August 30, 2011
Today's featured dish is another Chinese one of my own invention. I knew ahead of time that I wanted to cook something Chinese, and that I wanted to use up a piece of the big pork loin roast I'd bought awhile back and had cut into one-pound portions and packed for freezing. While shopping, I picked up a few fresh ingredients I'd need, but was able to mostly rely on things I keep stocked.
The dish is pretty straightforward to prepare and make. Much of the required time is used to marinate the pork, during which time everything else can be prepared. Once the prep is done, it cooks up quickly. In exchange for fairly minimal effort, one gets a great meal of tender, seasoned pork and delicious vegetables coated in a flavorful sauce. As far as I'm concerned, that's always a good trade-off, and it's one reason I love stir-fry dishes. If your tastes are anything like ours, I think you'll love this.
Pork and Chinese Vegetable Stir-Fry
yield = 4 servings
1 pound boneless pork loin roast, thinly-sliced
1/2 teaspoon rushed red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1 tablespoon rice wine
2 tablespoons peanut oil
2 teaspoons dark (Asian) sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
6 green onions, thinly-sliced, white and green parts separated
10 ounces snow peas, trimmed
5 ounces fresh shitake mushrooms, sliced
1 can (15 ounces) whole baby corn, drained and sliced into
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Add pork slices and crushed red pepper flakes to a medium bowl. Add hoisin sauce, grated ginger and rice wine. Stir to mix thoroughly, then cover with plastic wrap and set aside to marinate for 30 minutes while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Heat peanut and sesame oils in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering, add the pork mixture and stir-fry until the pork is no longer pink and is lightly browned in spots. Clear a spot in the middle of the skillet, then add the garlic and the white parts of the green onions. Cook 1 minute, then stir into the pork mixture.
Add the snow peas, shitake mushrooms and baby corn to the skillet. Stir-fry until the snow peas start to get tender (about 4 minutes).
Stir together the chicken broth, soy sauce and cornstarch in a small bowl, then add the mixture to the skillet. Cook, stirring to thoroughly coat the pork and vegetables, until the sauce has thickened (1-2 minutes). Transfer to a serving dish, top with the green parts of the green onions and serve with rice.
August 29, 2011
Des Moines' weekly alternative paper, Cityview, is doing a survey in an attempt to identify Des Moines' Ultimate Pizza. They've selected 42 local pizza places, including some old standards and some relative newcomers, and representing a variety of different pizza styles, from among which readers can vote. The first round of voting will narrow the field down to 16, while subsequent votes will narrow things further yet, until the Ultimate Pizza is crowned.
In looking over the list, we noticed that there are a fair number of pizza places in Des Moines that we've never tried, and some others we've not eaten at in a long time. We took that as a challenge, so over the next few weeks we plan to try out a bunch of pizza places and write about them. I don't think we're going to get close to 42, but our plan is to try to hit a few places we've never eaten at during the first rounds of voting, and to try to hit all of the contenders still in the contest for the last few rounds of voting. With this goal in mind, we started with one fairly new to the Des Moines pizza scene: Fong's Pizza.
Fongs, which opened in 2009, is located in downtown Des Moines. It's a bar as well as a pizzeria, and in the short time it's been around it has gotten a lot of notice, both in Des Moines and on the national level. Fong's has been mentioned on blogs from Chicago and elsewhere, and was recently featured on a segment of one of the shows on the Cooking Channel, in addition to being mentioned in Food Network Magazine. Locally, it has gotten great reviews in the local papers and rating websites, and it has won a bunch of Cityview reader's awards, including Best Pizza and Best New Bar.
Fong's decor is certainly unique. The restaurant website summarizes it as follows: "Our decor is a mix of Chinese, Oriental, Polynesian & Italian with a 40's & 50's feel. Think of a 'frozen in time' dive bar with delicious food, great service & tasty tiki drinks that pack a real punch." We chose to eat in the back dining area, but there are also tables by the bar.
Fong's serves up pizzas with all of the traditional ingredients, plus several not-so-traditional ones. Various combos are available, some pretty traditional, some not. Some of their combo pizzas , such as Thai Chicken, Moo Shu Pork and Crab Rangoon, are strongly Asian in flavor, but there are also more traditional choices such as the Meatarian (all-meat), Veggie Supreme and Taco Pizza. Their appetizer selection is also unusual for a pizza place, in that it includes several Asian selections, including vegetable or pork and chicken egg rolls. Fong's also serves a diverse batch of salads, sandwiches and desserts.
|Fong's egg rolls come 4 to an order (5 if you order the|
vegetarian ones), but I was so hungry and they looked
so good I started in on one before Juli had a chance
to snap a picture.
For appetizers, we purchased an order of the pork and chicken egg rolls. They arrived piping hot and were exceptional, with wonderfully flaky wrapping and a lot more - and more flavorful - meat than one usually finds in egg rolls. Ours were served up with sweet chili sauce and hot mustard, and they really hit the spot.
We also purchased a large thin crust pizza with a fairly traditional mix of ingredients - pepperoni, Canadian bacon, fresh mushrooms and tomatoes - along with the house red sauce and the house blend of cheeses. It was literally steaming hot - I doubt it had been out of the oven for more than three minutes by the time it came to the table - and it was just plain delicious, with choice ingredients and a subtly smoky flavor. Fong's is generous with its toppings. The thin-sliced meats were layered on the pizza, and there were ample amounts of mushrooms, tomatoes and a delicious blend of cheese. The crust was thin and crispy, and there was just the right amount of the wonderfully seasoned sauce.
This was the first time we've eaten at Fong's, but it won't be the last. We're looking forward to returning, to try some of the less traditional pizza choices and to sample more of the great appetizers. I suspect Fong's will become our go-to pizza place, because after a single visit it has pushed Bordenaro's out of the top spot on our "favorite Des Moines pizza places" listing.
Fong's Pizza is located at 223 4th Street, Des Moines, Iowa 50309. Their hours are 11 am to midnight for the kitchen, and 11 am to 2 am for the bar. Their phone number is (515) 323-3333. Fong's Pizza can also be found on Facebook.
August 28, 2011
This recipe is something I tossed together for a quick, tasty vegetable dish awhile back, using things we had in our fridge and among our pantry items. I was in a mood for Chinese, so I decided to stir-fry a bunch of different vegetables and serve the vegetables with a thick garlic sauce.
This dish offers a variety of textures and a mix of nice vegetable flavors, all unified by a savory, slightly spicy sauce. It is both simple and quick to make. Since it uses a lot of canned vegetables along with a few fresh ones, tt took me right around 1/2 hour to make, from start of prep to having it on the table. If you start the rice at around the same time you start the prep, you'll have a healthy, tasty meal all ready in very little time.
We both loved this one. For something I tossed together from scratch, I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. We'll definitely be making this again.
Mixed Vegetable Stir-Fry with Garlic Sauce
yield = 3-4 servings
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon chili-garlic sauce
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 tablespoon hoison sauce
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons peanut oil
12 ounces baby bok choy, trimmed and chopped, leaf and stem
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced into thin discs
1 can (8 ounces) sliced water chestnuts, drained
6 ounces button mushrooms, cleaned and thinly sliced
6 green onions, thinly sliced, green and white parts separated
2 teaspoons fresh, peeled and grated ginger
1 can (15 ounces) whole baby corn, drained and sliced into
1 can (14 ounces) straw mushroom, drained and sliced into
In a measuring cup, dissolve cornstarch in 1 cup low-sodium chicken broth. Add soy sauce, chili-garlic sauce, hoison sauce, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Stir to mix, then set aside.
Heat peanut oil to shimmering in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add bok choy stem pieces, sliced carrots, water chestnuts, sliced button mushrooms and the whie parts of the green onions. Stir-fry until the bok choy stems have softened and the button mushrooms have given off their liquid and that liquid has cooked off (6-7 minutes).
Push aside the vegetables to clear a space in the middle of the skillet, add the ginger, cook 30 seconds, then stir the ginger into the vegetables.
Add the bok choy leaves, baby corn pieces and straw mushroom pieces to the skillet. Stir-fry the vegetables until the bok choy leaves just start to wilt.
Stir the contents of the measuring cup, the pour into the skillet with the vegetables. Stir to mix and continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the sauce thickens and evenly coats the vegetables. Stir in the green parts of the green onions, transfer to a serving dish and serve immediately with rice.
If you'd like to make this vegetarian, use vegetable broth or water in place of the chicken broth.
July 25, 2011
I designed this recipe to accompany two other recipes I've already published, Grilled Pork Chops with Asian-Spiced Honey Glaze and Roasted Asparagus with Soy-Lemon Glaze. My goal in coming up with the recipe was to make a rice dish that tasted like fried rice, but which didn't require as much attention as fried rice. This was important because I wanted this dish to cook while I was grilling the pork chops.
After considering options, I decided to cook some vegetables in oil, brown the rice, then boil the rice and vegetables in a combination of water and soy sauce. The pre-cooking would supply the fried flavor. At the last minute I decided to toss in some toasted sesame seeds (something I was also using with the asparagus), which would add a bit of nutty flavor.
This recipe turned out great. The rice was quite tasty, and a lot less greasy than is often the case with fried rice, the flavors of the vegetables blended nicely with the overall flavor of the dish, and adding the sesame seeds and green onions after the rice was cooked provided the dish with a bit of crispness. This rice dish went great with the other two dishes, and I think it would go well with a variety of Chinese dishes. Since it was so quick and easy it was to make, and since it mostly cooks with minimal attention, thus allowing you to cook something else at the same time, I expect I'll be turning to this recipe again in the future.
Chinese Rice Pilaf
yield = 4-6 servings
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 medium yellow onion, minced
4 ounces button mushrooms, minced
8 green onions, thinly sliced, white and green
2 cups long grain white rice
3 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Heat the oil to shimmering in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, yellow onion, mushrooms and the white parts of the green onions and cook, stirring often, for 3 minutes.
Stir in the rice and cook until the rice has started to turn golden-brown.
Stir in the water and soy sauce. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to low. Cook about 20 minutes or until the rice is done. Stir in the sesame seeds and the green parts of the green onions. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve.
July 24, 2011
Today's recipe is one of three Chinese-inspired recipes I served recently as a memorable lunch. I posted another of those recipes - Roasted Asparagus with Soy-Lemon Glaze - yesterday.
The basics of this dish are pretty simple: Season some pork chops, brown them on the grill, then brush with an Asian-flavored honey glaze and finish grilling them. The results are exceptional: Juicy, flavorful pork covered with a spicy-sweet coating. This recipe is easy to make, and it cooks quickly. You can do most of the prep while the coals are heating up.
We really enjoyed these chops. Every bite of the juicy, tender chops was full of flavor. Served with the companion dishes, these chops made for a really satisfying and memorable meal.
Grilled Pork Chops with Asian-Spiced Honey Glaze
yield = 4 servings
4 thick-cut, bone-in center-cut pork loin chops
freshly-ground black pepper
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons rice wine
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon peeled, grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon Asian (dark) sesame oil
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Sprinkle chops on both sides with pepper and kosher salt. Set aside and let chops sit at room temperature.
Prepare charcoal grill with all of the coals spread on 1/2 of the grill.
Add honey, rice wine, rice vinegar, hoisin sauce, ginger, cornstarch, garlic, sesame oil and crushed red pepper flakes to a small saucepan. Stir together ingredients, then heat to boiling over medium heat. Reduce heat and let simmer 2 minutes, then remove from heat and set aside.
Arrange the chops on the cooler side of the grill, cover with a disposable aluminum pan and cook 9 for minutes, turning the chops halfway through that time.
Transfer the chops to the hotter side of the grill, directly over the coals, and brush with the glaze. Cook 3 minutes, turn, brush the other side with the glaze and cook until an instant-read thermometer inserted through the side of the chop away from the bone reads 135 degrees (about 2 more minutes). Transfer the chops to a serving platter, tent with foil and let rest 5 minutes. Serve.
July 23, 2011
Recently, I designed a meal featuring three new recipes, each using Chinese seasonings. This is one of those recipes.
The basic idea is pretty simple: Drizzle some asparagus with seasonings, roast it in the oven, then serve it with a flavorful glaze and a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds. It's fast and easy to make - it took maybe 20 minutes from start to finish - and it's full of great flavor. Roasting the asparagus intensifies its flavor, while the various seasonings add savory and tart flavors and a bit of heat. The result is a nice, memorable vegetable side dish.
Roasted Asparagus with Soy-Lemon Glaze
yield - 2-3 servings
1 bunch asparagus (about 1 pound) fresh asparagus, trimmed
1 tablespoon Asian (dark) sesame oil
1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar
1 tablespoon freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons rice wine
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
zest from one lemon
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Arrange asparagus in a single layer in a 11x13-inch casserole dish. Add sesame oil, Chinese black vinegar and lemon juice to a small bowl. Mix to combine, then drizzle over the asparagus. Sprinkle asparagus with kosher salt and black pepper. Place in oven and roast until tender, 7-10 minutes.
While the asparagus is roasting, combine soy sauce, lemon juice, water, cornstarch, rice wine, garlic, red pepper flakes and lemon zest in a small saucepan. Stir together ingredients and heat to boiling over medium heat. Reduce heat and let simmer 2 minutes or until thickened.
Transfer cooked asparagus to a serving platter. Pour the glaze across the middle of the asparagus stalks, then top with the sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
July 16, 2011
The first broccoli from this year's garden was ready to harvest last weekend, and since then, we've been eating lots of garden-fresh broccoli. I decided to start off by brushing one of my old-standby recipes, Spicy Ginger Beef with Broccoli, and ended up further fine-tuning the recipe, using stuff I've learned over the past year of cooking to make an already-great recipe even better.
I also used a bunch of the hot peppers we've been growing. We're getting a bunch of ripe ones now.
I made a really large batch (about 12 servings total), but the revised recipe, below, reflects the standard (already large) batch. Either gives you a lot of good leftovers, and this dish freezes really well. The broccoli does get a bit soggy when reheating, but the flavor is great. Don't freeze the chow mein noodles, though. Just add them after reheating.
Spicy Ginger Beef with Broccoli
yield = 8 servings
2 pounds beef (steak or stew), thinly sliced
2-4 red chili peppers, seeded and minced
1 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/3 cup light soy sauce
2 1/2-3 pounds broccoli florets
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil
1 1/2-2 tablespoons peeled, diced ginger
2 cans sliced water chestnuts, 1 drained, 1 undrained
2 tablespoons oyster sauce
2 tablespoons corn starch dissolved in 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken
broth, or water
Mix sliced beef with ground mustard, ground ginger, black pepper, chili peppers, garlic, 1 teaspoon sesame oil and soy sauce in a bowl or Ziploc bag. Cover bowl/close bag and marinate at least two hours, preferably eight or more hours or overnight.
Steam broccoli until it is almost done; remove from heat.
Add peanut oil and 1 teaspoon sesame oil to wok, large skillet or Dutch oven. Heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the ginger and fry it, stirring often, until it is just starting to darken.
Add the beef and marinade mixture. Stir-fry until the beef is nearly browned, then add water chestnuts, including the liquid from one of the cans. Stir fry for a couple more minutes, then add oyster sauce and corn starch/broth (or water) mixture. Stir until the liquid thickens. Add the broccoli, stir to mix.
Serve over rice, topped with chow mein noodles.
1. The best way to slice the beef into nice, thin slices is to put it in the freezer for about 45 minutes before you're ready to prepare it. The beef will then be stiff enough to easily cut as thinly as you might desire.
2. I don't specify a cut of meat to use because I've found it honestly doesn't matter if you marinate it sufficiently. If I don't have time to let it marinate a long time, I tend to use sirloin, but round tip steak, chuck steak and stew beef work just fine.
3. How many chili peppers one should use for this recipe depends on the heat of the peppers and personal taste. That being said, the purpose of the peppers in this recipe is to add some heat, but they shouldn't overwhelm the other flavors. I've gotten the best results from cayenne, serrano and red Thai peppers. If you like things spicier, don't seed the peppers.
June 20, 2011
I love cooking, but there are days when I just don't feel like it. Yesterday was one of those days. It was my birthday, and even though it would have been a beautiful day for grilling, I just felt like taking it easy. So, with that in mind, Juli and I went out for lunch and picked up some pizzas to warm up for dinner. The lunch was great. The pizza, sadly, was not so great.
For lunch we went to Kwong Tung Restaurant on Ingersoll Avenue in Des Moines. As Chinese restaurants go, Kwong Tung is generally pretty average. Their lunch specials offer a generous amount of food for around $5.00 (give or take a bit depending on what you order), but there's nothing particularly memorable or unique about their daily offerings. Sundays are quite another matter, though. They offer dim sum every Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm, and their dim sum is worth writing about.
For those unfamiliar with the tradition, dim sum is a Chinese meal consisting of small portions of various sorts of food, typically served up in steamer baskets or on small plates. In China, it is usually associated with drinking tea, but I don't recall anyone - including the Asian customers - drinking tea at Kwong Tung yesterday, unless you count iced tea.
Dim sum restaurant fare typically offers several dozen dishes from which the customers choose. Some are familiar Chinese restaurant fare, often served as appetizers (pot stickers, crab rangoon, fried wontons, egg rolls, spring rolls and barbecued pork, or char sui). Other dishes typically include numerous types of dumplings, or gao, usually steamed but sometimes fried, and baked or steamed buns and rolls filled with meat, vegetables or bean paste. As far as the dumplings, sui mai is one of the standards served at Kwong Tung. These tasty steamed dumplings are filled with chicken, pork or shrimp. Cha siu baau - fluffy buns filled with barbecued pork - are among the standard sorts of buns. Fried squid, spare ribs, steamed meatballs, taro dumplings and chicken feet (fung zao) are some of the other standard dim sum dishes served at Kwong Tung.
Dim sum also typically includes a few sweet dishes, and Kwong Tung follows this tradition by offering standard dim sum dishes such as egg tarts (pastries filled with egg custard) and sesame balls (jin deui). The latter are among Juli's favorites. These balls of dough filled with red bean paste are rolled in sesame seeds then deep fried to make a chewy, tasty snack. KwongTung's dim sum also includes a variety of noodle dishes, characterized by ample portions of soft- or crisp-fried noodles, vegetables (most prominently baby bok choy and mushrooms) and chunks of chicken, beef, pork or shrimp.
At Kwong Tung, one orders Dim Sum by selecting what one wants, and how many servings, on a half-sheet of paper that lists the various dishes and their prices. We ordered two helpings of crab rangoon, fried crescent dumplings and pan-fried potstickers, plus sar har (egg noodles) with beef, pan-fried noodles with shrimp and one order each of sesame balls and pork egg rolls. Every single one of these dishes was excellent. The fried crescent dumplings - little crescents of rice flour dough filled with spiced meat - and the potstickers are particular favorites of ours.
As usual, we ordered a bit more than we could finish, because the leftovers are one of the great things about going to Kwong Tung's dim sum, but we could have been more than stuffed even if we'd entirely skipped the noodle dishes. All of that came to about $30, including tip, which isn't bad considering how much food we got. Considering how good it was, that price is a bargain!
We had to do a bit of shopping, so I decided to drop by the Gateway Market on Woodland Avenue in Des Moines. Gateway Market features organic produce, fine cheeses, excellent meat, imported pastas and a wide range of hard-to find spices, condiments, snacks and imported food items, plus an excellent cafe. Although it is a bit pricey, Gateway Market has become one of our go-to places to shop for various odds and ends. During previous visits, their store-made, ready-to-cook pizzas had caught my eye. They looked delicious, and I decided my birthday was a good time to try them out. We bought two 10-inch pizzas - one pepperoni and one margherita (soft mozzarella, tomato slices and fresh basil) at $7.49 each.
I have generally been quite pleased by my Gateway Market purchases, so I was surprised to find the pizzas pretty disappointing. I didn't think they were terrible (though Juli really disliked the margherita one), but they weren't particularly good, either. They struck me as the sort of pizza you get by being more concerned about healthy and organic ingredients than with flavor. Honestly, I'd have been just as happy warming up a couple frozen Tombstone pizzas, so given the price, I didn't find Gateway Market's pizzas a very good deal at all, and I doubt we'll be buying any more of them any time soon.
June 04, 2011
Last weekend I had hoped to do a lot of grilling and barbecuing, but the weather and our schedules didn't cooperate enough for that to happen. I did get some grill time in, though, and as part of that, I finally got around to trying out a new barbecue technique I'd been wanting to try for some time: tea smoking.
I had some tea-smoked duck in an upscale Chinese restaurant many years ago, and as I recall it was delicious, but I had more or less forgotten about it until I read an article about tea smoking in the Aug/Sept 2010 issue of Fine Cooking. I found the article quite intriguing and put tea smoking on my "things to try" list, but never got around to trying it out last year. More recently, the February 2011 issue of Cuisine at Home featured an article about Tea-Smoking ribs in the oven, by sealing the smoke and ribs in a pan with layers of foil. The recipe and related photos looked delicious, but I wasn't about to try that out in the oven, because we don't have a kitchen exhaust fan and I figured the technique was bound to fill the kitchen with smoke when I opened the sealing foil at various steps during the process. Still, the recipe looked too delicious to pass up, so I decided I'd use that article's ideas and recipe as a starting point for my first try at tea smoking on the grill.
The idea behind tea smoking is pretty simple: you cook meat with dry heat, using tea and other aromatic ingredients to create flavored smoke that imparts its flavor to the cooking meat. It really isn't that different than ordinary wood smoking. This cooking technique has been practiced in China for many centuries.
This link to the Fine Cooking website features a set of very helpful videos that discuss the tea smoking technique, show how to make a tea smoking packet, and demonstrate how to use the technique to cook shrimp and salmon. I found them quite helpful and informative, and hopefully you will also find them useful.
In terms of technique, it's pretty much like any other sort of barbecue smoking. I prepared two racks of baby back ribs a day ahead of time, splitting each into two pieces and rubbing them down with a thick coating of spice rub, then covering them and letting them rest in the refrigerator until a half-hour or so before I was going to toss them on the grill. Meanwhile, I prepared a packet of aromatic ingredients - Wuyr Shan Red Cape oolong tea from Gong Fu Tea, Szechuan peppercorns, slices of raw ginger, star anise pods, strips of orange zest and a broken-up cinnamon stick - plus Jasmine tea and brown sugar (the first to fuel the burning of the smoking ingredients, the second to provide additional flavor and color to the smoke).
When the coals were ready, I stacked the coals on one side of the grill, tossed the smoke packet atop the coals and placed the ribs (in a rib cooking rack) on the part of the grill with no coals (indirect heat), atop a disposable aluminum roasting pan. I added a couple bay leaves and a cup of apple juice to the cooking pan, put the lid on the grill with the lid vents right above the cooking ribs, and let them smoke for about two hours. This is somewhat less time than I typically cook ribs, but I used a hotter-than-usual fire to compensate, as I'd read in several places that tea-smoked meats that cook for long periods of time tend to develop an off or bitter flavor.
At the end of that time, I had perfectly smoked, tender ribs, with a spicy, dark exterior and a nice smoke-ring effect. I then sliced the cooked rib racks into individual-rib portions, dipped these in a sweet-spicy sauce I'd made on the stove top, then tossed them in the oven to broil for just a few minutes. The result: Tender, tasty ribs coated in a delicious, sticky, Asian-flavored sauce. The combination of the spice rub, the tea smoking and the sauce gave these ribs a delightfully complex flavor, as good as any conventionally-barbecued ribs I've ever had but also unlike any other ribs I've ever had. Juli also liked them a lot, which I consider an accomplishment, as she's not nearly as fond of ribs as I am. I served them up with rice and a really good Chinese vegetable stir-fry (I'll post that recipe another time).
I would say my first try at tea smoking was a big success. I ended up with a really nice, memorable meal and lots of tasty leftovers, plus I've got another barbecue technique I can continue to experiment with. That's time well-spent, I'd say.
Tea-Smoked Baby Back Ribs
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
2 tablespoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper flakes
2 slabs baby back ribs
1/2 cup loose oolong tea leaves*
1/2 cup dry jasmine rice
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup Szechuan peppercorns
5 star anise pods
5 thin slices fresh ginger
1 large cinnamon stick, crumbled
peeled zest of one large orange
1 cup apple juice
2 bay leaves
Asian-Spiced BBQ Sauce
1/2 cup ketchup
1/2 cup low-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup orange juice
1/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons chili garlic sauce
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon fresh, peeled and grated ginger
2 teaspoons dark (Asian) sesame oil
2 teaspoons toasted sesame seeds
thin-sliced scallions and additional toasted sesame
seeds as garnish (if desired)
Add the spice rub ingredients to a small bowl and stir to thoroughly mix.
Remove the membrane from the back of the ribs. Cut each rack in half at the midpoint. Place the ribs on a baking sheet. Sprinkle spoonfulls of the spice rub over the ribs, pressing and rubbing it in with the fingers to thoroughly cover both sides of the ribs. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the ribs (still on the baking sheet) for at least two hours, but preferably for around 24 hours. Remove the ribs from the refrigerator about 1/2 hour before they're to go on the grill.
Lay two sheets of heavy-duty aluminum foil crosswise. Add the Tea Smoking Packet ingredients to the middle of the sheets and mix them together thoroughly with your hands, then fold the foil sheets together loosely to form a packet, leaving some air in the packet. Cut several half-inch vents in the top surface of the packet.
Prepare the grill for indirect heat. Fill a charcoal chimney and ignite the briquettes in the chimney. Spread a layer of unlit briquettes in the direct heat area. Clean the cooking grate with a grill brush and either lightly coat it with vegetable oil or spray it with nonstick cooking spray. Clean and oil the rib cooking rack. When the briquettes in the chimney are hot (covered with white ash), arrange them on one side of the grill, atop the unlit briquettes. On the other side of the lower layer of the grill, set a disposable aluminum pans. Add the bay leaves and apple juice to the pan. Set the Tea Smoking Packet atop the lit coals, then put the cooking grate in place. Place the rib cooking rack atop the cooking grate in the indirect heat area, right above the disposable pan. Cover the grill and let it heat up for 5 minutes. The fragrant smoke should be rising from the top grill vents.
Place the rib rack segments in the rib cooking rack. Close the lid, setting the vents at half-open and above the ribs. Allow to cook without lifting the lid for 90 minutes. Check interior temperature of the cooking ribs with a meat thermometer. The ribs are done when they reach an interior heat of 180 degrees Fahrenheit. Check every half-hour, keeping the lid on the grill in between, until the ribs are done.
While the ribs are cooking, prepare the BBQ sauce. Add the sauce ingredients to a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and cook until thickened, about 5 minutes. Set oven racks and heat up the oven for high broiling.
Transfer cooked ribs to a cutting board and slice into single-rib segments.
Use tongs to dip the individual rib segments into the sauce, then transfer them to a broiling pan. Cook the sauced ribs in two batches, broiling them until the sauce thickens into a slightly-charred glaze (about 3 minutes).
Transfer broiled rib segments to a serving platter. Serve and enjoy.
* The tea is a major component of the flavor for this dish, so for best results, use a high-quality oolong tea. Gong Fu Tea's website has several options, including the one I used.