Aromatic spice paste enlivens Balinese pork

Nov 28, 2021, 3:02 PM | Updated: Nov 29, 2021, 5:10 am

Whether it’s an entire spit-roasted pig or the more accessible skillet-braised shoulder, pork frequently is the focus of feasts during religious festivals in Bali, a pocket of Hindu tradition in majority-Muslim Indonesia.

One particularly delicious dish is babi guling, a fork-tender pig roast seasoned with a long list of spices and aromatics. For the version in our book “COOKish,” which limits recipes to just six ingredients without sacrificing flavor, we used one of our favorite spice cabinet shortcuts — the blend garam masala, which includes cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, mace, black pepper, coriander and sometimes more. Adding turmeric and lemon grass layers in more complexity.

We start by making a paste with the lemon grass, shallots and turmeric, then add the spice blend and brown sugar, which adds sweetness that balances all the spice and helps with browning in the oven. The paste gets rubbed into all the nooks and crannies of the meat, helping flavor penetrate beyond the surface.

Leaving the fat on the surface of the pork roast — but scoring it with a knife — creates a surface to which the seasoning paste can adhere. For easy cleanup, line the baking sheet with foil before setting the roast on top.


Start to finish: 4¾ hours (20 minutes active)

Servings: 8 to 10

4 medium shallots, peeled and quartered

3 lemon grass stalks, dry outer layers discarded, trimmed to bottom 6 inches and cut into 1-inch lengths

3 tablespoons packed brown sugar

2 tablespoons neutral oil

1 tablespoon garam masala

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

Kosher salt and ground black pepper

5-pound boneless pork shoulder roast, untrimmed

Heat the oven to 300°F. In a food processor, process the shallots, lemon grass, sugar, oil, garam masala, turmeric, 1 tablespoon salt and 2 teaspoons pepper to form a paste. With a knife, score a crosshatch pattern into the surface fat on top of the roast. Rub the paste onto all sides of the roast and into the cuts. Place the pork fat-side up on a rimmed baking sheet and roast until the center reaches 195°F, about 4 hours. Let rest for 30 minutes, then cut into slices for serving.

Optional garnish: Thinly sliced scallions OR chopped fresh cilantro OR lime wedges OR sambal OR a combination.

EDITOR’S NOTE: For more recipes, go to Christopher Kimball’s Milk Street at

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Aromatic spice paste enlivens Balinese pork