You can make Korean tacos in 20 minutes

hand holding korean taco
Behold the glory of a fast Korean taco!
Photo: Dennis Lee

Korean and Mexican fusion food is pretty ubiquitous these days. A lot of the credit, if not all of it, goes to L.A. chef Roy Choi, whose fleet of Kogi BBQ food trucks first took the food world by storm in 2008 and has stayed around ever since, spawning similar concepts in cities everywhere.

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It was a tremendous idea. Korean and Mexican food make great buddies. Both play with chili peppers and acid very well and respect the starch they’re served with, whether it’s sticky white rice or tortillas.

But most recipes I’ve seen for Korean tacos at home seem to require a fair amount of work. First you have to make the marinade yourself. Then you let the meat sit for a while while you make the accompaniments. Finally, you cook it off. In the end, it’s a lot of chopping, blending, and cleaning up later.

I am, and always have been, firmly in the “I don’t feel like cooking tonight” camp, and I’m here to tell you that they don’t have to be this way. At all. Start to finish, Korean tacos can be done in 20 minutes or less, all thanks to a secret weapon: store-bought pre-marinated meat.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a great 20-minute Korean taco—and if you have one person cooking and the other on topping duty, you might be able to make this in under 15 minutes.

Prepared meat

At the butcher counter or meat department of your local Korean grocery store (or supermarket, like H Mart), you’ll often see plastic containers of pre-marinated meat. They are highly popular for a reason. These are your best friends. They’re not only great for Korean tacos, but also for a quick meal in general. All you need to cook them is a skillet or a grill.

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Done in 10 minutes. Couldn’t be easier.
Done in 10 minutes. Couldn’t be easier.
Photo: Dennis Lee

Your choices will generally be marinated short rib (this is usually my last choice because it’s expensive), beef bulgogi, spicy pork (sometimes called pork bulgogi), and spicy chicken. All are great candidates for tacos.

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Vegetarians, I’m not leaving you out, either. While there usually aren’t pre-marinated meat alternatives, there is jarred Korean barbecue marinade, and you can use it with firm tofu, tempeh, or seitan.

Lazy kimchi coleslaw

My lazy version of Korean-ified coleslaw is store-bought coleslaw mixed with diced kimchi and fresh cilantro. You’ll want the type of coleslaw mixed with a mayo-based dressing; I prefer the fresher stuff from the deli counter or a kit from the produce section, just because those options yield a crisp result. Slaw + kimchi + cilantro. That’s it. If you’re a cilantro hater, go for green onions. Korean food is heavy on the green onions.

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Illustration for article titled You can make Korean tacos in 20 minutes
Photo: Dennis Lee

A note on gochujang

I hate to burst some of your bubbles, but gochujang (fermented red pepper paste, which has been highly popular in America for some time now) isn’t a condiment like ketchup. It’s not intended to be squirted as-is on most food, including tacos. On a handful of occasions, it’s used as a dipping sauce for banchan or mixed into personal dishes like bibimbap, but those are exceptions rather than the norm.

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Instead, gochujang is typically treated more like a staple ingredient, to be combined with something else in order to create a final product.

Crema or mayo

That being said, sign me up for some gochujang crema or sour cream. Just whisk in one tablespoon of gochujang per half-cup of sour cream, crema, or mayo, and you’re good. If it’s too thick or too spicy, you can add a few splashes of water until it reaches the consistency and heat you’re looking for.

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Salsa (optional, but highly recommended)

Salsa goes great with grilled Korean meats. If you’d also like to add a salsa to the mix, you can’t go wrong with a traditional red chili or green tomatillo salsa. Remember how I mentioned that Korean food and Mexican food go well together? This is a prime example.

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Easy Korean tacos (no, seriously)

Makes enough for 8 tacos

For the slaw:

  • 1 pint prepared coleslaw
  • 1 cup cabbage kimchi, diced
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro (more or less, to taste), roughly chopped

In a medium mixing bowl, mix the coleslaw, kimchi, and cilantro until blended. Refrigerate until ready to assemble tacos.

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For the gochujang cream:

  • 1/2 cup sour cream, crema, or mayo
  • 1 Tbsp. gochujang

Whisk the sour cream, crema, or mayo and the gochujang in a small mixing bowl. If it’s too thick or spicy for your liking, add a tablespoon of water.

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For the protein:

  • 1 lb. store-bought marinated meat (beef, pork, or chicken) or tofu

Heat skillet to medium and cook meat in pan in small batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan (or cook per package instructions). Once cooked, slice the meat into small pieces.

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For the taco assembly:

  • 1 package small corn or flour tortillas
  • Store-bought red or green salsa of choice (optional)

Warm tortillas by using either the stovetop, a steamer, or the microwave. Stack two tortillas, spoon approximately 2 oz. of protein on top, then layer with kimchi coleslaw, gochujang cream, and salsa, if desired. Enjoy any remaining coleslaw on the side, and eat to your heart’s content.

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Staff writer at The Takeout. Also: Saveur Humor Blog Award Winner, professional pizza maker, and insufferable troublemaker.

DISCUSSION

johnathanqpublique
John Q. Public

For those of us without a local Korean grocery store, is there any widely-available Korean marinade you recommend (or :: gulp :: an easy recipe)? My local Kroger has kimchi in the refrigerated section and one or two brands of gochujang in the Asian aisle, though I don’t believe I’ve seen any prepared bulgogi marinades.