The minute my wife Zara and I set foot in Ubud we knew that this enchanting place was unlike any other; there was something serene and exotic about the island that took our breath away, so much so that we ended up canceling the next leg of our trip to the Gili islands to savor as much as we could of Bali.
There was definitely no shortage of Eat Pray Love enthusiasts tucked away in small coffee shops and yoga studios, or Aussies leisurely walking the streets dressed in thin light-colored linen. And we felt that if we didn’t stay longer than initially planned, we wouldn’t have given this place the time it deserved. Going with our instincts was the right idea.
Our days were filled by visiting the outer villages and ancient Hindu temples, hiking Mount Batur, trekking around the countless rice fields, and many times we found ourselves wandering in and out of streets in Ubud. No trip to such a rich culinary destination would be complete without experiencing some of the local gems and aside from Ibu Oka, there was one place that kept coming up time and time again during our research as a must-go eatery, the locally esteemed Naughty Nuri’s Warung. As it turned out we had some friends that were going to be in Ubud at around the same time so we met them there to indulge in some of the best grilled pork ribs I’ve ever tasted.
Naughty Nuri’s is a small streetside restaurant owned by an American expat and his Indonesian wife, nestled in a lush residential setting. The ribs are prepared on a wood fire grill right by the roadside entrance, which attracts the many locals that frequent BatuBelig jalan, or street.
Upon returning home from our trip, I attempted to recreate the flavor profiles of that particular dish to get as close as I could to the original, but in the process I’ve taken creative liberties with multiple spice permutations and experimenting with various BBQ sauce ideas, slowly dialing it in each time. What follows is my interpretation at capturing the bold Balinese flavors of that dish and rather than trying to match it, I’d prefer to say that it is insipired by that succulent porky goodness back in the artist town of Ubud. It goes without saying that many falling-off-the-bone ribs have been consumed in the making of this recipe.
Much like the majority of the American South BBQ regions, which rely heavily on pork, Bali also focuses on pork mainly due to religious reasons since the island is predominantly Hindu, as compared to the rest of Indonesia.
The pork rub
The rub is a variation on my typical pork base, with a South Asian twist. You’ll need:
- 2 tbsp coconut sugar, or brown sugar
- 1 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 tbsp coriander powder or seeds
- 1 tbsp cumin
- 1 tbsp 5 spice blend
- 1 tbsp black pepper
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1 tbsp garlic powder
- 1 tbsp ground ginger
- 1 tbsp chili powder
- 1 tbsp paprika
- ½ tbsp cayenne powder
Once all the spices are ready to go, I place them in a spice grinder to mix thoroughly. While this rub is ideal for pork, it can also be used in chicken.
Moppin’ it up
I almost always make my own BBQ sauce with anything I smoke or fire up on the grill that requires a sauce, but in this case I wanted to achieve a tangy sweet and semi sour consistency to finish the ribs with so I varied my base sauce with the following:
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- 1 peeled onion sliced in quarters
- 1 deseeded sweet red apple sliced in quarters
- A small piece of freshly peeled ginger. About an inch
- An ounce of freshly peeled galangal cut into small chunks
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves cut lengthwise. The second clove is optional
- ½ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 3 tbsp hoisin sauce
- ¼ cup coconut sugar or dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp Red Boat fish sauce
- 1 ½ tbsp bourbon
- 1 tbsp Canton ginger liqueur
- 1 tbsp dark or robust molasses (not blackstrap)
- A handful of fresh cilantro stems
- 4 tbsps of the above pork rub
- Pinch of salt if needed, but only after adding the fish sauce given its salinity
The addition of Chinese hoisin is entirely optional. I include it to add depth and color to the sauce.
Heat the coconut oil in a medium size pan and add the onion and apple to brown at medium heat, while stirring from time to time so they don’t stick to the pan. If desired, one can brown the apple and onion to a darker brown, which will darken the color of the sauce, similar to the browning process in a French onion soup. After a few minutes, add the garlic. Sautée for another 5 minutes until all items start to soften.
While at medium heat, add all the remaining ingredients at once and mix repeatedly with a wooden spoon until the sauce starts to take shape. The sauce will slowly thicken as it comes to a boil, as bringing it to a boil helps for an extended shelf life.
All in all it should take about 30 minutes until the sauce is thick enough and can hold a line on the back of the spoon when you drag a finger through it. At this point, you want to strain the contents of the pot through a colander to be leftover with the BBQ sauce.
For this recipe, I used baby back ribs, but regular pork spareribs or a St. Louis style cut work just as well, except that they take a bit longer to cook. First, Peel off the sinew from the back of the ribs since it helps in the cooking process and can be a bit tough when biting into the meat if not removed.
Sprinkle generally all around both sides of the ribs with the home-made rub. I typically first pat the meat down with a little vegetable oil or mustard to act as a binder for the spices. The ribs should be well covered with the spice blend before wrapping with butcher paper or aluminum foil. Place in the fridge for up to 8 hours to flavor the meat.
When the smoker is ready to go at a steady 225°F, the water pan is filled, and the chips are set aside, place the ribs on the grates.
With the smoky mountain smoker I use both racks depending on the amount of ribs I’m cooking. Once the ribs go in, the key is to open the lid only when needed as the temperature will drop every time the lid is open.
About an hour in, I spray it with some apple juice to moisten the exterior. This is entirely optional as the Texas Crutch will add some moisture.
Since baby backs cook faster that other cuts, I usually cook the ribs for about four hours depending on the size and thickness of the meat. While some may use the 3-2-1 method, it is definitely overkill for baby backs. To arrive to a desired tender consistency I smoke the ribs for about two hours first, then wrap them in foil for close to an hour, and finish it unwrapped for an additional hour.
Two hours after putting the ribs in, I double-wrapped the slabs with aluminum foil. Called the Texas Crutch, this technique is typically used in competition BBQ, but what you may lose in crunchiness in the bark, you gain in moisture and in a faster cook; however, this can also be optional as some BBQ aficionados debate that the crutch doesn’t add much in the process. At the end of the day it is about what works for each person and I’d highly recommend trying it with and without the wrap to find what works for you. For a further and more detailed breakdown regarding the smoke, I highly recommend visiting Amazingribs.com as it contains a wealth of knowledge.
Before wrapping up the meat and re-inserting the thermometer, add about a cup of apple juice underneath and butter on top of each rack after placing it on the foil with the meat facing up. In this case I used some duck fat on top.
After the hour mark, remove from the foil and place back on the grate. Cook for another hour until done, when the interior of the meat reaches 190°F. Meat falling off the bone is entirely a personal choice, but many times I also prefer it sticking to the bone a bit.
Mop up the ribs with the previously made BBQ sauce, about 15 minutes before pulling them off the smoker.
Once the ribs are done, let them rest for about 20 minutes before slicing and serving. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, julianned Thai basil, minced cilantro, or nothing at all — pitmaster’s choice.
Aside from your favorite go-to condiments, feel free to serve it up with some fresh veggies, or anything that will play off these bold flavors. In this case, I served it with some pickles, slightly sweetened and pickled sliced cucumbers, and a beet salad in vinaigrette with sliced cherry tomatoes and blanched peas.