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Sweet and Sour Glazed Spare Ribs

Sweet and Sour Glazed Spare Ribs
T. Susan Chang for NPR /

I discovered these in Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook: Recipes from Hunan Province (Norton 2006) by Fuchsia Dunlop, whom I revere. The ribs are sticky, sweet, fantastically addictive finger food. No problem eating them warm or room-temperature, so you can just set them aside while you're dealing with the pancakes. For the ingredients, it's best to hit an Asian supermarket. The riblets, chopped into knobby little chunks, will be in the frozen section. The black vinegar will be near the soy sauce. It might be hard to find them at first, but once you do you'll never have trouble finding them again. Asian groceries almost never re-organize.

If you can't find the pork riblets, here's an alternative: Buy some baby back or St. Louis-style pork ribs and ask your butcher to cut them crosswise, or "flanken-style," into 1 1/2 -inch wide strips. It will then be easy for you to cut the strips into segments, between the bones.

4 servings

1 pound meaty spare ribs, cut into bite-size sections (go to your nearest Asian grocery for these)

2 (1-ounce) pieces fresh ginger, unpeeled and crushed with the side of a cleaver or chef's knife

4 scallions, white parts only, crushed

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 tablespoon Shaoxing cooking wine (Chinese cooking wine, found at any Asian grocery store near the soy sauce and many regular supermarkets) or dry sherry


2 teaspoons dark soy sauce (thicker and darker than regular soy sauce; Pearl River is a popular brand. Regular soy sauce works as a substitute, but the color won't be as dark.)

4 tablespoons white sugar

1 tablespoon Chinkiang or "black" vinegar (available at Asian grocery stores)

1 teaspoon sesame oil

Vegetable oil for cooking

Place the ribs in a large pot filled with water and bring to a boil over a high flame. Skim the water then add one piece of ginger, two pieces of scallion, the Shaoxing wine and salt to taste. Boil for 15 minutes, until the meat is cooked and tender; strain and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid.

Place the oil in a wok over high heat. Add the remaining scallions and ginger and stir-fry until fragrant. Add the ribs and toss for a couple of minutes in the fragrant oil.

Add slightly less than 1 cup of the reserved cooking liquid, the dark soy sauce and the sugar, with a little salt to taste (take care not to oversalt, because the liquid will eventually be reduced to a glaze). Simmer over a medium flame, spooning the liquid over the ribs, until the sauce has reduced to a heavy, syrupy consistency.

Add the vinegar and cook for another 1 to 2 minutes, until the flavors have fused.

Remove from heat and stir in the sesame oil. Serve or keep warm in a 200-degree oven until ready to serve.

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