Arthur Jarvinen's recipe for yu ke


Yu ke is the Korean version of what you might know as "Steak Tartar", which in Belgium is called "Steak American". The Italians have carpaccio, and there is a wonderful Ethiopian dish that I don't recall the name of. But they're all the same basic thing - seasoned raw beef. Oh, and let's not forget oosworst, the raw beef sausage they have in the Netherlands that makes such a great sandwich, not to mention those little Middle Eastern raw beef sausages, about the size of a finger...but I digress.

I once brought a platter of yu ke to a party at the Aspen Music Festival, where the composer Earl Kim was present. He spoke up and asked who had made it, and for a moment I thought I was going to be set straight on how it ought to be done. But he said "This is as good as any I've had", and asked where I learned to make it. That was a nice compliment.

But several years later I had a more disappointing experience. After a lovely afternoon getting a kim chee making lesson from a Korean woman, her daughter and husband treated me and my friends to dinner at "the best Korean restaurant in Los Angeles". Well, the most expensive maybe; I would argue as to the comparative quality. Of course I ordered yu ke; it's my favorite Korean dish. What I got was awful. They had put quite a bit of white granulated sugar in it, and I nearly gagged.

I asked our hostess to question the waiter as to why there was sugar in the yu ke. After a brief conversation in Korean the waiter left, and our hostess turned to me and said "He said that's how white people like it".

I figured out how to make Yu Ke by having it in (other) restaurants. The ingredients were no mystery, since almost all Korean food I've ever made or tasted includes the same basic stuff. Cooking it is even simpler, since it's served raw.

The cut of beef is irrelevant. Use what you like and can get a decent price on, as long as it is of good quality and very lean. I especially like tri-tip for anything from carpaccio to burgers. Whatever you use, don't grind it. First trim it to as fat-free as possible, then, with a knife or cleaver cut it up into very small pieces. It will look like ground beef, but it won't be ground. For some reason, I think that's important (but maybe that's only a matter of style).

After that, about all you do is mix in the seasonings. I can't give you exact amounts because it's a rather intuitive thing, a matter of (personal) taste to some extent. But apropos a previous observation, it's Korean food. You need garlic (for this dish, finely minced), soy sauce (I prefer Kimlan, with low salt, to the ubiquitous Kikkoman), and sesame oil. Some chopped scallions as well - and use the green part!

Keep in mind that the garlic is raw. Sesame oil, especially a good one, goes a long way. And soy sauce is very salty. So you have to use your own judgment as to what proportions are ideal. But after mixing the seasonings into the beef, you have to let it "season", that is, let it sit for a while in the refrigerator.

When you're ready to serve, put the seasoned beef mixture on a platter, in a mound, with a depression in the center. Break an egg or two (depending on how much beef  you have), and put only the yolk in the depression of the mound. Then, with chopsticks mix the egg yolk into the mixture.

That's it. You can squeeze some lemon juice on, serve it over Napa cabbage, or with rice, etc. It's a side dish/appetizer, but it can be dinner. Just like steak American, only it's Korean. So I guess you could even make it with dog! (just KIDDING!!!)

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Copyright © 2005 Arthur Jarvinen