Monday, July 18, 2016

Boozy pork ribs - you need this recipe

Just a quick note to my lovely readers before we get going on this week's recipe:
- There is a quick story by me on the program called "The World" on Public Radio International.
- The summer grilling issue of Saveur features a big article on the Uyghur cuisine of Xinjiang with my recipes and features some friends of ours in Ürümqi. It's not online yet, but is on newsstands as we speak...
- The new Ghostbusters reboot by Paul Feig features a Chinatown design my husband and I helped with as cultural advisors, including the GB headquarters and surrounding buildings. 

Now, back to eating!

This is heavenly stuff. Easy to make, these ribs are downright aromatic just about every step of the way. 

First you marinate the pork in nothing but soy sauce, but when you fry it, the soy sauce caramelizes and turns your kitchen into a sweet-smelling chamber. 

I would cheerfully wear this scent instead of Chanel No. 5 because everyone would love me for it and I could forego any attempts at a fashioning some sort of personality. I am not proud of this fact, but want to be honest here.

The sauce is just as delicious-smelling. Wafts of fermented wine mix with ginger and green onions to form an alcoholic cloud, and when the pork is added, the perfumes seem to magnify.

Caramelization is the best
And when the meat has been cooked to absolute perfection, it transforms into tender pillows held together by those terribly convenient bones, which allow for relaxed snacking. The caramelized pork juices will have married perfectly with the wine and sugar, giving you a lovely balance of sweet and savory.

Boozy Pork Ribs is a great dish for any time of year. It’s also insanely easy to master the first time around. I’d serve this with either warm Shaoxing rice wine or a really cold stout.

Boozy pork ribs
Xiāngzāo lăozĭpái 香糟老子排
Serves 4 as an appetizer, bar snack, or entree 

1 pound / 450g pork ribs, cut in half by your butcher
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce (see Tips)
1 cup frying oil
2 green onions, trimmed and finely chopped (keep most of the green leaves separate for the final step)
¼ cup / 30g finely chopped ginger
Stir-fry the aromatics
¾ cup / 180ml fermented rice (homemade or store-bought), both solids and liquid
1 tablespoon rock sugar, or more as needed (see Tips)
¾ cup / 180ml boiling water

1. Cut between the bones of the ribs so that each bone is surrounded by meat. Toss the ribs in a work bowl with the soy sauce and marinate for a couple of hours (or even a couple of days) so that the meat absorbs the soy sauce. Drain the ribs and discard any leftover marinade.

2. Pour the frying oil in the wok and set it over medium-high heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add a handful of the ribs and fry them until they are lightly caramelized on all sides, about 10 minutes. Remove to a work bowl. Repeat with the rest of the ribs. Pour out all but about a tablespoon of oil.

Add the green onions leaves
3. Set the wok back over high heat. Add the whiter parts of the green onions as well as the ginger, and then stir-fry them to release their fragrance. (The soy sauce will have caramelized at the bottom of the wok, so take care that the aromatics don’t burn – do this by stirring constantly and removing the wok from the heat once they are golden.) Add the fermented rice, sugar, and water, bring this to a boil, and then slide in the ribs. 

4. Stir these around a bit and then reduce the heat to medium-low, or to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook the ribs for about 30 minutes, or until tender. Toss in the reserved green onions. Arrange the ribs on a serving plate. Reduce the sauce until thick and pour over the ribs. Serve hot or warm.


Every soy sauce and fermented rice is different, respectively, in terms of saltiness and sweetness. So, err on the side of less when you toss in condiments and seasonings like these, as you can easily add more. 

In this case, the fermented rice in particular can be everything from sour to highly alcoholic to saccharine – it all depends on what you have. Take a taste of it before you use it (a good idea with any seasoning, to be honest), and then adjust the sugar accordingly.

As is true for so many Chinese braises, try to hunt down rock sugar, preferably yellow rock sugar, which has not been bleached. This sort of sugar will make a world of difference in your dishes, for sauces and sweet soups will not have the slightly sour that white sugar can impart, and it lends an amazing sheen to porky or chicken creations like this. I mean look at these ribs. They shine like a rock diva. 

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