This Bulgogi Cheeseburger Will Ruin Every Other Burger for You

LA chef Nyesha Arrington has a truly decadent recipe for your upcoming cookouts

April 2, 2021 11:49 am
Arrington's Bulgogi Cheeseburger
Arrington's Bulgogi Cheeseburger
Chef Nyesha Arrington

Chef Nyesha Arrington rose to fame on Bravo’s Top Chef, but her love of cooking stretches back far further. She recalls learning to cook at the tender age of five alongside her Korean grandmother Ai-Soon Lee, and with bulgogi and kimchi as her childhood comfort foods, a French fine dining background, and the bounty of California’s produce as the tools of her trade, Arrington naturally creates recipes that blend a wide variety of influences and flavors.

To hear Arrington tell it, one of her formative experiences as a young cook was being mentored by Josiah Citrin. It was at his two-Michelin star Mélisse in Santa Monica that she developed her skills as a saucier, and this expertise was instrumental in the development of the Korean-scented braised oxtail that tops her luscious cheeseburger: comfort food to the max.

Chef Nyesha Arrington

Braises, for Arrington, are “a very elegant, beautiful way to cook an inexpensive cut of meat.” Like most braises, her recipe is far from complicated, though it does demand one essential secret ingredient: time. After a low, slow simmer in a sauce infused with earthy sesame, garlic, orange and scallion, the oxtails emerge pull-apart tender and ready to serve as what Arrington describes as a “meat jam, for lack of a better word.”

The oxtail marmalade isn’t strictly Korean, but it does take a host of inspiration from the food of Arrington’s childhood.

“Korean flavors, to me are a balance between fiery, sweet and kind of these charry flavors,” she says, noting that griddled onions add this note of natural sweetness and bitterness to the burgers, which are topped with thick, sweet Japanese Kewpie mayo and good, old American cheese.

“When people eat dairy, there’s this sort of dopamine effect that happens, like crack, in the brain,” she says. “That flavor is very hard to mimic through those more artisanal, smaller-batch cheeses. While those definitely have a place, and I’m a big proponent of the cheese-after-dinner vibe that comes from fine dining, I think that American-style cheddar cheese just melts right — it has that pull. It’s just so very nostalgic.”

The result is undoubtedly a burger that would make her grandma proud.

Nyesha Arrington’s Bulgogi Burger (Serves 4)

Oxtail Marmalade

Note: This makes enough marmalade to top 25 burgers, so you can either make a smaller amount or freeze the marmalade for future burgers.

  • 4 pounds oxtail, trimmed of fat
  • 6 cups dry red wine
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • ½ cup soy sauce, low sodium
  • 2 orange peels
  • ½ cup scallions, sliced into 3-inch pieces
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • ½ bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound onions, peeled and finely diced 
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar

Charred Onions

  • 1 cup small-diced onions
  • ½ teaspoon canola oil
  • ½ teaspoon butter
  • Salt, to taste


  • 4 Martin’s potato rolls
  • 8 (3-ounce) beef burger patties
  • 8 slices American cheese
  • 2 tablespoons kewpie mayo

In a large pot or sauté pan, combine the oxtail, 4 cups of the red wine, sesame oil, soy sauce, orange peel, scallions, garlic, thyme and peppercorns. Add water to cover by ½ inch. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the meat is falling off the bones, about 3 hours.

Transfer the oxtail to a bowl. When cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones and cut it roughly into ½-inch cubes. Chill until ready to use.

Strain the oxtail stock into a large pot, discarding the solids. Bring the liquid to a boil over high heat; reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the mixture is reduced to 3 cups, about 1 hour. 

In a separate large pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onions, and a pinch of salt and cook until slightly softened and charred, about 15 minutes. Stir in the sugar, the remaining red wine, the vinegar, 1½ teaspoons salt, and pepper to taste. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently until the liquid has completely evaporated, about 45 minutes. 

Stir in the oxtail meat and stock. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside or transfer the marmalade to an airtight container and refrigerate overnight. Before serving, reheat in a saucepan over medium heat until warmed through.

For the charred onions, heat the oil and butter in a cast-iron pan over high heat. Add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until charred on all sides.

When ready to serve, cook the beef patties in canola oil or beef tallow in a cast-iron pan over medium-high heat, about two minutes per side, or until they reach your desired doneness. Toast or griddle the buns. Assemble the burgers by spreading mayo on both buns and layering first one patty, a slice of cheese, a spoonful of charred onions, about an ounce of the marmalade, another patty, another slice of cheese and another ounce of the marmalade. Finish with the top bun. Serve alone or with French fries dusted with pulverized nori.


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