Monday, July 4, 2016

Wenzhou style caramelized pork ribs

Zhejiang’s cuisine is one of the lushest in China. Why we don’t have temples dedicated to nothing but their outrageously delicious dishes is completely beyond my comprehension. 

Its creations are not that hard most of the time, but simply require excellent ingredients and a generous hand with the alcohol and/or soy sauce and/or rock sugar and/or maltose. I mean, wouldn’t you want to eat sexy foods all the time if you had your druthers?

This province is located to the west of Shanghai and is Jiangsu’s southern cousin. All three cuisines are tightly interwoven in interesting ways. Chinese folks will generally tell you, though, that Zhejiang’s dishes tend to be on the sweet side, while Jiangsu’s are savorier, and Shanghai’s is a delicious mash-up of influences, mainly from China’s gorgeous seacoast and the wealth of the Yangtze River. And yes, Zhejiang does have a way with caramelization that leads to fabulous renditions of pork, shellfish, poultry, and even vegetables. I mean, use the search button on the right to find some decadent examples.
Mmmm, maltose
Today, though, you have one already in front of you. Wenzhou Style Caramelized Pork Ribs is all about pork and sugar blasted by hot fat and then turning into a sublime dish unlike anything you will find in the rest of China. It’s from Wenzhou, which is a fishing village on the coast renowned for its stellar way with ingredients.

Really simple, really delicious – this is a recipe to keep on hand when you need a good boost of flavor in your life. The caramelization in these ribs screams out for Shaoxing rice wine as the beverage of choice, with cold beer (go with something dark and rich, like chocolate stout) as an excellent alternative.

The only secret you need to know about this dish is that you must keep the pork moist. I do that by first marinating the ribs and then frying them quickly for the absolute minimum of time – you don’t want to overcook these guys. Once the meat is cooked through and the edges have blackened, serve them toot sweet. You will have lots of this slightly tart and very savory sauce hanging around afterward – use this to season other dishes. Just give it a taste, and you'll know what to do.

Wenzhou style caramelized pork ribs
Wēnzhōu zhá páigŭ 溫州炸排骨
Serves 2 to 4 (2 as a main dish, 4 if there are other things on the table)
Marinating ribs

1 pound / 450g pork ribs, cut in half by your butcher
2 tablespoons regular soy sauce
1 tablespoon (or more) finely chopped ginger
1 tablespoon / 12ml Shaoxing rice wine
1½ tablespoons maltose
1 cup / 240ml frying oil
1 green onion, trimmed and sliced into thin round

Dipping sauce:
¼ cup / 60ml regular soy sauce
¼ cup / 60 ml balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil

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 ginger. Heat the rice wine and maltose together to melt the maltose, and then mix this into the ribs, too. Give the meat time to absorb all these flavors – at least an hour and up to 3 days.

2. Have a plate, chopsticks, and either a Chinese spider or a slotted spoon set next to the stove. Drain any remaining meat marinade into a small saucepan. Pour about the frying oil into a wok and set it over medium heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the pork to the oil. Fry it on all sides until golden (about 10 minutes total), and then scoop it out and place it on the clean plate. This can be done ahead of time and the pork refrigerated.
Simmer down the sauce

3. Add the soy sauce and vinegar to the saucepan and simmer them together in a small saucepan until the liquid is reduced and it has the consistency of warm honey. Pour this into a shallow bowl.

4. Just before serving, raise the heat under the wok to medium-high and fry the ribs are until caramelized all over. Sprinkle on the green onions and serve immediately with the dipping sauce. Serve hot.

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