The first time I saw yuk-hoe, 육회, on the table I thought they were going to stir fry it on the grill. They couldn’t possibly be eating raw beef and a raw egg, two things I was sure were not to be eaten in that manner.
“So, let me get this straight… you’re going to eat raw beef mixed with that raw egg? Instead of just going for e. coli, you’re trying to get salmonella at the same time?”
Suffice it to say, I did not partake in the dish that night nor when it was served at meals thereafter for some time. It wasn’t until I was eating dinner with a student of mine, who is in his 80′s, and it was served that I tried it. Being in Korea makes it rather difficult to say no to the elders and even when I said no politely, it became whatever is the opposite of a tug of war with the plate, me pushing it away, and him pushing it toward me. I gave in and I tried it. It was rather delightful, but I couldn’t get over the idea that I was going to get home, go to sleep and never wake up again because I’d ingested two raw foods that infected me with two diseases I really didn’t know anything about. Thereafter, when it was placed on the table I’d have a few bites and hope I’d be safe. Maybe my perceived danger made the food exciting.
Later, I’m sitting in a meat restaurant with my husband, then boyfriend, and ask him why the menu has a fish dish on it. One fish dish on the otherwise all beef menu. He tilted his head, looked at me and then looked at the menu and I pointed,
“See, right there, yuk-hue. Hue, that’s sashimi isn’t it?”
I hadn’t bothered to learn the term yuk-hue when eating the raw beef prior to this as I was always with Koreans quite adept at ordering and I wouldn’t want to order the dish at an establishment with a bad track record with raw beef anyway. It was explained that yuk meant meat and hue meant sashimi, so this was meat sashimi as opposed to the normal fish sashimi, hoe. Yuk-hoe is the Korean version of steak tartare. A tender cut of beef is thinly sliced and often mixed with a marinate of soy sauce, garlic, sugar, sesame oil, salt and pepper. It’s served on a platter with the raw egg on top and some thinly sliced Korean pear, or bae, 배. Once on the table one person will mix this all together into a rather sloppy mess, it looks much more pleasant before it’s mixed together, and then diners dig in.
Koreans are very particular about their beef, which is quite obvious on the menu of any proud beef establishment. The country of origin for the beef will be listed next to the platter and these days it’s mostly Korean, Australian and American cuts that can be seen. Yuk-hoe has to be served fresh and as such the origin and quality are extremely important. The Korean government implemented a Beef Traceability System in 2004 that requires that all beef be tagged with an ID number that includes information on the age, the origin, the supplier, the distributor, the grade, the butchering date and the butcher shop it was cut in. Most good beef restaurants will have signs that proclaim when the new beef has come, or will come, “소 들어오는 날”, which is helpful as yuk-hoe should only be eaten within a day of defrosting and shouldn’t be aged more than a day after slaughtering. Look for the sign in your nearest and best beef restaurant and give the dish a try. It’s worth it.