Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Chinese Sticky Ribs

During my self-appointed day of cooking on Whidbey Island, I asked if anyone had a dinner request. Without missing a beat Minh-Hai piped up, “Chinese Sticky Ribs!” I like a challenge.

I’d never made sticky ribs before so I had to defer to the experts. But some of the more traditional recipes called for the likes of Chinese rose water, plum sauce and dried oysters, ingredients that the nearby Casey’s Red Apple probably didn’t carry. Luckily Cook’s Country came to the rescue.

Their recipe requires braising the ribs for a few hours in a flavorful mixture of soy sauce, sugar, fresh ginger, garlic, hoisin sauce, sherry and cilantro sprigs. After the meat is fall-off-the-bone tender, it gets brushed with a sticky, sweet glaze followed by a few flips under the broiler until deep mahogany in color.

We were on island time so it didn’t matter that the ribs reached the table well after 9pm. Despite the crappy lighting not doing them justice in this photo, you can trust me when I say this recipe is legit. The outside of the meat had those lovely sticky charred bits while the tender inside barely required chewing. They were so addictively delicious that I found myself gnawing on the bones well after the meat was gone.

As we were eating, fingers and faces covered in sticky glaze, Minh-Hai said, “I just dreamt this up and here it is!” That’s exactly what cooking is all about.

Chinese Sticky Ribs
If you don’t have dry sherry on hand, use one part apple cider vinegar and one part water. I wasn’t able to find hot pepper jelly but apple jelly worked beautifully. Since some of the heat was missing, I also upped the spice by adding a tablespoon or two of Sriracha sauce. Next time I’ll add even more! Slightly tweaked from a Cook’s Country recipe.

2 racks St. Louis style or baby back ribs (2-1/2 to 3-1/2 lbs each)

1 cup hoisin sauce

1 cup sugar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/2 cup dry sherry (or a mix of 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar and 1/4 cup water)

1 6-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced into rounds

1 1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

30 sprigs fresh cilantro stems (reserve leaves for glaze), chopped

8 scallions, white parts only, cut into 1-inch pieces (reserve green parts for garnish)
Optional: extra Sriracha or chili sauce (I added 2 tablespoons)


1 10-oz jar hot red pepper jelly or apple jelly

1/2 cup cider vinegar

1/4 cup minced fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Reserved scallion greens, thinly sliced
Extra Sriracha or chili sauce to taste

Adjust the oven rack to the middle and heat to 350°F. 

Remove the silver skin from the back of the ribs. Combine the rib marinade in a large roasting pan. Add the spareribs and coat well. Cover with heavy foil and cook, meat side down, 2 1/2 to 3 hours or until just tender. Remove ribs to a plate.

Strain the cooking liquid and put 3 cups into a large nonstick skillet. Skim the fat. Add the jelly and vinegar. Simmer over medium high heat until reduced to 2 cups. Off the heat, stir in the cilantro and cayenne (and Sriracha or chili sauce, if using).

Heat the broiler (don't raise the oven rack!). Pour enough water into the roasting pan to cover the bottom. Fit pan with roasting rack, arrange ribs on rack and brush with glaze. Broil until the ribs begin to brown, flip over, and brush with more glaze. Continue flipping, glazing and broiling every few minutes until the ribs are deep mahogany (I only needed to do this 3 times). Move to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest 10 minutes. Slice, glaze again if desired, and garnished with scallion greens. Serve with sticky rice and lots of napkins!

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