korean bulgogi sloppy joes

Every time I hear the word "fusion", I die a little inside. It's one of the most carelessly overused words in the culinary world, and unfortunately, this label often gets slapped onto forced, gimmicky food that almost never rises above mediocrity. It's such a shame, really, because I love the idea of mixing unexpected cultural ingredients and flavors together in a way that is familiar, bold, and surprising at the same time. Some execute the concept in amazing and revelatory ways, like David Chang of the Momofukus, without attempting to sum up their food in one neat, overly simplistic word. Let's just stop using the word as a trend, and embrace it as the wonderful concept that it is. 

We can start with these seriously delicious Korean sloppy joes. 

Paper-thin slices of beef, julienned carrots and onions sit overnight in a salty sweet marinade that smelled so good on its own that I literally had to hold myself back from drinking it. I'm sorry, I'm a little gross.

Aside from the time it  takes to prep the marinade, this is a pretty quick meal to pull together. A  brief sear in a large grill or sauté pan is all it takes to brown the beef, and the sugar from the pear and mirin caramelizes in the pan to make a savory syrup that coats every strip.

I know I just talked a lot of good game about the beef, but the scallion salsa, spicy mayo, and cilantro each contribute to make this sandwich something really special and nuanced. The original recipe didn't call for the cilantro, but I'm one of those lucky ones who thinks it makes everything better. If you're with me, don't omit it - it lends that powerful herbal punch that rounds out the deeply savory flavors of the other components.

Hamburger buns would do just fine, but I upped my game and picked up some fluffy Portuguese rolls. They had the perfect combination of crispness and airiness when toasted on both sides.

Like their namesake, these sloppy joes dripped down our fingers and got all over our faces. We didn't speak until we had each finished our share, when we guiltily looked at each other and asked almost simultaneously: "Want another one?" 

korean bulgogi sloppy joes adapted from the New York Times 
serves 6
1 cup soy sauce 
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon garlic, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon sesame oil
3 tablespoon sake (I didn't use this and it turned out fine)
2 tablespoon mirin
1 asian pear, peeled, cored and puréed in a food processor
1 small carrot, peeled and sliced Into julienne
1 medium white onion, peeled and sliced thinly
½ cup apple juice
2 pounds sirloin steak or brisket, chilled in the freezer

for the spicy mayonnaise:
1 cup mayonnaise
tablespoon  soy sauce
tablespoons sriracha

for the scallion salsa:
½ cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
¼ cup sugar
2 tablespoons gochugaru (korean red-pepper flakes, which I didn't have.  I used normal red chili flakes)
2 tablespoons grape seed oil (or another neutral oil)
tablespoons sesame oil
tablespoons rice vinegar
tablespoons mirin
tablespoon sesame seeds
2 bunches scallions, sliced on the bias

6 soft hamburger buns or rolls
cilantro to taste (optional)

Take the beef out of the freezer and cut it as thin as you possibly can. This can be painstaking if your beef isn't properly chilled, so if you're having trouble, pop it back in the freezer and try again later.

In a large, nonreactive bowl, combine the soy sauce, sugar, garlic, sesame oil, sake, mirin, pear, carrot, onion and apple juice. Add the sliced brisket, stir to combine, cover tightly and place in the refrigerator overnight or for at least six hours.

In a small, nonreactive bowl, combine the mayonnaise, soy sauce and hot chili sauce and stir to combine. Taste and adjust flavors, then cover and store in the refrigerator until ready to use.

When you are ready to make the sandwiches, set one very large sauté pan (or two large ones) over high heat. Using tongs, lift meat from marinade in batches, allow to drain well, then cook, turning occasionally until the excess liquid has evaporated and the edges of the beef have started to crisp.

Meanwhile, combine all the ingredients for the salsa except for the scallions, then stir to combine.

Toast the buns under the broiler until golden. Spread a good-sized dollop of the spicy mayonnaise on both the top and bottom of the buns, and using tongs, cover one side of each set of buns with bulgogi. Add a large pinch of scallions on top of each burger and drizzle with the dressing. If using cilantro, add a couple of leaves and stems on top.