Everyone has their go-to favourites at the Chinese restaurant. For me, it’s the delicious barbeque ribs. I like both BCR (British Chinese Restaurant) and more authentic Chinese cuisine. But if I could only have one thing, it has got to be the delicious, falling-off-the-bone, sweet and succulent barbeque ribs. And my favourite way to eat them is dipped and rolled in crispy seaweed. The trouble is, you can never get enough of either! Unless, that is, you make them at home. Fortunately, the process is painless and the results… delicious!
Follow the link for my crispy seaweed recipe.
The ‘secret’ to Chinese barbeque ribs is that they don’t reallyhave anything to do with barbeques. The cooking processes involved are simmering in liquid and then deep-frying. I suppose the reason behind the reference to barbeque is that the sauce has some similarities to American barbeque sauce (in colour, texture and some of the flavourings) and the meat is pork ribs, a staple of American barbeque.
Like it Wet or Dry? Saucing your ribs
Do you prefer your ribs slathered in barbeque sauce or dry and served with lemon? Can’t decide? Well you can always have both since the sauce is added at the end. Whichever way you like it, when you make this recipe you will end up with two products: the barbeque ribs and several portions of Chinese barbeque sauce. This sauce can be decanted into freezer-safe pots and stored until needed. In fact, one of the great benefits of this recipe is that everything can be made in advance and stored in the freezer. If you’re planning on Chinese ribs for lunch or dinner, simply put the ribs and a pot of sauce (if using) in the fridge to slowly defrost the night before. Preparing the ribs the next day will take little more than the time it takes to heat the oil to frying temperature.
Want big juicy ribs? Sourcing your ribs
To get the best out of this recipe you will need to source the best ribs you can. Supermarket ribs are, unfortunately, almost always not up to the task. They are typically all bone with very little meat. This is changing and meaty whole racks can be found here and there but this is limited to the big superstores, and even then you’ll be out of luck more often than not. Your local butcher is pretty much the only way to go here. You will get lots of lovely thick ribs and the butcher will be happy to trim the skirt and membrane and cut out individual ribs if you ask nicely.
How to make delicious meaty Chinese barbeque ribs
- A large pan suitable for deep-frying
- Tongs for lowering the ribs into the hot oil
- Fine mesh skimmer (preferred, you can made do with a large spoon)
- Oil for deep frying
- 1 kilo of meaty pork ribs
- Cinnamon stick and star anise (probably more than you think you need)
- Pinch of cloves
- 2 tbsp of garlic powder
- 2 tbsp of five spice
- 1 heaped tsp of white pepper
- 350g white sugar
- 1 large white onion
- 3 crushed garlic cloves
- 200g of hoisin sauce
- 2 tsp preserved bean curd (red)
- 60g tomato puree
Everything on the list should be easily sourced on the high street except the preserved bean curd. You will probably have to find a Chinese supermarket or shop online. This ingredient adds a great flavour but you can omit it and still have great tasting ribs. Please note that his recipe is simplified so that you can prepare fantastic, delicious ribs without using lots of expensive and difficult to source ingredients.
As Gregg Wallace might say: “Cooking doesn’t get much easierthan this!” Throw everything into a large pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and then simmer. Check after 45 minsbut, depending on the thickness of the ribs, you might need up to another 20 mins. You want them tender but still attached to the bone.
Once they are cooked, remove the ribs and drain before putting them in the fridge to cool.
DO NOT throw away the cooking liquid! This is the BBQ sauce you find in Chinese restaurants. Sieve to remove the lumps and hard bits, and then add a little water to thin to your taste.
To make the sauce
Pour the required amount into a pan (you’ll have several portions, put the rest in the freezer), thin with water and then add any other flavours you like: more sugar, something hot like sriracha, MSG and red food colouring if you want the full Chinese takeaway experience. Bring to the boil and then simmer until you are ready to use.
Deep-frying the ribs
Heat some oil to deep frying temperature: 170-180°C (340-350°F). Very carefully add the ribs to the hot oil. Because your ribs will likely be various sizes, keep a close eye on each one. The ribs will be coated in “sauce” left over from the cooking process; bits and pieces of this will float to the top of the oil. Carefully skim these off and discard.
Once all the ribs are cooked and the sauce has been brought to the boil in the pan, mix the two together and serve (to the great delight of your friends and chagrin of your enemies!).
An easy way to serve the ribs is on a bed of boiled rice. Garnishing with thinly sliced spring onions (scallions) and vibrant sliced red chillies makes for a simple but aesthetically pleasing presentation.
I always enjoy my ribs with the barbeque sauce but as I mentioned above they can be served dry with fresh slices of lemon. Now, the way I really enjoy my ribs is dipped and rolled in crispy seaweed. This adds a delicious flavour and pleasing contrast in textures. And who doesn’t love crispy seaweed? Follow this link for the recipe.