A kalbi marinade is commonly used in Korean cuisine for grilled beef short ribs and an authentic seasoning sauce for this dish will have a balance of sweet and savory flavors. When choosing the best kalbi marinade, it is important to understand what the main ingredients are, the role the saltiness of the soy sauce plays in the dish, and how to prevent this ingredient from overpowering others. While the savory aspect of kalbi typically comes from garlic, sesame oil, and soy sauce, the sweetness can come from any number of ingredients. Understanding the benefits of each option will help you to make an informed decision.
In its most basic form, a kalbi marinade is a mix of soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil, as well as green onions and a lot of garlic. It is also common for fruit juices, ginger, and rice wine vinegar to be used as well. When choosing a kalbi marinade, it is important to find a prepackaged product or recipe that contains at least the basic ingredients in order to prepare an authentic dish, and some or all of the other ingredients for a more richly-flavored kalbi. If you are purchasing an imported product that does not list the ingredients in a language that you can read, you may be able to find a description online in your native tongue or request help from a sales clerk in the store from which you are purchasing the product.
Soy sauce is typically the base of this marinade and provides the majority of the salt for the dish, as well as a lot of the color. Due to the high salt content in most soy sauces, the use of additional salt is typically not necessary when making this marinade at home. Authentic bottled kalbi marinades will usually have less salt per serving than soy sauce itself. Limiting the amount of added salt in this type of marinade will help all of the other ingredients to shine through.
It is also important to understand the benefits of the different sweet ingredient options for this dish when choosing a kalbi marinade. For high quality cuts of meat and a very basic dish, a marinade that uses table sugar or brown sugar will typically work well. Lesser quality meat, however, will often do best with a marinade that utilizes macerated pears or apples, either alone or in combination with other types of sugar, as these also act as tenderizers for the meat. These ingredients will also provide a richer flavor than if only table or brown sugars are used. If you want to make sure that your finished kalbi dish is tender and rich, a marinade that includes either or both of these fruits will be ideal.