Sticky sweet

Sometimes it’s best to let the picture speak for itself. Especially when it’s too hot to type, and you still have a page of your thesis to write before bedtime. At least the sticky New Haven heat is giving me incentive to finish this damn degree already, and escape somewhere else — anywhere, really. (Aha — now you know why I’ve been sticking to food lately. Aside from my vacation, there really hasn’t been much to report. That and I don’t have time to read a newspaper. But I digress. Did I mention we stood 100 feet from a mountain lion and survived? 😛 I don’t think we looked as good as these ribs…)

Palm sugar, crushed

Anyway, we made these char siu-style ribs on Sunday night, after the skies opened up and emptied their contents in a matter of minutes (or so it seemed).  They were AMAZING — worth every second in the oven.  I kind of missed them tonight, when we decided on a simple salad (with fresh lettuce! from our garden! complete with mini slug-like things for extra protein… kidding) because it was just too hot to cook. Not that I have anything against salads, of course.

My recipe is based on this recipe from the Cook and the Chef. I substituted a few things here and there to accommodate my pantry (like the palm sugar, above, in place of yellow rock sugar), and skipped the pork neck in favor of spare ribs, just because we had them. Choose a fatty cut of pork, whatever you do — you need the fat to keep the meat tender as they cook. I’m not sure if this is incredibly authentic, but I did my best with what I had.  They turned out beautifully — tender and delicious, with the perfect sweet / salty balance.

Chinese-style barbecue spare ribs

Serves 2.

Plan ahead — you need to let the meat marinate for 6-12 hours before you start cooking (for ~1.5 hours). You can also use this technique for other cuts of meat. Duck is another traditional option, but I imagine any relatively fatty cut of meat will work pretty well, as long as its flavor doesn’t compete with the marinade ingredients. Lamb, for example, probably wouldn’t be my first choice. I only wish there were leftovers …

  • 5-6 fatty spare ribs


  • 3/4 c. tamari. The original recipe called for a mix of light and dark soy, but I only had tamari in the house. As excited as I am about the recent renovation of my local Chinese market, I’m not about to rush out there and buy soy sauce just because Simon says I ought to…
  • sesame oil (~1 T., but you want to add this last, and give the marinade a taste. It shouldn’t be the primary seasoning in this marinade).
  • 1″ piece fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 spring onions, chopped
  • 2 star anise. These things are potent, so be careful if you decide to up the quantity here.
  • 1 t. ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 c. palm sugar, ground. The original recipe called for yellow rock sugar, pounded, which I didn’t have. The palm sugar was a nice substitute, I think, but I imagine cane sugar, or even a mix of granulated and brown sugar, would work just as well.
  • 1 t. five spice powder. I used a store-bought brand, because I have a decent one on hand, but you can make your own.


I include the proportions I used here, but you can probably safely cut this in half.

  • 300 g. sugar. Yes, this is a lot of sugar — about 1-3/4 c.
  • ~1/4 c. water
  • ~1/2 c. tamari

Day 1, or in the morning:

Mix all marinade ingredients in bowl. Coat spare ribs thoroughly, cover with plastic wrap, and marinate in the fridge for 6-12 hours.

Day 2, or dinner time:

Place a large pan full of water in the bottom of your oven. This pan is going to help keep your meat tender, which is key for something like spare ribs, which tend to perform best when cooked low and slow.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  While you’re waiting, drain off most (but not all) the marinade from the pork ribs, and place in a shallow baking pan.  When the water is hot (the oven should be a bit steamy), place the spare ribs in the center of the oven.  Turn the oven down to 325°F.

Cook for 20 minutes. In the meantime, assemble the marinade, by heating the water and sugar, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved, and then adding in the soy sauce. Careful — this could splatter a bit. Set this aside, off the heat, while the pork continues cooking.

Turn the spare ribs over, and cook for 20 minutes more. Then brush one side of the ribs with the glaze. Cook for 10 minutes more. Turn the ribs again, brush the glaze on, and cook for another 10 minutes. Repeat for two more turns, or until the glaze has formed a glossy, sticky layer over the pork and the meat is cooked through.

Remove from oven and serve after allowing the ribs to cool for five minutes. This goes nicely with rice and simple steamed veggies, topped with a bit of ginger and soy. I did all the sides in the oven, while the meat was cooking, which made this dinner much easier than it could have been (and kept heat sources in my kitchen to a minimum).

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Filed under barbecue, ginger, main, pork

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