Like many Europeans, I used to be convinced that quick stir-frying was the only Chinese cooking method. I still remember how surprised I was when several years ago I saw a three-hour recipe in a Chinese cookery book. Intrigued by the long cooking time and the unusual mixture of seasonings, I decided to give it a go as quickly as possible. Thus I discovered the slow side of the Chinese cuisine, tasted my first braised spare ribs and was totally seduced. Since then, every time I buy spare ribs, they end up simmered in soy sauce with garlic, star anise and cinnamon.
This is one of these dishes where fatty meat cuts taste incomparably better than lean ones and the more bones they contain, the better. In short, spare ribs are perfect here. No wonder in China fatty and bone-in cuts cost often more than the lean ones. The Chinese probably know better pork than any other nation since traces of pigs bred for meat there go back as far as 10 000 years backwards! The fork-tender meat (thank you, Karen, for this imaginative expression), covered in sticky, aromatic sauce is irresistible to any pork fan and softened, but still crunchy cartilage bits are a pure delight. The garlic cloves not only season the meat and the sauce, but they become so palatable, I keep on increasing their number each time I prepare the ribs.
I know this photo is far from being convincing, but making simmered spare ribs look appetising is apparently far beyond my photographic skills. Moreover, I only prepare it for dinner and artificial light photography is still a mystery to me, so I only hope you will believe me if I say the succulent result is worth waiting for not only three but ten hours.
I have found this recipe in the humble-looking “Le Tour du monde de la cuisine. Chine” (China (World Food)) by Annabel Jackson (I’m afraid no longer sold anywhere online), a book bought for a penny in a unsold titles’ department and which proved to be a source of many Chinese meals I have prepared.
UPDATE: Sylvia, from Peaches and Doughnuts, has just reminded me of the braised spare ribs she has posted ten days ago. Click here to see her wonderful, slightly different but also highly aromatic version.
TIP: Ask the butcher to cut the spare ribs in two (horizontally). They will be easier to handle while cooking and easier to eat. (If you have a cleaver and are used to handle it, you can do it at home too).
I wouldn’t advise replacing spare ribs with lean pork meat unless you buy tenderloin (not loin!). See here my light version of this dish prepared with tenderloin.
Even though this dish is time-consuming, it is very easy and practically effortless because once the meat starts to simmer, it can be left without stirring for two hours.
I usually serve these ribs with white rice or bread and with strong pickles. I have recently discovered that it tastes great with kimchi (click here to see the Radish Kimchi recipe or here to see the Easy Cabbage Kimchi or here to check the Easy Cucumber Kimchi recipe).
Preparation: min. 3 hours
Ingredients (serves 2):
600 g spare ribs (preferably cut in two, since shorter once are easier to simmer)
3 tablespoons dark thick soy sauce
1 whole head of garlic (or more if you are a big garlic fan)
2 tablespoons oil or pork fat
1/2 stick cinnamon
2 star anise fruits
4 tablespoons light soy sauce
175 ml water
2 tablespoons cane sugar (or 3 sugar cubes)
Marinate the pork ribs in dark soy sauce for at least 20 minutes.
Peel the garlic head, separate the cloves, but don’t peel them.
Fry the garlic cloves until they become golden.
Add the cinnamon, the star anise, stir fry for one minute.
Add the pork and let it brown a little.
Pour the light soy sauce, the water, add the sugar and let the dish simmer first uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring regularly, then covered for 1 1/2 – 2 hours (or more). The meat, gently pushed with a fork, should go off the bones easily. When the meat is already soft, take off the lid, increase the heat, cook until the liquid evaporates and forms a thick sticky sauce.