Chadol baegi, a staple of Korean BBQ, is thinly shaved beef brisket. Unlike other Korean meat favorites that hit the grill, the brisket is not marinated. It's cooked quickly on the grill and dipped in a sauce of sesame oil, salt, and pepper. You can buy the thinly sliced brisket at Korean markets. You can also your butcher to shave the brisket for you.
In restaurants, it's also commonly served with lettuce leaves for ssam and with scallion salad (pa muchim).
For the Scallion Salad
- Cut the scallions into very thin strips or shave them.
- Whisk together the sesame oil, vinegar, chili pepper, and salt.
- Toss with scallions to combine.
- You can also add thinly sliced red leaf or green leaf lettuce to this salad if you wish.
For the Korean BBQ Brisket
- Grill the shaved brisket quickly and serve with scallion salad and a dipping sauce of sesame oil seasoned with salt and pepper.
Sesame Seeds in Fiction
Scheherazade was the first person to give the sesame superhuman powers when she held her Arabian caliph spellbound for one thousand and one nights with her tales of intrigue and adventure. Because sesame pods readily burst open at the slightest touch when they are ripe, Scheherazade provided Ali Baba with the magic words, "Open Sesame" to instantly open the cave, a robber's den, in her exciting story about "Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves."
Sesame seeds are thought to be one of the oldest condiments, and so appealing that they became an integral part of the varied cuisines throughout India, Sumer, Egypt, and Anatolia, where they were cultivated. Historians believe the original homeland of the sesame seed is the Indian subcontinent. Britannica's 11th edition places its native soil in the Indian Archipelago; an area once called the Spice Islands.
One taste of the sweet, delectable Halvah, a sesame and honey confection of Levantine origin, and you'll easily understand the allure that sesame seeds held to cultures of the ancient Middle East. The ancient cultures inhabiting Anatolia, today called Turkey, were pressing sesame seeds and using sesame oil about 900 BCE.
Before sesame seeds were appreciated for their ability to add rich nutty flavor or to garnish foods, they were used only for oil or wine. The Assyrians claim to hold the earliest records for writing, having left their stone tablets as evidence. One of the tablets describes a legend about the Assyrian gods who drank sesame wine one night, then created the earth the following day.
Archeological excavations throughout the Middle East revealed the use of sesame oil dating back to 3000 BCE, well before the time of Christ. Persia and India were also cultivating this tiny treasure for its oil.
Sesame oil was the ideal base for making exotic perfumes, a practice that dates back to the Babylonians circa 2100 to 689 BCE. The Babylonians also used the oil for cooking, sesame cakes, and medicine. They, too, made wine from sesame and even perfected a brandy employing sesame seeds. Medicinally, sesame oil played an important role as an antidote to the bite of the spotted lizard.
The Chinese used the oil not only as a light source but also to create soot from which they made their superior stick ink over 5,000 years ago. Ancient Chinese calligraphic works of art using stick ink made from sesame oil may still be in existence in museums.
Palace records of Egypt's King Nebuchadnezzar, 6th century BCE, were carefully kept on clay tablets. One of the entries mentions a purchase of sesame oil. Records show that the Egyptians prescribed the sesame as medicine about 1500 BCE and used the oil as ceremonial purification. Historians such as 4th century Theophrastus, mention that sesame seeds were cultivated in Egypt. During that same period, Africa, too, cultivated the sesame seed in Ethiopia, the Sudan, and what was once Tanganyika.
We often hear the expression "nothing new under the sun," referring to what we tend to recognize as a new idea, only to discover that it's been done long before.
Sprinkling sesame seeds on bread before baking them probably feels like a 20th-century culinary innovation, but history reveals that it's not. The ancient tombs of important Egyptian nobles were decorated with colorful paintings. One tomb, dating back 4,000 years, contains a scene of a baker sprinkling sesame seeds into his dough. Dioscorides, a 1st century CE historian, tells us the Sicilian bakers were eagerly sprinkling sesame seeds on bread centuries ago.
The Europeans encountered the sesame seeds when they were imported from India during the 1st century CE. Even the Venetian traveler, Marco Polo, was taken by the outstanding flavor of sesame oil that he tasted in Abyssinia, proclaiming it the best he had ever tasted.