Weekend recipe: Bulgogi Burgers
A Common Table's date-night-in masterpiece
Earlier this week I reviewed A Common Table, Cynthia Chen McTernan’s cookbook that brings readers into her Chinese-Korean-Hawaiian-Southern family’s culinary life. I wanted to give you a taste of what the book has to offer, and Chen was kind of enough to grant permission for me to share one of the recipes in the newsletter: The Bulgogi Burger.
If we bother to make burgers at home, we make these. Each component of this recipe is engineered for perfection. The ground beef is marinated in a sweet soy-sesame-garlic-scallion-chile sauce and frozen briefly before cooking to give you a flavorful outer crust and perfectly tender interior. You make fried shallots and use the shallot-infused leftover oil to toast the buns and fry the burgers in. Gochujang mayo adds a touch of heat, sliced scallions give an additional punchy bite, and if you can handle it, let the runny yolk of a sunnyside up egg overflow into the burger, bringing another layer of savoriness.
This recipe is a bit of a project, but the instructions are straightforward and easy to follow. You should plan to marinate the burgers first, then make the fried shallots, then cook the burgers themselves. You’ll be rewarded with the pitch-perfect, Instagram-worthy burger experience we’re all missing out on when we can’t go out to restaurants. We also make Chen’s oven fries with these, which I featured in the Valentine’s Day issue. I’ll be posting a tutorial of all these recipes in my Instagram Story tomorrow if you need a walkthrough--you can tune in at @yungggarlic.
KRB note: You really need to smash the burgers with confidence. It takes more force than you expect and they need to be pretty big when you start because they will shrink as they cook to fit the bun.
For the beef:
1 lb good-quality ground beef, preferably with an 80/20 fat ratio
⅓ cup soy sauce
¼ cup sliced scallions (2 to 3 scallions)
3 tbsp dark brown sugar
2 tbsp minced garlic (4 to 6 cloves)
1 tbsp sesame oil
¼ tsp gochugaru or crushed red pepper flakes
⅛ tsp black pepper
For the gochujang mayonnaise:
½ cup mayonnaise
1 tbsp gochujang (sriracha also works in a pinch)
For the burgers
4 potato rolls (preferably Martin’s brand) or hamburger buns
¼ cup shallot oil (from Crispy Fried Shallots, recipe follows) or melted unsalted butter, or more as needed, divided
4 large eggs
½ cup Crispy Fried Shallots (recipe follows)
½ cup thinly sliced scallions (3 to 4 scallions)
The night before, or at least 30 minutes in advance: Divide the beef into 4 equal balls about 2 ½ inches in diameter. Place them in a shallow baking dish or 1-quart Ziploc bag. Mix the soy sauce, scallions, brown sugar, garlic, sesame oil, gochugaru, and black pepper in a small bowl until well combined. Pour over the ground beef and make sure it is well distributed around the beef. Do not mix it in. Let the beef marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes, ideally 2 to 3 hours or overnight. Turn the beef once or twice to make sure all sides are thoroughly coated in the marinade.
The day of: Whisk together the mayonnaise and gochujang until well combined; set aside.
Transfer the beef balls from the marinade to a baking sheet and place in the freezer for no longer than 15 minutes. Briefly freezing the beef allows a nice brown crust to form on the patty without it cooking too quickly.
While the burgers are in the freezer, toast the buns: Heat a 10- or 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium. Split open 2 of the potato rolls, brush shallot oil over the cut sides, then place them cut-side down in the skillet. Cook until nicely toasted, then transfer to a platter. Repeat with the remaining rolls. Set aside.
Wipe out the skillet, then return it to high heat. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons shallot oil and swirl until it evenly coats the pan. Heat until very hot, just shy of smoking. (You may want to open your windows if you can!) Place 2 beef balls into the skillet, leaving plenty of room in between, and smash them down with the back of a large spatula until they’re flattened into a patty about an inch larger than you’d like the final burger to be. Craggy, uneven edges are good here. Cook for about 2 minutes without moving the patties, then flip and cook on the other side for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. The patties should be very browned with dark, nearly burnt buts. Remove and repeat with another tablespoon of shallot oil and the remaining beef balls.
In a large nonstick skillet (or in the same cast-iron skillet, wiped clean), heat 1 tbsp of shallot oil over medium. Fry the eggs sunny side up or over easy.
Layer each button bottom with plenty of gochujang mayonnaise, the beef patties, an egg, some crispy fried shallots, and sliced scallions. Add the bun tops and serve immediately.
Crispy Fried Shallots
KRB note: The most important thing to know about making fried shallots is that they continue cooking after you take them out of the pot, so you want to err on the cautious side. If some are starting to get properly brown while others still look golden, go ahead and drain them because if you wait too long, the brown ones will be burnt before you know it. Once they’re in the colander, it’s good to stir the shallots rapidly for a few seconds with chopsticks (or a fork or whatever) to aerate and help them cool faster.
Makes ½ to ¾ cup fried shallots and 1 cup shallot oil
1 ½ cups very thinly sliced shallots (3 to 4 shallots)
1 cup vegetable oil
Use a paper towel to blot out any excess moisture from the shallots. Line a rimmed baking sheet with 2 layers of paper towels. Set a large metal colander over a heatproof bowl.
Place the oil and the shallots in a large saucepan or skillet over medium-high heat. When the shallots begin to bubble, reduce heat to medium-low. Let the shallots bubble gently, stirring occasionally to prevent any hot spots, until golden-brown. This will take a good long while, 10 to 15 minutes, but will ensure all the shallots brown up evenly. Pour the shallots into the prepared colander, letting the oil drain into the bowl below. Spread the shallots over the paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain completely. Use immediately and store leftovers in the freezer. Reserve the oil for use in practically anything savory.