Singapore tze-char meets American barbecue for a British summer
I started this post three days ago, seeing as it was National BBQ Week, but only managed to finish it today, and as the week draws to an end, the sun has decided to duck behind the covers of heavy grey clouds again. But who knows, there's no stopping a barbie for many people, and it is the long Jubilee weekend. I say, go ahead and plan your rockin' outdoor party! (Just be ready to turn to the horribly uncool standby, i.e. your oven, when the gloomy weather forecasts turn out to be annoyingly accurate.)
I love most things about a barbecue-- the disastrous attempts at lighting the flame, the frantic fanning of the coals, the burnt food that tries to get passed off as "lightly charred", and that very distinct smoky odour that clings to all your clothes and hair after so everyone you meet know you've just been to a barbecue. I don't love, however, the wait. A barbecue is usually a long-drawn affair. A combination of the aforementioned technical difficulties and the social politeness of passing the first few successful plates on, mean that I often go already slightly fed, just in case. It's funny though, especially since you consider the fact that most of the food cooks really quickly: steak, sausages etc, or if you're from Singapore, satay (with proper peanut sauce) and sambal stingray. My friend from the US snorts at my petty whining; apparently, the proper way to do it, is with even more time and loving attention. Think slow-marinated huge chunks of meat still with their bones in, cooked slowly over glowing (not burning hot) coal, till it becomes tender and falls apart the moment you stick your greedy fingers in. The Food Urchin wrote an article about this for the Great British Chefs blog, hop over and read, it's hilarious.
So anyway I decided to give this 'proper' barbecue thing a bit of a go. I bought a rack of pork ribs from the farmer's market, found a highly-rated recipe, promisingly called Beth's Melt In Your Mouth Barbecue Ribs (Beth is american, no less), but changed the marinade to one inspired by the highly creative tze char chefs of Singapore- coffee pork ribs. If you want to know how to do the original version, made with deep-fried spare ribs which are then coated in a gravy made with instant coffee, watch this makansutra video. The recipe that follows uses real coffee and a grill instead of a wok. (Note: There's a bit of cheating involving the oven too.)
GRILLED COFFEE PORK RIBS
1/2 a rack of spare ribs from a happy pastured pig (a stupid move; I should have done the whole rack)
for the rub
2 tbsp pure coffee powder (your choice of roast/origin/price, just not instant coffee processed with additives)
4 tbsp unrefined sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground coriander
generous dash of freshly ground black pepper
generous pinch of unrefined sea salt
for the glaze
1 tbsp strong pure coffee
1 tbsp good oyster sauce (naturally fermented, msg-free)
1 tbsp dark/blackstrap molasses
1. Peel off the tough membrane that covers the bony side of the ribs. Rub the ribs all over with the rub mixture, and leave to marinade overnight for best results.
2. Lay ribs, meaty side down, on 3 layers of foil, shiny side out. Cover with 3 layers of foil and crimp edges of foil tightly to seal.
3. Now you can place in a preheated oven at 150 degrees celsius for 2 1/2 hours, or if you want to show off your bbq prowess/ insist on doing it the authentic way, place it over low heat (110 degrees celsius for 3 hours) on the grill, flipping over halfway through.
4. After the 2 1/2 to 3 hours, the ribs should be tender and cooked (and the inner layers of foil should be kind of burnt and you'll be glad I made you use 3 layers of foil). Now unwrap the ribs, and brush on the glaze. Place over the grill for a few min until bubbly, then repeat on the other side, then keep repeating about 5 times or till happy. (If you want to do this in the oven, broil for 2 min on each side.)
5. Let the ribs rest off the grill for 5-10 min before carving and serving. No cutlery required, eat with hands, and lick your fingers after.
I know coffee doesn't seem like the most obvious pairing with pork, but you'll be surprised. The bitterness of the coffee strikes a perfect delicious contrast against the sweet and savoury sauce clinging to the oh-so-tender ribs (thank you america). And of course, there's that intoxicating aroma of coffee, spiked with the warm scent of the spices added. I'm not the kind of person who goes through 10 cups of coffee a day, who loves her coffee enough to track down the Monmouth beans in town, nor can I pick out a single estate brew from Ethiopia or Columbia, but I found the ribs worryingly addictive. Skip the cake, and have your coffee with a pork rib or two (: