I used to oversell things. For example, if I loved a movie, I’d tell my friends how amazing it was and how much they were going to love it. By nature, I get really excited when I love something, and my gut instinct is to rave about it to everyone, and share my excitement. But I’ve been somewhat tamed over the years. I’ve learned that when you recommend something too highly, there’s always the chance that people will expect too much and be disappointed. I’ve also been told (mainly by my teenagers) that not everybody likes to be told how much they’re going to love something. So I will resist saying what I’d like to say about these Thai coconut BBQ ribs (wink, wink) and just say that I discovered the recipe in Bon Appetite magazine in 1995, and haven’t stopped making them since.
One of the many excellent features of this recipe is that you can do all of the messy, difficult work the day before: the ribs are cut apart, steamed, and marinated in the fridge overnight. Then all you have to do is throw them on the grill for a few minutes to brown them before serving. There is a wonderful harmony of many complex flavors in the sauce – a quality that is prized in Thai Cuisine. Credit for this delicious combination of flavors goes to Bon Appetite – I’ve tweaked the recipe only a tiny bit, adding jalapeño peppers for some bite, a tad more shallots, and an oven-steaming method for those who don’t have a stove-top steamer.
Lemongrass is a tropical plant that’s very popular in Thai cooking. It adds an indescribably exotic, lemony flavor to a recipe. If you’ve never used it before, it can be challenging to figure out. The outer shell is very hard. But there are many layers and each one you peel off exposes one that is more tender underneath. Look for a firm long stalk. Cut off the lower root end and a few inches of the thin pointy end. Peel off one or two tough outer layers along the stalk. Then slice it with a sharp knife. It’s extremely stringy and fibrous inside, so you’ll need a food processor or blender to further break it up.
- 2 racks of baby back pork ribs, cut into individual ribs
- 1 cup canned unsweetened coconut milk (shake can before opening)
- ½ cup roughly-chopped cilantro, packed (stems included)
- ½ cup, packed, brown sugar
- ½ cup roughly-chopped shallots
- ¼ cup soy sauce
- 3 tablespoons roughly-chopped garlic (4-5 large cloves)
- 2 tablespoons roughly-chopped ginger root
- 2 stalks lemon grass, ends trimmed, tough outer layers peeled off, roughly chopped
- 1 large jalapeño pepper or two small, seeds and membranes removed, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- Marinade Put all marinade ingredients into a blender or food processor and process 30 seconds to a minute, until smooth. Set aside.
- Pre-cook ribs Method 1: If you have a steamer, bring water to a boil under the steamer rack. Add ribs to steamer basket, cover and steam for 20 minutes. Method 2: For oven-steming, preheat oven to 325ºF. Line a large glass baking pan with foil. Add ribs, curved side up. Pour 1½ cups water into the pan under the ribs. Cover pan tightly with foil. Steam ribs in middle of the oven for 1 hour. Try to keep a little space between the ribs so they steam evenly. (you may need two pans to fit all the ribs)
- Place steamed ribs in a large, non-reactive baking pan. Let them cool for 10 minutes. Pour marinade on top and toss to coat. Cover pan with plastic wrap and marinate overnight in the refrigerator.
- Preheat grill to medium-high. Remove ribs from marinade, reserving remaining marinade. Cook ribs for 8 minutes, turning a couple of times, until golden brown.
- Boil remaining marinade for a minute or two and pour it into a small bowl or gravy boat. Serve ribs with coconut barbecue sauce on the side.