CARAMEL SOY SAUCE STICKY RIBS

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“Well I guess… I just have to KILL TWO BIRDS WITH ONE RIB”

It’s Chinese new year’s eve today and I.  Have.  Got.  Nothing.  To eat.

This is no doubt starting to become an alarming pattern over the last couple years… especially when this year, another major national event from the West is clashing head to head with CNY, clouding my already impaired judgement when it comes to curating content.  It’s CNY (looking right)… it’s Superbowl (looking left)…  Oh but it’s CNY (looking right)…  Woah but wait it’s Superbowl (looking left)!…  Oh shit I’m so confused!

Well I guess to be extremely lazy thoughtful and considerate, I just have to kill two birds with one rib.

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Sure you’ll understand my incentive to keep it short today… It’s new year’s eve and I mean I’ve got a room full of (glancing over my very empty apartment with the maddening repetition of “BIEBER” keep playing in the background CNN-noise, God I don’t caaaare!!!!)… laundries to do, and possibly, dinner to pick up from the only and very responsible restaurant that’s still open today.  Love my life.

Besides, do I really have to sell you ribs?

I mean who doesn’t like ribs?  (Slowly raising my own hands…) OK fine, as honesty and truth goes, they can be totally overrated sometimes.  What should’ve been at all times, gelatinous and succulent, can often times come disappointingly dry and under-flavoured, deceivingly passable for televised food-porn only.  And I’m going to boldly dictate that the reason to be, is because ribs aren’t really made for (bracing myself for the raining stones to come…) exposed dry heat – aka BBQ.  Or at least not for those of us who aren’t pit-masters, wielding an optimal cooking-environment with constant temperature and humidity.  Are you a pit-master?

Right.

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So I believe the best way to cook ribs at home, is to subject them to a generous amount of braising liquid in an air-tight environment.  A “steam box” if you will, in your own oven.  And only until they are “steamed” to perfectly fork-tenderness, only then, you unwrap and glaze them with the reduction of their very own braising sauce.

Well, of course not just any sauce.

You shall do it with this ferociously glossy and sticky concoction, with a popping colour powered by a dominant amount of homemade caramel, soy sauce and apple juice with just a hint of five-spice powder.  It strikes a strangely addictive balance between borderline-overly sweet and borderline-under salty, and then there’s that slight tang from mustard and… tingling things from cayenne.  Does that make sense?  It lands on a very delicate sweet spot.  “Oh wow mmmmmm…..” is what came out of Jason who, for the record, isn’t a ribs-person either.  So you know.

Well, now I’ve got some TV-dinner to pick up… you go ahead and enjoy life without me.

And plus, hey Beib, just grow the fuck up.

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Serving:  OK, so I forgot to weight the ribs before cooking…  But I would estimate that it falls safely in between 35 oz ~ 42 oz (1 kg ~ 1.2 kg), and should feed more than 6 people.

UPDATE: 2014/02/02.  Thanks to a reader who noticed I had the oven temperature written as 300ºF/150ºF (both fahrenheit), and it should be 300ºF/150ºC.  Sorry.

Ingredients:

  • 35 oz ~ 42 oz (1 kg ~ 1.2 kg) of babyback ribs or spareribs
  • Caramel soy sauce:
    • 8 (70 grams) large scallions, cut into segments
    • 1 tbsp of oil for frying
    • 1/3 cup (66 grams) of granulated sugar
    • 1/2 cup (110 grams) of soy sauce
    • 1/2 cup (110 grams) of apple juice
    • 1/8 cup (40 grams) of shao-xing wine, or other Chinese yellow cooking wine
    • 6 cloves of garlic, smashed
    • 2 tbsp (36 grams) of Dijon mustard
    • 2 tsp of ground cayenne pepper
    • 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika
    • 1/4 tsp + 1/8 tsp of five-spice powder
    • 1/4 tsp of freshly ground black pepper
  • To finish:
    • 1 tbsp of dark brown sugar + 1/2 tbsp for adjusting
    • 1/2 tsp of rice vinegar (important)
    • Ground white pepper for sprinkling
    • A few sprigs of scallion, finely diced

This can be made the day before:

Preheat the oven on 300ºF/150ºC.  Clean and dab the ribs dry with a clean towel, and set them meat-side down over a deep baking sheet that allows the ribs to lay in one single layer as perfectly as possible.

Combine soy sauce, apple juice and shao-xing wine inside a cup (this is just for easy pouring), set aside.  In a sauce pot, heat up 1 tbsp of oil over high heat, then cook the scallions until deeply browned and almost charred.  Remove the scallions and set aside.  Add the granulated sugar into the same pot and melt over medium heat.  Once the edges against the pot begins to melt, stir slowly to incorporate the rest, until all the sugar has melted and turned into dark/amber-color caramel (the pot will start to smoke up which is a good indicator to the sugar caramelizing).  The second the sugar reaches the desired color, immediately remove the pot away from the heat and add the soy sauce/apple juice/wine mixture.  The liquid will bubble up then quickly subside.  Return the pot back to the heat (the caramel may have solidified but don’t worry, it will melt back into the liquid), and add the browned scallions, smashed garlic, Dijon mustard, ground cayenne, smoked paprika, five-spice powder and ground black pepper.

Simmer the sauce for 7~10 min on low heat, and turn off the heat and let the sauce cool for 20 min.

Pour the sauce over the ribs and use your hands to evenly coat every surface of the ribs with sauce.  Cover the baking-sheet tightly with foil then bake in the oven for 3 ~ 3:30 hour.  Re-baste the ribs with sauce about twice during baking.  When the ribs are done, you should be able to insert a fork effortlessly into the meat.  If you’re serving the ribs the next day, keep them covered tightly with foils and keep in the fridge.

One hour before serving:

(If you have kept the ribs in the fridge, warm them in a 300ºF/150ºF oven just until the sauce has come back to a liquid).  Carefully remove the ribs with a wide spatula (seriously… the ribs are pretty “fragile” at this point, especially when they’re hot), and lay them meat-side up this time in another baking-sheet.  Remove any scallions and garlics attached to the ribs, then cover with plastic-wrap while you prepare the sauce.

Preheat the top-broiler on medium.

Pour the sauce out of the deep baking-sheet, through a fine strainer, into a sauce pot (you should have something a bit shy from 2 cups).  Skim off as much fat as you can from the surface and bring the sauce to a simmer over medium-low heat.  At the point, adjust the sweetness with 1 tbsp of dark brown sugar or more (I added about 1 1/2 tbsp), and let the sauce reduce down by about 2/3 (leaving you with a bit more than 1/2 cup).  The sauce should have thickened quite a bit.  Now turn off the heat and mix in 1/2 tsp of rice vinegar (do not underestimate the vinegar which is going to bring the sauce alive).

Brush the sauce over the ribs, and place the baking sheet on the middle-upper rack under the broiler.  Once the surface of the ribs starts to sizzle and bubble up, baste another layer of sauce over and bake until bubbly and sticky again.

Sprinkle the ribs with a bit of finely diced scallions and ground white pepper (do not… underestimate the white pepper which is gonna… you know… alive).

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11 Comments

  • I would not care if it was game day or CNY. I would got o effort of making this any day ( but then that defeats the purpose of your post right?). I am drolling over that glaze and the glorious burnt bits!!!
    So cool you made your own caramel soy sauce; When I make this it can be used for more than just ribs right?

  • Brianne says:

    We smoked baby back ribs in our Weber grill once. The end result was awesome, but the insane amount of effort required for those results was not. I would much rather sit on the couch and watch trashy TV online while my ribs steam in the oven :) We’re going to a Chinese New Year potluck tomorrow night; my husband is making shrimp and candied walnuts, the dish he made the night we started dating! He hasn’t made it since, so I’m pretty excited about it. Happy New Year!

  • cynthia says:

    hahaha, brilliant, Mandy!!! i was just thinking how hilariously bipolar the recipe offerings have been this week with LNY and the Super Bowl on the same weekend. Trust your fabulous self to have the one recipe to rule them all…. Mmmm, these look so delicious. A favorite of my dad’s. I”ll have to try when I’m feeling brave!

  • Janet says:

    As PoPo to four wonderful grandchildren, I thought my only job is to find little red envelopes and put money in them. Now I understand that I owe it to the entire family to make these ribs. And I especially owe it to myself. Maybe I should test them on myself. . .

  • Matt says:

    Do you know if it would be possible to sub the Chinese cooking wine for something else? Unless I drive into Houston I don’t have access to pretty much any Chinese specific cooking items, except for the average ones kept in stock at HEB or Kroger.

    Going to give them a shot later this month I hope!

    • Mandy L. says:

      Matt, my first substitute would be any Chinese rice wine, or Japanese sake. There are websites that suggest “pale dry sherry”, and “gin”??? I’m not sure about gin, but it seems lots of people suggests sherry. Hope it works out!

  • Neal says:

    I made these ribs yesterday for the game.
    This was my first time using this website for recipes. Ribs turned out spectacular.
    I usually smoke mine, but I followed the recipe with a few substitutions.
    I used Szechuan peppercorns instead of black peppercorns, added a few ghost pepper flakes to spice it up more.
    Substituted a dry sake for the Chinese wine.

    I did not get the 2 cups of sauce to cook down. I ended up with closer to 1/2 cup of glorious sticky goodness. Ended up making more of the original glaze and just cooking it down.

    Great recipe.

  • Laurel says:

    I made these for my husband tonight for Valentine’s Day, and they are awesome. A bit spicy for me, but he loved them!

  • These are currently in my oven for dinner. Can. Not. Wait.

  • Frank Lowe says:

    Recipe sounds great,……but what I usually do before adding sauce or cooking, is remove the silverskin from the back of the ribs, that skin keeps the sauce from getting to the meat. The effort is really rewarded when you chomp down on those ribs, the flavour goes right through.

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