Sunday 13 October 2013

Recipe: Spare Ribs

This recipe is a bit long-winded, but the results are excellent.


1.5kgSpare ribs
60g lard
1t Fennel, ground
1t Sichuan pepper, ground
1 Cao guo (or "false cardamom")
1 Piece of cassia bark (finger-sized)
2 Star anise
1 Onion, finely chopped
3 Cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 Slices of root ginger, finely chopped
500ml Water
500ml Chicken stock
2t Salt
(1T = one tablespoon = 15ml; 1t = one teaspoon = 5ml)


Bring a large pan of water to the boil. (I use a 10 litre stock-pot.) Add the ribs, bring the water back to the boil and leave the ribs to cook for a further 5 minutes. Skim off the scum which rises to the surface. Lift out the ribs and transfer them to a slow-cooker.

Heat the lard in a frying pan and when hot add the fennel, Sichuan pepper, cao guo, cassia bark and star anise. After 1 minute add the onion and cook this until it is brown (around 5 or 10 minutes). Add the garlic and ginger when the onion starts to turn brown: they don't want to cook for so long, only a minute or two. When it's ready, tip the contents of the frying pan into the slow-cooker with the ribs.

Use the 500ml of water to deglaze the frying pan, and add this to the slow-cooker too. Also add the chicken stock and salt to the slow-cooker.

Cook at a gentle heat for 3 hours, moving the ribs around every hour or so.

Lift the ribs out onto a roasting tray and strain the liquid from the slow-cooker through a sieve into a saucepan. Skim off the fat into a container and keep it to hand. Reduce the sauce on a high heat.

Place the roasting tray containing the ribs in an oven pre-heated to to 200°C (= gas mark 6 = 400°F). After 15 minutes, turn the ribs and baste them with some of the skimmed fat. Return to the oven for a further 10 minutes.


This recipe evolved from a combination of other recipes, mostly those of Kenneth Lo and Ken Hom. It's not clear to me which of the fiddly details is really necessary to produce an excellent result, and I haven't gone to the trouble of scientifically experimenting to find out. I think that frying the spices and then basting the ribs with the oil at the end must make a significant difference, because that should transfer fat-soluble flavours more reliably to the final product.

As an alternative to putting the salt in with the stock-pot ingredients, you can instead grind salt over the ribs when you place them in the roasting tray, and then again on their other side after you turn them over and baste them with fat.

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