My apologies, if needed, go to Andrew Zimmern. You know him, the guy who will eat anything; if he doesn’t like it, you just know it’s got to be foul. Anyway, a few months back I made his recipe for Grandmother’s Chinese Chicken Wings, and boy howdy were they good. I did have to tweak the directions a little in order to get them falling-apart tender, but other than that, the recipe is great. The original recipe is here at the Food Network website.
Last night we needed dinner that was easy and filling. My husband had been digging post holes; I had been mowing about 1/2 acre. We were both tired but didn’t want to get take-out. We already had leftover steamed rice and salad makings in the refrigerator – what to go with? I dug around in the freezer and came up with a package of country-style spare ribs.
Not everyone is familiar with country-style pork ribs, or maybe they’re known by other names in other areas.
Country-style ribs are cut from the sirloin or rib end of the pork loin, which is a less exercised part of the pig – therefore, they are more tender than spareribs. They are also much meatier and indeed, look like thick-cut narrow steaks. They lend themselves well to braising and are really delicious prepared with Asian seasonings. I thought with a little tweaking, Andrew Zimmern’s chicken wing sauce would be good on the ribs. I was right.
A few words on ingredients:
Mirin is an alcohol-based liquid made from rice and is used in Japanese cooking. At one time it was drunk like sake, but now is considered a condiment. Salt is often added to avoid the alcohol tax. It is available in Asian markets.
Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from rice; there are six zillion varieties available, but unless you live near a large Asian community you may be able to only find a few. It is thought of as rice wine, but it is actually brewed like beer (in winemaking, alcohol is produced via the fermentation of naturally-occurring sugars; in sake and beer, the sugar has to be converted from starch before it can ferment). Available in liquor stores and well-stocked supermarkets.
Oyster sauce is – duh – made from oysters. It is a thick brown salty sauce that has the smell and flavor of oysters. Don’t run off screaming. When cooked in a dish like this, it becomes much less assertive and if you didn’t know it was an ingredient, you wouldn’t be able to tell. Since it does contain oyster extractives, it is not suitable for people with shellfish allergies. Available in Asian markets and well-stocked supermarkets.
Star anise is the fruit of an evergreen tree from Asia; it is harvested green and dried. It has a strong anise scent and flavor; anise seed could be substituted for it. Interesting note: star anise is the source of one of the main ingredients in the prescription drug Tamiflu. Available in Asian markets, spice shops, and well-stocked supermarkets, and possibly health food stores.
About soy sauce:
I use either Shoyu Low-Salt Soy Sauce or San-J Low-Salt Tamari. Soy sauce contains wheat; tamari does not (but check the label). For God’s sake, throw out the La Choy and get a decent brand of soy sauce. Asian markets have a good selection; at the very least, get some Kikkoman.
Grandmother’s Chinese Country-Style Pork Ribs
- 4 to 6 country-style pork ribs, about 1/2 to 3/4 pound each
- 1/3 cup sake
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 6 tablespoons brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons mirin
- 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
- 6 large thin slices fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon minced garlic
- 2 cloves star anise
- 1 dried hot chile or 1 teaspoon hot pepper flakes (pizza parlor type) – more if you want
- 1 cinnamon stick (do not substitute powdered cinnamon)
- 1/2 cup chopped onion
- 2 carrots, sliced
- Green onions/scallions
- Fresh cilantro (coriander)
- Sesame seeds
Heat heavy skillet or Dutch oven. When hot, add a little vegetable oil and then the ribs. Do not crowd the pan! If the meat is crowded in the pan, the meat will not brown and instead will steam. Do this in batches if necessary, removing meat as it is browned.
While ribs are cooking, combine all the sauce ingredients. Stir to dissolve brown sugar.
When all the ribs are browned, return all to the pan. Pour in the sauce and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cover, leaving lid slightly ajar so the sauce can begin to reduce.
Either cook on lowest heat on the stove, or put in a 300 degree oven and bake slowly until ribs are tender, 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. Edit: a friend asked if this could be made by browning the ribs in an electric skillet, then braising in a crock pot. I don’t see why not. You’d have to reduce the sauce later in the skillet, but I think it would work well.
Prepare the garnishes: thinly slice three or four green onions (scallions). Chop 1/2 cup cilantro (coriander). Lightly toast 2 tablespoons sesame seeds by putting them in a small dry skillet over medium heat and shaking the skillet frequently until they begin to pop and turn brown. Remove them from the pan as soon as they are toasted.
When the ribs are tender, remove them to a serving dish and keep warm. Put the pot containing the sauce on the stove and turn to high heat, boiling the sauce to reduce it. When the sauce has thickened, pour it over the ribs and then add the garnishes.
This sauce is very intense and rich, so accompaniments should be simple: steamed rice (or possibly mashed potatoes or polenta), steamed or grilled asparagus, sliced fruit like oranges or grapefruit, sauteed chard or spinach. Serve this with a ballsy red wine like a Zinfandel or Sangiovese – a big fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon would work too.