Sunday, April 8, 2012

Smoked Fusion - Thai BBQ

And we're back!

Over the course of my-ever evolving exploration of BBQ, and cooking in general, I find myself looking beyond the confines of tradition to other continents and cuisines for elements to incorporate with classic techniques. We generally call this 'fusion cuisine' and the type of cuisine that I go back to most often is Thai. There's something so satisfying about Thai food; the richness of coconut milk, the spice of a good curry paste, the brightness of lime leaf, the pure tastiness of Thai basil, and so on; these all make for such delicious dishes that I could argue that Thai is one of my favourite cuisines. The only problem is that, like all great cuisines, it can over-saturate the market and become almost pedestrian and boring as it goes from exotic treat to common mall food court offering. While that's fine for a quick lunch, it makes it less special somehow. Or, to paraphrase the hipsters out there, "I liked Thai food before it was cool."

And maybe that's why I recently looked to apply these flavours in new and interesting ways, specifically using the smoker. Over the past year, I've been coming across dried versions ingredients commonly found in Thai cooking. First it was dried lime leaf, next was lemongrass powder, then I found dried galangal. Somewhere in the back of my mind, mischievous (and brilliant) voices were whispering make a ruuuuuuub, make a ruuuuuuuuub. Who am I to ignore those crazy voices? They usually know of what they speak! Just as a reminder, a rub is a mix of a bunch of seasonings and (usually) sugar that you rub all over a piece of meat before smoking or slow cooking it and you do this a day or so in advance to let the rub penetrate the meat. The 15-year old in me is having giggling fits right now over the terminology...

So, here it is!

Thai Spice Rub (to be used on any kind of meat)


- 6-7 dried lime leaves
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp coriander
- 1 tsp lemongrass powder
- 1 tsp galangal powder (I had dried galangal pieces and it was really hard to grind into powder myself if you can find it pre-powdered, use that!) or ginger powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 3-4 arbol chilies (or other dried hot chillis)
- 3-4 guajillo chilies (optional)
- 1 star anise pod (optional)
- good pinch cinnamon
- good pinch turmeric
- 1/2 cup brown sugar


- Take all unpowdered elements (lime leaves, chilies, start anise) and grind into powder using spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
- Mix all spices together, add brown sugar and stir until well-mixed.
- Rub on meat and let sit overnight.

Don't let the light colour fool you, she's a spicy one! This is pre-brown sugar being added

I used this rub on some beef ribs, but I made the mistake of getting short ribs and didn't smoke them for the 6-7 hours I should have, instead only cooking them for just under 5 hours. The result was that the meat was undercooked and tough. I even tried using a technique I'd seen on TV where the cook smoked the ribs above a pan of really hot water with some carrots, celery and onion, but whatever effect it may have had was wasted because of the short smoking time. Dammit. That being said, they were tasty (especially with the BBQ Sauce whose recipe is coming), just not much fun to eat...

Luckily, it was beef and there were no potential health effects. But, to be clear, if you're stuck with beef short ribs, smoke those suckers for AT LEAST 6 hours. Next time I'll look harder for beef back ribs which will likely take less time.

Trying out a new twist on smoking ribs.

Now that we've dealt with the cooking of the meat using Thai flavours, let's look at how we can use these flavours in making a delicious BBQ sauce for our ribs. I think the key in making this sauce unique is the use of coconut milk and using a few Asian ingredients to replace traditional American BBQ sauce elements. For example, instead of using cider vinegar, I used rice wine vinegar; instead of Worcestershire sauce, I used fish sauce, mango instead of onion, and so on... The sauce still relies on the fundamental sweeteners - brown sugar, molasses and honey, but the flavour was nothing like any previous BBQ I've  made or tasted.

Red Curry BBQ Sauce


- 1 398 ml can coconut milk
- 1 tbsp red curry paste
- 1 cup chopped tomato (or 1/2 cup ketchup)
- 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp fish sauce
- 1 cup mango chunks or purée
- 1/2 cup pineapple juice
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 tsp coriander, ground
- 1 tsp cumin, ground
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 3-4 drops liquid smoke
- 2 tsp molasses
- juice of half a lime
- 1 tbsp honey
- 1/4 cup chopped Thai basil


- Heat saucepan on medium heat and add half the coconut milk and all of the curry paste.
- Heat and stir until coconut milk begins to thicken (5-10 minutes).
- Add tomato, vinegar, fish sauce, mango and pineapple juice. Mix all ingredients well, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add brown sugar, cumin, coriander, salt and liquid smoke. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
- Add molasses, lime juice and rest of coconut milk. Increase to medium-high heat and cook for another 10 minutes. The coconut milk should start roiling and thickening at this time.
- Remove sauce from heat and add honey.
- Allow sauce to cool to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and stir in Thai basil.

Now, you can glaze your ribs with this sauce by cooking it on the grill, or, if you're like me, pour it directly over the meat. What really made this sauce exceptional was the added depth of the coconut milk, it was phenomenal! I wasn't sure coconut milk would work in BBQ sauce, but my doubts were completely and deliciously alleviated.

I can't think of classier way to serve a mess of sauce.

So, there you have it, a fun fusion of Southern BBQ cooking with Thai flavours. Looking back, while I may have screwed up the ribs somewhat, coming up with the sauce more than made up for it. As a side for this meal, I made a quick salad of sweet potato, wild rice, cilantro and a lime-based dressing. That recipe will be featured in a future post covering vegetarian goodness.

Until next time, don't be afraid to fuse your food!


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