The term “lettuce wrap” often serves as culinary shorthand for “Abandon all flavor, ye who enter here”, presaging grim, meh-inspiring food. Thankfully, this is resoundingly not so in the case of Korean cuisine, which gives us the gift of ssam, i.e. lettuce wraps that won’t make your mouth sad. One of the best-known examples is bulgogi, made with grilled marinated steak (familiar to fans of Korean barbeque, a.k.a. gogigui). The beauty of this dish is its simplicity: just marinate sliced beef with a flavor-packed base and then cook.
Traditional cooking procedures often call for a lengthy marination step, during which time the Asian pear in the base will have a tenderizing effect on the meat. Since we’re cooking our meat sous vide, we can keep it tender without any risk of producing tough, overcooked meat, so we can skip that step altogether. What remains is simply a quick final cook in a smoking hot pan to caramelize the sugar present in the marinade, and then reducing the excess to make a sauce. All that remains is DIY wrapping in a lettuce leaf with ssamjang (a spicy/salty/sweet soy and chili paste designed for exactly this purpose), at which point the bundle must, according to hallowed Korean tradition, be eaten in one bite. We can’t guarantee that you’ll look dignified doing this, but rest assured that whatever unfortunate lettuce wrap associations you might have will be forever abolished.