I don’t need food to be hot. But I do like it spicy. Even comfort food. I add chile flakes to pasta, hot sauce to mashed potatoes, black pepper to scrambled eggs.
The penchant for warm spice stems from college days enjoying skewers of chicken satay and pad Thai noodles with classmates. Later, a research meal with Cuisine magazine colleagues at Chicago’s Thai Room opened our eyes to even bolder heat. A menu item, “original hot number one,” challenged us mightily. Gradually, I built a tolerance for its searing green curry heat and licorice-y notes of Thai basil. Someday soon, we hope to encounter zesty new flavors dining out with friends.
In the meantime, I’ll cook with bold flavor as much for challenge as nostalgia for shared meals with fellow food adventurers.
Memories of that Thai-style satay, grilled and skewered highly seasoned meat, inspire these recipes. I skip the skewering and opt instead for meaty, flavor-packed pork country ribs. You can use bone-in or boneless country ribs—whatever you can get at the meat counter or butcher. Trim off excess fat, but leave enough for flavor and browning. This recipe also works beautifully with bone-in chicken pieces, beef sirloin steak and lamb shoulder chops.
Refrigerated purées make easy work of the flavor-filled marinade. You can substitute fresh ginger and lemongrass if it is available. If you are missing any of the ground spices, just use a little more of each of the ones you have on hand or substitute some garam masala or curry powder.
For grilling, charcoal adds the most flavor, but a gas grill will suffice. I prepare the grill to have a cooler area so the ribs can cook more slowly to tenderness. A sear over the hottest part of the grill adds a browned flavor that keeps us coming back for more.
Be sure to serve the pork with wedges of fresh lime for squeezing over the meat. Bottled peanut satay sauce can be served alongside if you wish. I like to sprinkle lots of fresh cilantro over everything for its fresh flavor.
A slightly sweet and spicy slaw makes a crunchy contrast to the rich meat.
In lieu of peanut sauce, I simply add a handful of dry-roasted peanuts to the slaw. Steamed green beans or broccoli spears, tossed with Chinese chile crisp (or melted butter and crushed pepper flakes) makes a gorgeous side dish.
I’m always playing around with ways to flavor brown rice. Here, I add a little unsweetened coconut milk to the cooking water and a generous amount of unsweetened coconut flakes for texture. I just love to sprinkle the finished rice with hot sauce—especially when it’s the basis for a bowl topped with leftover shreds of the pork and spoonfuls of the slaw.