Sunday, May 06, 2012

Spare ribs, a numbers game, a recipe

I didn't have a wok...
The closest I've come to writing a recipe on this blog is at Margaret Xu's Detour event back in 2010, where she made tofu. I didn't really think I'd ever write about cooking (I'm not a great cook - not being humble - trust me), but since mid-last year, when I moved out of home (again), I found myself in a situation that I hadn't been in for about 6 years - having my own kitchen. And suddenly I've been cooking a lot more - baking, even (which is kind of how this blog started - can you believe it, I was blogging about baking) despite a tiny oven, so I will be documenting more cooking-related bits from now on. Plus, 10 months after moving in, I finally bought a wok today. I've also been joining some cool cooking classes recently, and have had no real outlet to talk about them - but duh, I have a food blog, why can't I post about cooking here?

So that was my very long explanation as to why I'm moving this recipe from my Tumblr blog (that no-one seems to read) to, well, here. I wrote this back in September 2011, you'll know why/what it was for as you read on. It's my mom's recipe - one of the dishes she almost always makes for guests, and which returning guests always ask for. Throughout the Internet, you'll find lots of similar recipes for this dish, which we call "12345 spare ribs" but is also more commonly known as "sugar vinegar spare ribs" / tong cho pai gwut / 糖醋排骨, but for some reason you'll see most of those with a very watery, light sauce. Ours is thick and sticky, like a super-dark toffee, and goes great with rice.

Here goes, the making of 12345 ribs, which I brought to a Rita’s baby’s birthday party. (Of course the ribs were not for the baby… the party was as much for us as it was for him… oops!). I don’t have a pic of the final product coz I spilled my sauce on the way there and descended into a pile of nerves. If you look carefully you’ll see the final result in Rita’s blog post. I stole a couple more photos from her:

Party food - Photo by Rita
By the way, it’s called 12345 ribs because of the proportion of ingredients. It’s probably one of my favourite dishes from my mom’s (very wide) repertoire, but it’s not hard to make at all, all you need is a little patience!


T = tablespoon, but as long as the proportion is right you'll be fine
C: = in Chinese

1 T Shaoxing wine (aka yellow wine or Huadiao) C: 紹興酒

2 T Chinkiang (aka Zhenjiang or dark Chinese) vinegar C: 鎮江醋

3 T soy sauce - (a combo of dark and light - less dark - maybe 1 T dark,  2 T light)

4 T rock sugar, slightly crushed C: 冰糖

5 T water

1 catty* C: 斤 pork ribs C: 一字排, cut into big cubes (bear in mind they shrink during cooking). Buy ribs that are quite fatty, but with evenly dispersed fat, rather than in thick layers.

*about half a kg - nb. in Mainland China, a catty is a bit lighter


In deepish pan (or a wok, of course), lightly brown pork ribs on medium-high heat. (Use your preferred method of greasing/oiling the pan. I tossed my ribs in oil to coat them).

Drizzle (or splash, evenly) wine over ribs and turn briefly to mix everything around for 20 secs.

Combine remaining liquids in a bowl and pour into pan, over the ribs.
Once the liquid starts to bubble, (almost immediately) turn the heat right down to low, put a lid on the pan and let it simmer.

When about half the liquid is gone, add rock sugar. Turn the contents in the pan every so often to make sure it doesn’t stick to the pan.

After about 5 mins, keep an an eagle eye on it, turning and breaking the sugar up as it cooks. Remember to keep the heat on low. (Impatience will destroy your dish - the sauce will split*). Turn every minute or so to keep coating the ribs with sauce.

At this point, you may want to taste the sauce (tongue burn alert). If it’s out of balance in any way, add vinegar, (light) soy or sugar as appropriate. Keep turning (towards the end you’ll almost be turning it non-stop, but be gentle or you’ll break bits of pork off the bones!) until the sauce is reduced to a sticky liquid, most of which would have coated the ribs, like a thick layer of molasses.

*If you find that the sauce is splitting (dark soy/vinegar combo separating from the oil) you can save it quickly by adding a couple tablespoons of water and mixing/whisking the sauce around in the pan rigorously.

Cutlery in an awesomely geeky lens cup, and my ribs in the background. Photo by Rita

1 comment:

  1. I'm buying some pai gwat today to make this for lunch tomorrow...will get back to you with comments. looks yum! completely up our alley!