Back in March, I covered the burgeoning food truck scene here in Austin, Texas, during the annual South by Southwest (SXSW) music, film and interactive festival. There’s a food truck/trailer for just about every type of cuisine here, including many that offer their take on fusion fare. Due to a word limit for print, I didn’t get too in depth about the actual food that these mobile eateries proffer, but I felt like it was time to highlight a few of my favorite dishes (and recipes for recreating them).
For my first installment, I feel it’s necessary to feature the first food truck dish I fell in love with: Chi’lantro’s Korean-American fusion kimchi fries. Though I can appreciate a wide range of cuisines and top-notch ingredients, it’s simple comfort food that I end up craving at the end of the day (or after a long night hitting the local bar scene) and this dish is just that. Exotic and tangy Korean barbecue and kimchi is piled atop a bed of warm, crispy French fries and topped with cheese, cilantro, “magic sauce”, Sriracha and sesame seeds. Not the healthiest pick, but it’s for darn sure one of the best eats in the city.
I had been itching to recreate this recipe at home but couldn’t figure out their exact formula for some of the elements in it. Lucky for me, Chi’Lantro’s chef and owner Jae Kim shared his secret recipe in the May issue of Food & Wine Magazine. While the original formulation is divine, I can never follow a recipe without putting my own spin on it. So here’s my take on this Korean barbecue junk food treat. Try it once and I promise you’ll be hooked.
One quick note on the kimchi (or “kimchee”): While fermented cabbage may not sound very appetizing, this element is key to the dish. If you’re ambitious and have the necessary ingredients on-hand — like Korean chili powder and salted shrimp — and a month to ferment it, make your own at home. Otherwise, you can most likely find it already prepared at at your local Asian market. It’s a fabulous condiment to have in your fridge whether you’re making this, serving it alongside a traditional Korean dish, or even slapping it in a grilled cheese sandwich (which is also amazing).
Korean Bulgogi and Kimchi Fries
Recipe adapted from Food & Wine Magazine
Makes 4 servings (or 1 if you’re not willing to share)
1/2 white or yellow onion, chopped
1/2 Asian pear
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1-inch fresh ginger, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup Mirin (rice wine)
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 pound meat, cut into small, thin pieces (beef flank or skirt steak, pork shoulder, or chicken thighs) OR tofu, cut into small cubes, pressed and drained
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup rice vinegar
2 tablespoons Korean chile paste (gochujang)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup prepared kimchi
1/2 cup white or yellow onion, chopped
1/2 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons Sriracha, plus more to serve
1 pound hot french fries (or tater tots)
Grated sharp Cheddar, toasted sesame seeds, chopped onion, chopped cilantro (for garnish)
In a resealable plastic bag or food safe container, add the onion through your chosen protein and toss to coat. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for 5 hours to overnight.
After marinating, remove the protein from the liquid and pat it dry. Grill: High heat for 3-4 minutes. Sauté: Heat the oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the protein and cook, turning once on all sides (don’t keep stirring or it will not brown properly), until cooked (about 3-4 minutes).
Wipe out the pan and put it over high heat. While it’s heating, whisk the sugar, rice vinegar, chile paste and soy sauce in a small bowl, then toss in the kimchi and onions and coat with the liquid. Add kimchi and onions along with liquid to the hot pan and cook until the liquid thickens and the kimchi and onion have slightly caramelized (browned).
Mix the mayo and 3 tablespoons Sriracha together in a small bowl (the “magic sauce”). Place the french fries on a large platter or in 4 separate bowls/plates, top with the bulgogi and kimchi/onion mixture. Drizzle the magic sauce and a little regular Sriracha over the top, then sprinkle the cheese, onion, sesame seeds and cilantro on top.