Daeji Bulgogi. Get thin sliced pork belly from your Asian market, or give your local butcher a call. My Asian market had ultra-thin sliced pork belly in the freezer case. It was cut like bacon, about 1/16th of an inch thick…which was a pain. I had to be careful to keep it from tearing as I worked with it on the grill. Next time I’m going to ask my butcher to slice pork belly for me, cutting it thicker - like thick cut bacon - between 1/8th and 1/4th of an inch thick.
Call your butcher ahead of time for thin cut meat. They need to put the pork belly in the freezer to firm it up before they slice it.

If you can’t find pork belly, thin-sliced boneless pork shoulder is an acceptable substitute. But pork belly is worth hunting for - doesn’t sweet, spicy grilled bacon sound like a good idea? Either way, get some lettuce for wrapping, make rice for stuffing, shred some scallions, and fire up the grill. Korean barbecue is a short step away!

Recipe: Grilled Korean Pork Belly Lettuce Wraps (Daeji Bulgogi)


Inspired by: Joshua Bousel Grilling Daeji Bulgogi, SeriousEats.com

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Equipment:

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds thin-sliced pork belly (1/16th of an inch to 1/4 of an inch thick.)
Marinade/Dipping sauce
  • 1/2 cup gochujang (Korean red pepper paste. Sunchang brand is usually recommended.)
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup mirin (or rice wine vinegar, plus 1 teaspoon sugar)
  • 1/4 cup pear juice
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
Accompaniments
  • 1 head bibb lettuce, separated into individual leaves
  • white rice
  • shredded scallions (cut into 3 inch long strips, cut the strips in half, then slice the halves lengthwise as finely as you can)
  • Kimchi (Korean spicy pickled cabbage)

Directions

1. Marinate the pork belly

Put the pork belly in a gallon zip-top bag. Whisk the marinade ingredients until completely combined. Reserve one cup of the marinade as a dipping sauce, then pour the rest into the bag with the pork belly. Gently massage the sauce onto the pork through the bag. Seal the bag and refrigerate. Let the pork marinate for at least 1 hour, up to overnight, turning occasionally to redistribute the marinade.

2. Prepare the grill

Set the grill up for grilling on direct medium heat. On my Weber Summit, I preheat with all burners set to high for 15 minutes, brush the grill grate clean, then turn the burners down to medium.

3. Prep the accompaniments

While the grill is preheating: separate the head of bibb lettuce into individual leaves and cook the rice. Next, shred the scallions. Trim off the roots, and cut away the dark green leaves. Cut the remaining white and light green part into 3 inch lengths. Split each piece in half lengthwise, then slice lengthwise as thin as possible.
Or, take the easy way out and use a scallion cutter.

4. Grill the pork belly

Grill the pork over direct medium heat, flipping every two minutes, until the pork is browned and crispy. This will take one or two flips for really thin pork; up to four or five flips for thicker cut pork. Don’t leave your station at the grill - pork belly is full of fat, so there will be flare-ups. (It’s only ten minutes. You can hold out. Bring a tasty beverage to pass the time.)

5. Serve the lettuce wraps

Serve everything at the table separately, so diners can assemble their own lettuce wraps. Pour the reserved marinade into small bowls and serve as a dipping sauce.

Notes

  • Don’t like spicy? Skip the gochujang and use the rest of the marinade.
  • Of all the obscure ingredients in this recipe, pear juice was the hardest one for me to find. I’ve heard that apple juice makes an acceptable substitute, but pear is traditional in Korean cooking, and I wanted the real thing. I forgot to get it from the Asian market, so I figured I’d buy some at my local grocery store. Mistake. I searched the refrigerated section and the fruit juice aisle, with no luck. Then I flashed back to when the kids were infants, and checked the baby food aisle. So, if you're looking for pear juice, think baby food.
What do you think? Questions? Other ideas? Leave them in the comments section below.

Related Posts:

Kalbi - Korean grilled beef short ribs
Bulgogi - Korean grilled beef lettuce wraps

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