Sesame oil (Recipe: bulgogi)
As a novice cook devoted to Julia Child's television shows, I learned that a mirepoix of three aromatic vegetables — onions, carrots, celery — flavors much of French cooking.
Cajun cooks also use a flavor base of three vegetables: onions, bell pepper and celery. They call it the Trinity.
My own trinity has nothing to do with vegetables, though it has everything to do with flavor, and it's most certainly aromatic. I call it the Cantonese 3-2-1 Trinity, and it's my basic stir-fry sauce.
Three parts low-sodium soy sauce.
Two parts oyster sauce.
One part sesame oil.
There are two types of sesame oil, light (made by pressing raw seeds) and dark (made from hulled sesame seeds that have been toasted prior to pressing). Available in Asian markets and in the Asian food aisle in most supermarkets, dark sesame oil is the one to use in Chinese-, Korean-, or Japanese-inspired cooking.
Sesame oil isn't often used as a cooking oil, though it does have a high smoke point of 450°F (compared to extra-virgin olive oil at 405°F and peanut oil at 440°F). This oil can take the heat, but its intense nuttiness makes it better suited to use as a seasoning towards the middle or end of cooking. It's a key flavor component in Chinese and Korean cooking, where it features in peanut sauce, tofu and beef stir-fries, and in cold dishes like broccoli and chicken salads, sesame noodles and salmon tartare.
I'm partial to the Maruhon brand, which I can find at several local Asian markets. Kadoya brand is another good brand. A little goes a long way, and, once opened, a bottle will keep at room temperature for up to a year.
By the way, if you substitute chili paste with garlic for the sesame oil, you have a Szechuan 3-2-1 Trinity that kicks up any stir-fry. Now you know all of my secrets for basic Chinese cooking.
The recipe for this fabulous Korean barbecue dish is adapted from Dok Suni, by Jenny Kwak. Serves 3-4.
2-1/2 lbs rib eye, sirloin tips (best value), or beef tenderloin (delicious, but expensive)
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp crushed garlic
2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 Tbsp rice wine (sake)
Pinch of black pepper
1/2 piece of fresh kiwi, juiced in a blender
For the dipping sauce:
1 Tbsp soybean paste
1 tsp crushed garlic
2 tsp red pepper sauce (I use chili paste with garlic)
1 tsp salad oil
2 Tbsp water
2 heads red-leaf lettuce
Trim the fat off the beef with a knife, and butterfly the meat so it is 1/4-inch thick. (Slice almost all the way through, then open like a book and flatten with the palm of your hand.) Distribute the sugar evenly on the beef by sprinkling it on each piece. Allow beef to sit for 10 minutes.
In a separate bowl, mix together the soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, sugar, sake, and black pepper. Put aside.
Massage the beef with the kiwi juice using your hands. The kiwi works as a tenderizer. Add the soy sauce mixture and mix. Allow the beef to marinate for 10 minutes. Because the beef is thin, it doesn’t require a long marinating time. Now it is ready to be barbecued. Ideal if grilled over smoked wood but just as good in a frying pan or a skillet (I do it on a gas grill, which is fine, too.). Cook until browned, being careful not to overcook.
To prepare dipping sauce, combine all ingredients and cook over low heat for 15-20 minutes. Serve the beef wrapped in red lettuce leaves, with the sauce on the side for dipping.