Ono Island Ribs, Brah

Disregard any statements I’m made in the past about the World’s Best Ribs. These bad boys are ‘ono! (That’s “the best” in Hawaiian.)

I’ve spent a lot of time in the Hawaiian islands. It’s convenient to the West Coast, and my family has a condominium on Maui. And when we’re there, I like to cook.

If you’ve not cooked in the Hawaiian Islands, you’re missing out. Even the most proletarian vegetables — onions and potatoes, for example — become infused with a tropical sweetness when grown in the volcanic soils of the islands. And then there’s the fish. Ahi, mahi mahi, opakapaka, opah and other fish so fresh they’ve still got some swim left in ’em. It’s fun to fill the condo fridge with the bounty of the islands and experiment in the kitchen. Or, more often, out on the grill.

If you love the you-time standing out in the backyard with a beer tending the grill, now imagine it in a gently trade wind, palm trees gently shh-shing above, sea turtles rising from the clear Pacific just feet away as the sun begins to dip behind Molokai in the distance. I soak locally caught fish in tropical fruit juices, lay some Maui onion on top, wrap it all in a banana leaf and cook it on the grill. But even more than that, I like to make my famous coconut pineapple ribs. These are, without question, the greatest ribs in the world.

Not having access in Hawaii to my extensive pantry of ingredients at home, much of what I make when I’m in the islands is based on what’s in the fridge or what I find at the store. These ribs are one such example. I discovered a good deal once on baby back ribs at the local market, and brought them home. I had intended to bathe them in soy sauce, ginger and sugar. But remembered I had purchased some coconut pineapple syrup for the King’s Hawaiian Bread french toast I like to make over there. And some fermented black beans from China. I imagined these ingredients sizzling onto the surface of the ribs, infusing them with a symphony of those all-important harmoniously contraposed flavors — salty and sweet, bitter and sour.

Of course, they’re better when you’re there. All the projecting in the world won’t replace the scent of plumeria on a trade wind. But wherever you are, they won’t suck. Enjoy!

*   *   *

Ono island ribs
serves 4-6

2 racks baby back ribs, tough membrane removed
salt & pepper
2 cups pineapple juice
1 cup coconut pineapple syrup (or see below to make your own)
1/4 cup fermented Chinese black beans (optional)
1 tbsp. butter

Soak the baby back ribs in the pineapple juice for at least a couple hours but preferably overnight. Remove from marinade and let dry slightly. Brush with canola oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper. Rub fermented black beans onto meat, pressing down so they’ll hold. (Many will fall into the fire, which is okay.)

Heat your grill to medium-high. Place ribs on the grill, meat side up, and using a pastry brush, brush them with the pineapple coconut syrup. Close lid and cook for 2 minutes. Remove lid and check to make sure ribs are not burning, brush again with coconut syrup, and close lid. Open after another two minutes, brush with syrup and turn over. Brush second side with syrup. Cook for 4-5 minutes, opening to baste and make sure ribs are not burning (you may need to move them around if your fire flares up).

Turn them back to the meat side up, and baste with the tablespoon of butter (you can either melt it and brush it on, or gently rub the surface with cold butter, which will melt on contact, taking care not to dislodge remaining black beans.) Brush again with syrup, close lid and cook for 2 more minutes. Open lid, brush with syrup, and remove to a cutting board.

Slice into pieces of 2-3 ribs per portion and serve.

*   *   *

Pineapple coconut syrup:
2 cups pineapple juice (you can use the juice you marinated the pork in)
1 can coconut milk
2 tbsp. sugar

Heat the pineapple juice in a small pan over medium high heat to a simmer, and reduce by half. Add coconut milk and sugar and continue cooking until reduced again by half. Set aside to cool until ready to use.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paul
    Sep 27, 2011 @ 15:51:56

    Hey Seamus,
    My brother Jon and his wife Peggy are on Maui right now vacationing for a couple of weeks. We were thinking of going with them but opted to visit Jamaica in Raleigh and go to the Wilco show tonight.


    • scolgin
      Sep 27, 2011 @ 16:13:54

      “Brother Jon, brother Jon…” (is that Daniel Lanois I hear??) Hope you guys are having a great trip. I don’t know, man… Wilco is good and all, but I’d give my left (reproductive organ) to be sitting on a Maui beach with Brother Jon right about now… I’ve been having a MAJOR Hawaii jones lately…


  2. paul
    Sep 28, 2011 @ 03:10:19

    And I’d give your right one to be able to be doing both . . .


  3. rachelocal
    Sep 05, 2012 @ 17:43:57

    I now see why these are famous. 🙂


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