Have you ever had Short Ribs Braised in Soy Sauce with Star Anise? It’s my favourite way to prepare ribs and also one of the best Chinese dishes I have ever had. Simmered for long hours in soy sauce seasoned with star anise, garlic and cinnamon, they end up falling off the bone, covered in a sticky thick fragrant sauce… In short, a pure delight. You might ask: why fiddle with such a perfect dish? Most of all, to be able to enjoy something similar as often as I wish, without feeling guilty. The other reason is the difficulty to get good quality (read: not antibiotic-pumped) pork ribs because they are not popular here and the better the meat quality, the less cuts are on offer.
Faced with such limitations, I have started to experiment with different leaner and/or more accessible cuts with not completely satisfying results until I tested tenderloin, which proved perfect because it is easy to find, lean and not too dry, even after one hour of simmering. In this particular case the only imperfection is the lack of gelatinous natural thickener for the sauce. Corn flour (aka corn starch), incorporated at the end, was the perfect solution to this problem and the result was just what I had aimed at. I was able to indulge into this marvellous, comforting, fragrant dish without feeling guilty (which doesn’t mean I don’t prefer the full-fat spare-rib version which remains a rare treat). Accidentally, this version is much quicker than the original one which requires about three hours.
The original recipe was taken from “Le Tour du monde de la cuisine. Chine” (China (World Food)) by Annabel Jackson (I’m afraid no longer sold anywhere online).
If you have never had the original version made with pork ribs, I strongly encourage you to try it first:
This has got nothing to do with this particular dish, but I wanted to share with you some hilarious photographs of English mistakes in restaurant menus. I have stumbled upon them on the Telegraph website. Some have really made me cry… http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/picturegalleries/6193716/Sign-Language-special-restaurant-menus.html?image=1 (Click at the right arrow to see the following photograph.)
TIP: It is very important to use both kinds of soy sauce: the dark one and the light one. They are both sold in every Asian shop and keep for eternity out of the fridge. The dark soy sauce is thicker and is almost black.
Preparation: about 1 hour
Ingredients (serves two – three):
500g/about 1 lb pork tenderloin cut into rather big but bite-sized pieces
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)
1 slightly heaped tablespoon corn flour (corn starch)
Marinate the tenderloin pieces in dark soy sauce for at least 20 minutes (you can leave overnight too).
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 uncovered for about 1 hour (or more) until the sauce reduced to the required amount (you can increase the heat to accelerate the process). At the end mix the corn flour with 4 tablespoons of cold water and, constantly stirring, incorporate into the sauce. Cook until the sauce thickens.
Serve with rice or bread and pickles.