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My mom's Chengdu braised spare ribs

TorontoJo Jul 19, 2011 04:58 PM

I grew up with these and made them recently for a local chowhound gathering. The reception was positive enough that I figured I'd pass the recipe along. it doesn't get much easier and the results are soooo delicious -- sticky, savoury and sweet. Best eaten with steamed rice and some stir fried Chinese greens of your choice.

The original recipe from some tattered old Chinese cookbook called for marinating, then deep frying the ribs. My mom adapted the recipe to be faster and less messy at the stove.

Chengdu Braised Ribs

3 lbs of baby back pork ribs that the butcher has cut vertically across in 2 or 3 pieces (against the bone).

Rinse the ribs well under cold water to ensure the bits of bone are washed away. Dry well, and then separate/cut each rib between the bones. Brown the ribs in small batches and drain the fat from the pot. Throw all the ribs back into the pot with the following:

1/2C brandy
1/2 to 2/3C rock sugar (depending on how sweet you prefer)
2/3C soy sauce
1/2C water

Bring to a boil then cover and cook for 45 mins to 1 hour, giving the ribs a stir every 15 mins or so. Remove cover and simmer, stirring occasionally until liquid is reduced to a glaze.

Notes: You can stop the recipe after the initial 1 hour braise and chill it overnight to let the flavors develop and also let the fat congeal. I usually remove a cup of fat from the top, before reheating and doing the reduction.

  1. TorontoJo Jul 21, 2011 12:54 PM

    Oh! And a great "frugal cook" tip passed on from my mom. After you make the ribs, you will normally have a fair bit of the glaze/braising liquid left over. Do not throw it out! It can be reused in any number of ways, but my favorite is to simmer some firm tofu or peeled, hard boiled eggs in it (you can add some water to thin it out if it's too thick). Or honestly, sometimes I just dump it over steamed rice and eat with some veggies.

    2 Replies
    1. re: TorontoJo
      chowser Jul 21, 2011 02:27 PM

      I wonder if you could put hard boiled eggs, unpeeled but cracked into the braise the last 15-20 minutes, like tea eggs. I love soy sauce meat (I have no idea what it's really called but it's what we grew up calling it--with pork butt braised in soy sauce, star anise, etc and peeled hard boiled eggs).

      1. re: chowser
        TorontoJo Jul 21, 2011 03:04 PM

        I think that's a great idea. And yes, that's another dish that I absolutely love. I love the eggs cooked like that -- "lu dan" in mandarin (though I'm sure my pinyin is wrong). These eggs very much remind me of those.

    2. bushwickgirl Jul 21, 2011 05:02 AM

      The spring rolls, ribs and bacon fried rice sounds like the making of a great meal. Thanks for sharing your Mom's recipes, Jo!

      1. chowser Jul 20, 2011 03:14 PM

        Thanks for sharing all the recipes. I can't wait to give them a try. For the braised ribs, I assume after it comes to a boil, you're reducing the temp so you braise them and not continue to boil?

        3 Replies
        1. re: chowser
          scoopG Jul 20, 2011 05:35 PM

          I agree - great recipes, wonderful stories, TJ!

          1. re: chowser
            TorontoJo Jul 21, 2011 04:30 AM

            Yes, chowser, sorry -- clearly I was not cut out to write recipes for a cookbook. :) After bringing to a boil, reduce heat to low for the braise. After the 1 hour braise, remove cover, increase heat to reduce the liquid to the glaze.

            1. re: TorontoJo
              chowser Jul 21, 2011 04:55 AM

              I can't wait to try it (maybe after the heat wave passes)--thanks. And, thanks for sharing all you have, too.

          2. JoanN Jul 19, 2011 05:23 PM

            Looks and sounds wonderful. Question, though. That's a lot of ribs to be turning every 15 minutes. Do you really turn each rib every 15 minutes? or do you just sort of toss the whole batch? Do you cook them in a wok?

            11 Replies
            1. re: JoanN
              TorontoJo Jul 19, 2011 05:29 PM

              Oh, no, sorry! You just give the ribs a stir every 15 minutes or so, just to make sure everyone spends sufficient time in the braising liquid. I use a large dutch oven, but that's for a double batch of 6 lbs. of ribs. A wok or any large-ish sauce pan would be fine.

              I'll edit my original post to clarify.

              1. re: TorontoJo
                foodie_guru Jul 20, 2011 01:49 PM

                I would love if you could post your bacon fried rice recipe....please. TIA

                1. re: foodie_guru
                  TorontoJo Jul 20, 2011 02:23 PM

                  Happy to -- this is another recipe that is more than the sum of its parts. For me, I think the secret is in the stir frying of the whites of the green onions at the very beginning. Here you go:

                  Mom’s Fried Rice

                  Note: quantities are approximate

                  1.5 cups of long grain rice
                  2 bunches of green onions
                  ½ to 1 lb. of bacon (I am personally of the opinion that more bacon is rarely regretted)
                  3 or 4 eggs, beaten
                  3 or 4 Tbsp. of oil
                  soy sauce

                  Rinse the rice well (you want to remove the surface starch). Cook rice and set aside. Note that cold, leftover rice is even better than fresh.

                  Chop and fry the bacon in a wok or large deep pot with high sides (e.g., an 8 qt. dutch oven), then drain and set aside. If you want to be decadent, leave a couple of tablespoons of the bacon fat in the pot. Mom used to use ONLY the bacon fat to make the fried rice, but as the years passed and the evil specter of cholesterol reared its head, she reduced the amount she used, then cut it out altogether. But I still use some when I make it. :)

                  Chop the green onions to a medium fine cut, separating the white (and the lightest green) parts from the dark green parts.

                  Add the oil to the pot (topping up the bacon fat as needed), and heat over high heat until very hot.

                  Add the white and light parts of the green onion and stir fry for a minute or two until the onions just start to turn golden.

                  Add the rice and stir fry for a couple of minutes (the rice grains should be separated and glisten a bit from being coated in oil).

                  Add soy sauce to taste and stir fry until the rice has absorbed the soy (it should look dry).

                  Push the rice to the sides of the pan to make a well in the middle. Pour in the beaten eggs and gently scramble them (use the spatula to scrape the cooked egg from the bottom, letting the liquid egg flow down). When the eggs are about 2/3 cooked (still a fair bit of liquid egg), stir the rice into it and stir fry until the eggs are cooked and the rice looks dry again.

                  Taste the rice and add a bit of soy if needed. Just remember that you will be adding bacon, which will up the salt content.

                  Add the rest of the green onions and the bacon and stir fry until everything is well combined and the green onions are soft – a couple of minutes.

                  And voila – a ridiculously simple recipe that produces ridiculously good fried rice. It’s a very forgiving recipe and the ratios can be adjusted to your taste. Once you figure out the balance you like, you can certainly add other vegetables or meats. I play around with it sometimes, but always come back to the basic, because it just tastes so good as is.

                  Enjoy, and please let me know how it turns out if you try it!

                  1. re: TorontoJo
                    TorontoJo Jul 20, 2011 02:42 PM

                    And here's a photo of the fried rice and the recommended accompaniment. ;)

                    1. re: TorontoJo
                      JoanN Jul 20, 2011 02:50 PM

                      Ah! The Widow and bacon. How do you say "perfecto" in Chinese?

                      1. re: JoanN
                        TorontoJo Jul 20, 2011 03:06 PM

                        Well, I am apparently consistent in my desire for my mom's fried rice on special occasions. I just found this photo on my phone as well...

                        1. re: TorontoJo
                          TorontoJo Jul 20, 2011 03:07 PM


                    2. re: TorontoJo
                      foodie_guru Jul 21, 2011 08:40 AM

                      Thanks Jo! Can't wait to give all a try. Probably not today, given the heat, but soon.

                      1. re: foodie_guru
                        The Dairy Queen Jul 21, 2011 09:15 AM

                        I feel the same way, even though I recently recommitted to eating less meat and more meat and cheese-free meals. These recipes are the reason I would have a hard time adopting a program of eating NO meat. Every single one of these is calling my name, and those photos aren't helping!


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen
                          chowser Jul 21, 2011 09:23 AM

                          That photo of the braised ribs is magazine worthy. It makes me want them every time I open this thread.

                          1. re: chowser
                            The Dairy Queen Jul 21, 2011 10:10 AM

                            Agreed! They look amazing!


              2. f
                fourunder Jul 19, 2011 05:22 PM

                Very Nice. Thanks for sharing.

                1. The Dairy Queen Jul 19, 2011 05:07 PM

                  Yum! Thank you!

                  I like the tip on the chilling overnight, too.

                  What other recipes of your mom's do you have? :).

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: The Dairy Queen
                    TorontoJo Jul 19, 2011 05:38 PM

                    Hmm... my siblings and I have been very remiss in getting my mom to write down her recipes. We keep saying that we will sincerely regret not asking for more. But the ones that we've gotten include:

                    - spring rolls (to this day, still the best Chinese spring rolls I've ever had)
                    - steamed black bean spare ribs
                    - bacon fried rice (yes, bacon)

                    I'm happy to share any of the above.

                    1. re: TorontoJo
                      The Dairy Queen Jul 19, 2011 05:48 PM

                      Well, of course, I'd love to see them, but only if/when you have time. I'm not doing a ton of cooking lately. But I will eventually!

                      They all sound very appealing!


                      1. re: The Dairy Queen
                        The Dairy Queen Jul 19, 2011 05:56 PM

                        P.S. I do think getting ahold of those family recipes while you can is worthwhile. So many from my family have been lost.

                        And, that's exactly how GraceYoung ended up writing "Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen"

                        Per Amazon: "In The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen, along with sharing recipes from her family, Young immerses the reader in Chinese culture and the Chinese American experience of San Francisco's Chinatown, where she grew up. This personal book began with Young's wish to preserve the Cantonese dishes prepared by her parents and extended family. Since they cooked by instinct, the only way to record their recipes was by observing her mother, father, and aunties while they cooked, and by asking endless questions. These kitchen conversations also became a way to elicit untold family history from her deeply traditional and reticent parents!

                        Maybe you'll turn into an award-winning cookbook author!


                        1. re: The Dairy Queen
                          TorontoJo Jul 20, 2011 12:24 PM

                          That's a great story, thanks, TDQ! We always said that our mom should open a restaurant, because her home cooking was simply so much better than anything we could get in a Chinese restaurant. And my experiences over the years has convinced me that it's not just a case of liking what I grew up with -- everyone who ate her food always raved, and very few of the Chinese restaurants I've been to live up to her quality. I think this is why, despite being Chinese and living in a city with a gazillion Chinese restaurants, I almost never go out for Chinese food. But I also saw how much work went into her cooking, and lord knows I don't have that kind of patience to replicate it!

                      2. re: TorontoJo
                        ChrisKC Jul 20, 2011 12:54 PM

                        Could we have the recipe for the spring rolls?

                        1. re: ChrisKC
                          TorontoJo Jul 20, 2011 01:30 PM

                          Sure, here you go! I don't think there is anything revolutionary about this recipe, other than the careful prep work that my mom always put into it. Everything is always finely julienned and of similar sizes. The marinating of the pork is also key, as is the order of the stir fry. The low ratio of the cabbage to the other ingredients is important, as well. My apologies about the lack of accurate measurements for the marinade -- that's definitely one of those "by feel" aspects of my mom's cooking. I've given my best guess as to the quantities.

                          Mom's Spring Rolls

                          1 c. pork tenderloin, cut into thin strips (if I had to estimate, I'd say 3" long by less than a 1/4" in diameter)
                          1 c. dried shitake mushrooms, reconstituted and sliced into thin strips
                          ½ c. shredded carrots
                          1 c. bean sprouts
                          2 - 3 c. shredded/finely julienned white cabbage (my mom separates the thick core portions from the thin leafier portions)
                          3 - 4 Tbs. soy sauce
                          2 Tbs. cooking sherry
                          1 - 2 tsp. sugar
                          2 - 3 tsp. corn starch
                          Spring roll wrappers

                          Prep and marinate pork in soy, cooking sherry, sugar, corn starch for at least 2 hours (longer is ok -- my mom usually goes overnight).

                          Heat oil in wok or other large bottomed pot. Stir fry pork until just cooked. Remove pork to a separate bowl. Add more oil to wok if needed. Stir fry mushrooms first for a minute or two, then add the thick parts of the cabbage, then the rest of the cabbage. Add soy sauce and salt (optional, of course if you prefer soy only) to taste. Turn off heat, add carrots and bean sprouts and toss. Add meat and toss. If there is too much liquid, drain it from the pot, as you don't want your filling to be too wet.

                          Fill and wrap the spring roll wrappers, as usual. Deep fry. Eat. Enjoy. :)

                        2. re: TorontoJo
                          The Dairy Queen Jul 20, 2011 04:01 PM

                          May we have the steamed black bean spare ribs, too?


                          These all look fantastic!

                          Thank you!


                          1. re: The Dairy Queen
                            TorontoJo Jul 21, 2011 05:04 AM

                            Well, sure. :) These are similar to the ribs you can get at dim sum places. I find the biggest difference with my mom's recipe is that she always browns the ribs well prior to steaming. This definitely gives a nice extra layer of flavor and texture that I love and it also cooks off a bit of the fat, leaving the ribs less greasy. And I think mom uses a LOT more garlic!

                            My mom also doesn't use a traditional bamboo basket to steam. Instead, she steams with "glass paper" -- I can honestly tell you that I have no idea what this stuff is or where she buys it. She just gives me a supply of it every once in while. It's a thick, crackly sheet of translucent plastic that you lay over the top of the bowl -- you just moisten the edge of the bowl with water and lay a piece of plastic slightly bigger than the bowl on top and gently press the edges down. When the steam hits the plastic, it shrinks and tightens around the bowl to form a super tight seal. If anyone knows what I'm talking about, I would certainly appreciate some enlightenment about what this stuff is and what, if any, benefits there are to using it. I've always used it because that's what my mom said to do. And really, who am I to go against what mom says? She says it keeps the ribs moist and the flavors concentrated and not diluted by the steam. Hey, that works for me.

                            Mom's Steamed Black Bean Spare Ribs

                            1 lb. of baby back pork ribs that the butcher has cut vertically across in 2 or 3 pieces (against the bone).
                            7-8 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
                            ¼ c Chinese salted/fermented black beans (the stuff that comes in a small glass jar)
                            dash of sugar
                            1 - 2 Tbs soy sauce
                            1 - 2 Tbs brandy

                            Rinse the ribs well under cold water to ensure the bits of bone are washed away. Dry well, and then separate/cut each rib between the bones. Brown the ribs in small batches and drain the fat from the pot.

                            In a bowl, smash the black beans with a the back of a fork. Add garlic, sugar, soy sauce and brandy. Stir to dissolve sugar and combine ingredients.

                            Put the ribs in a shallow bowl suitable for steaming. Pour sauce over the ribs. Cover the bowl with the glass paper (if you have some, of course, otherwise just forgo this part). Steam gently for 50 minutes.

                            1. re: TorontoJo
                              JoanN Jul 21, 2011 05:40 AM

                              That glass paper sounds very intriguing. I'd never heard of it before. But Google brought up this: http://www.malaysiabest.net/2009/02/1...

                              A number of conflicting answers here, but a few of them definitely seem to be talking about what you describe although they don't mention anything about the shrinking and sticking part.

                              1. re: TorontoJo
                                The Dairy Queen Jul 21, 2011 05:48 AM

                                This sounds fantastic (as do all of the other recipes). Even though I haven't been cooking much lately, I just might have to try these ribs sooner rather than later. We don't have great dim sum here. The ribs have always been a favorite of mine. Maybe I'll just have to make my own!

                                Do you think you could use tin foil or parchment or something in lieu of glass paper? I definitely don't have any. Never even heard of it! I'm sure someone somewhere sells it.


                                1. re: The Dairy Queen
                                  TorontoJo Jul 21, 2011 07:43 AM

                                  I would use parchment I think, not foil. Or you could just skip the cover and use a steaming basket with the bowl set in it.

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