To be honest, I don’t think I have ever truly enjoyed BBQ ribs.  It has always been, to me at least, more enjoyable as an idea – the smile of the pit-master, the black smoker hissing under the Southern sun, the sense of all American lifestyle – than in actuality.  In actuality, I’ve been waiting my whole life so far, to be impressed, turned, proven wrong, by something that I so desperately would like to grow more fond of.  But in the end, picking at a pile of ribs that are often borderline dry and overly sweet, I always ended up wondering if I have missed something.

This isn’t to say, the rib’s problem.  In fact, any form of scanty meats adhering to a disproportionate amount of bones, that requires bare hands and  sheer fangs to tear down, I’m there.  In fact, the rib-hole that had been ironically left hollow in my long years spent in holy BBQ-land, was immediately filled and nurtured within a month after I moved here, by the most unlikely of all cuisines.  A Northern Chinese creation called, cumin spare ribs.  Typically you wouldn’t think the word “mild” is the most associated vocabulary for American BBQ ribs, where plenty of spices and smokes coincide in effort to achieve the opposite.  But when put side by side with Chinese’s answer to finger-licking ribs, that’s exactly how they will appear.



Cumin spare ribs don’t prove themselves by counting the hours they sit inside a black box (to dry out…).  They don’t wear the types of smoking woods on their shoulder to buff their credentials.  They don’t need the illusion of lifestyle and tradition for facade.  Cumin spare ribs don’t give a fuck about nothing else but one, and one thing only.  Don’t gimme that bullshit, just in the end, do I taste freaking-absolutely awesome?  And the freaking-absolutely YES-answer to that, breaks down to two factors – moistness, and flavours.

Here, a colossal slab of spare ribs usually with the rib-tips attached, is marinated for a few hours then cooked to gelatinous tenderness, in exclusively wet heat.  Either steamed, or for the convenience of some, wrapped in foil then baked, the wet heat allows the vulnerably thin layer of rib-meats to keep most of their juices and fat.  Then, and then, comes flavours.  Each ribs separated by their natural segments, dusted with just a whiff of thin flour, then shallow fried until golden and caramelized on all side.  Fried ribs, people, can there be more than that?  Well, yes!  Yes there can.  Because these babies are then tossed in a fir-storm of fried garlic, ginger, red chilis, scallions, ground white pepper and most of all, an obscene amount of smoky, bold and coarsely ground whole cumin seeds, to finish.

The combination, is lethal.  The dish, is addictive.  At the end of the tunnel, through a cloud of smoky, spicy, pungent and barbaric tearing of the meat off the bones, the only clear thought left capable to be composed, is pure happiness.  And the idea of BBQ, mentally and physically, miles away.




  • 41 oz (1160 grams) of spare ribs, uncut
  • Marinate:
  • 2 large scallions, cut into segments
  • 5 slices of ginger
  • 1 star anise, crushed
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3 tsp dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • To finish:
  • Canola oil for frying
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 3 small red chilis, diced
  • 4 tbsp cumin seeds, coarsely ground/crushed
  • 1 tsp ground white pepper
  • 1/2 ~ 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 3 tbsp finely diced scallions
  • Drizzle with chili oil if available


  1. TO MARINATE THE SPARE RIBS: Combine scallions, ginger, crushed star anise, soy sauce, dark brown sugar and salt together, then rub it evenly over the spare ribs. Let marinate for at least 2 hours to 4 hours, redistributing the marinate a few times in between.
  2. TO COOK THE SPARE RIBS: Wrap the spare ribs tightly with foil. You can steam the ribs over high heat for 40 min ~ 1 hour, until a fork can be easily inserted into the meat. Or bake in a 320 F/165C oven, for 1:30 ~ 2 hours until a fork can be easily inserted into the meat.
  3. TO FRY THE CUMIN RIBS: Combine minced garlic, minced ginger and diced chili together, set aside. In a spice-grinder or stone-mortar, pulse/pound the cumin seeds until coarsely ground, then mix with ground white pepper, set aside.
  4. Remove all the marinate from the ribs, then cut in between each rib-bones to separate. Add enough canola oil to a flat heavy-bottom (cast iron would be ideal) skillet until it reaches 1/2" (1 cm) deep, then set over medium-high heat. Very sparingly, dust the ribs with a bit of flour, then fry in the hot oil until browned on both sides. Remove the ribs, then drain the skillet until there's only 3 tbsp of oil left.
  5. Add the minced garlic/ginger/chili, and cook until fragrant (careful not to burn the garlic). Turn the heat down to medium-low, then add the ribs back into the skillet, along with the cumin/white pepper mixture. Toss and cook until the ribs are evenly coated in spices and fragrant. Add the diced scallions and re-season with sea salt. Drizzle with chili oil if available, then serve immediately.




  • This combination of frying and a spicy mix coating remind me of the one my grandmother used to do for chicken ribs. The off cuts so often thrown away turn into the moreish treats everyone wanted over buffalo wings.
    They are so much easier than normal ribs too! Thanks for the recipe flashback Mandy!

  • i was never a fan of ribs (like you) , so do you think i could use the same procedure for a whole chicken?

  • This looks fantastic! So the ribs don’t dry out when fried? I am going to have to try these, thank you!

  • Oh my goodness, I am so making these. I live in mainland China, and am so thrilled when I found your blog. It’s great gourmet (or the kind of food I love to make and eat), and as an Expat living in China I am over the moon having found your blog. :)

  • This confirms it. I have a serious crush on your food. You make all the things I didn’t know I wanted, but now feel I need. I’ve always felt the exact same way about ribs, but these look freakin’ amazing. I NEED to make these soon.

  • Thanks, but no thanks on this one. I like my ribs to taste like hickory-smoked, backyard, beer-chased, finger-lickin’ American goodness, not Chinese take-out. Sittin’ around the grill with blue-gray wafts of wood smoke perfuming the air is half the experience. To each his own, but this ain’t about to compare. Love you, though!

  • Growing up in Texas, I’ve been fortunate to encounter many a delicious BBQ rib. I’ve NEVER tried a friend version! Cumin + fry sounds ridiculously good…

  • Oh my god what these look SOOOO good. I want them now.

    Do you think this sort of marinade/flavoring would work for lamb?

    Also I just thought you should know that I have been obsessed with your recipes for a while, the only thing holding me back is the lack of ingredients on hand :( But I am going to an asian market soon and I’m super excited!

  • These sound delish and are going on my Pinterest board to make as soon as possible. LOVE your style and your naughty blog, it’s a breath of fresh air in a sea of pretentiousness!

  • I want to make this for dinner tonight and I want to try steaming them! BUT how do you steam your ribs? I’ve searched the internet to the point where I could probably wing it just fine, but what’s your method?! Also, love your blog. My boyfriend grew up on chinese and vietnamese food so he loves everything I cook for him from your blog :) THANKS (Also your sponge cake with chamomile cream is my favorite thing EVER)

    • Megan: Thanks!! If you don’t have a steamer, bring a lot of water to a boil inside a large pot (big enough for the ribs). Then put a bowl in the center and a plate on top, then the ribs wrapped inside foil on the plate. Everything has to fit inside the pot with the lid on, so you’ll need to play with the room a bit. Hope this helps!

  • I just made these tonight & I couldn’t wash my hands fast enough to write to say how amazing this was! & to thank you for sharing :) Now I’m dreaming of the marinade+spice mix for chicken wings to try next. yummmmmmm…

  • In addition to loving the recipes, the camera/lighting is amazing in the flicks. Could i inquire to what lens you are shooting with. 70-200?

  • I am so glad to have found you through another blog. I saw the photo of this recipe and thought it was eggplants. As I am a vegetarian will be giving it a go with them cause I think it would be SO good. Also as soon as summer comes and my corn grows will be doing your corn recipe. Thank you for all the inspiration.

  • I had my first experience with Hunan cuisine in Taipei, and my favorite dish were these riblets that were heavily spiced with cumin… Ever since I’ve been looking for them, and can’t find them on a menu anywhere.

    So I was excited when I found this recipe, and even more excited tonight when I successfully cooked it! I had the butcher cut the rib slab lengthwise so the rib bones were only 1/2 length, not full length. And I couldn’t find a suitable red pepper, so I used two serrano peppers and about 5 Japanese red pepper pods I found at a local international market. Other than that, I followed it spot on…

    …and it was incredible! Heavy spice, and heavily spicy, and delicious.

    Many thanks!

  • Quick question…

    After having such a great experience with this recipe, I was wondering about doing the ribs sous vide prior to the frying. Spare ribs done sous vide at ~145 degrees for 24 hours should be beautifully tender @ medium doneness, and thus not overcooked to the extent you need to cook spare ribs normally to achieve tenderness. I’m thinking I want to try this.

    Which brings me to the question. If doing the first cooking step via sous vide for a long time, would you sous vide them *IN* the marinade, or would you marinate them for 4 hours or so, then pull them out of the marinade and put them into the sous vide bags for the cook?

    Any thoughts?

  • Just FYI, I made these ribs last night using the sous vide method. I started the marinade Thursday night, put them in the SV bath at 152 degrees at about 5 PM Friday, and then pulled them out to fry in the wok about 6 PM Saturday.

    They came out wonderful. They were cooked to absolutely insane tenderness while being only ~medium doneness. And they remained an absolute flavor-bomb, as one would expect. I’d use this method again in a heartbeat.

  • Tried this recipe at the weekend. Was concerned about the amount of cumin, but went with it. OMFG these are amazing. Fall-aparty spicy deliciousness. They were even sexy the next day cold, even better the day after that shredded into a fried rice :P. Can’t wait to stuff more of these into our faces!

  • My friend’s house only has a grill and not stove. Is there a quick short cut (sorry for the annoyance) to adapt this recipe. Looks serious AMAZING MANDY!

  • I made these last night and they are so much better than traditional BBQ ribs. I made 2 racks of ribs and only one made it to the frying stage. These are so good just coming out of the oven with that ginger/star anise marinade that we had to stop and eat a rack before finishing the recipe one the second rack!

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