Pork ribs don’t yield a great deal of meat, but they are sweet and tender, if cooked properly. You can cook them low and slow, which breaks down the connective tissue, making the meat very soft, or over higher heat (as with these two recipes), which gives the pork a little more bite.
Korean spicy pork ribs
This (or a similar) marinade is often used for Korean barbecue, although usually for thin slices of pork belly, rather than ribs. Ribs are easier when cooking for a crowd – just put them on or under the grill (depending on whether it’s an outdoor barbecue or indoor oven) and cook them all at once, instead of slice by slice on a tabletop cooker.
You can buy gochujang (Korean chilli paste), gochugaru (Korean chilli flakes) and malt syrup from shops specialising in Korean products, such as those on Kimberley Street, in Tsim Sha Tsui.
About 2.5kg pork ribs
4 large garlic cloves
200 grams nashi pear, peeled
60 grams onion
10 grams ginger, peeled
4 spring onions, divided
120 grams gochujang
50 grams malt syrup or corn syrup
30ml soy sauce
20ml sesame oil
10 grams granulated sugar
5 grams rough-flaked sea salt
1-2 tsp gochugaru
Sesame seeds, for sprinkling
Kimchi and banchan
1 Roughly chop the garlic cloves, nashi pear and onion and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Mince the ginger and two of the spring onions and add them to the bowl. Process the ingredients to a paste, then add the gochujang, malt syrup (or corn syrup), soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, salt and gochugaru and process briefly.
2 Cut the pork ribs between the bones into individual ribs and put them in a large bowl. Add the marinade and mix well so the ribs are evenly coated. Refrigerate for several hours, mixing occasionally, but leave them at room temperature for about an hour before cooking them.
3 If you are cooking the ribs on an outdoor grill, give yourself enough time to heat the coals so they are ready when you want to cook. Spread the coals in an even layer then place the grill rack on top, about 6cm above the heat. Lightly brush the grill rack with cooking oil. If you are cooking the ribs under the oven grill, set the heat on high. Line the baking trays with aluminium foil.
4 Lay the ribs on the grill rack (if cooking outdoors) or on the baking trays (if using the oven). Spread some of the marinade left in the bowl over the ribs. If cooking outdoors, cover the grill with the lid; if using the oven, place the tray about 6cm from the heating element.
Cook for 20 minutes or until the ribs are nicely charred; if they brown too fast, move the rack or baking trays away from the heat. Turn the ribs over and brush them with more of the marinade. Cook until the ribs are tender and slightly charred (about 45 minutes in total). If cooking the ribs outside, you’ll need to watch them more carefully and move them around on the grill, because the heat won’t be as even.
5 Pile the ribs on a serving plate. Cut the remaining spring onions into 5mm pieces and scatter them over the ribs. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and serve with a selection of kimchi and banchan.
Chinese fried spare ribs with fermented bean curd
For this dish, ask the butcher to cut the ribs through the bone into pieces that are 3cm to 4cm wide.
Fermented bean curd (fu yu) doesn’t contain dairy products, but it’s often referred to as “Chinese cheese” because of its slightly funky smell. It’s preserved in a salty brine, and is sold in small jars.
You can choose what type of coating to use. My favourite is water chestnut flour, which gives the fried ribs a crunchy texture (you’ll need to crush the larger pieces; it’s not a smooth flour), but you can also use cornstarch, plain (all-purpose) flour or fine cornmeal.
As I usually do when frying foods, I double fry. The first frying cooks the ingredients; the second reheats and browns the food, and also crisps up the coating. The initial frying can be done up to two hours in advance, and the second frying just before you want to serve the food.
500 grams pork spare ribs, cut across the bone into 3cm to 4cm pieces
3-4 cubes fermented bean curd, plus 10ml of the liquid from the jar
30ml soy sauce
30ml rice wine
2 large garlic cloves
1-2 red Thai chillies
1 tsp granulated sugar
Water chestnut flour, cornstarch, plain flour or fine cornmeal
Oil, for frying
1 In a small bowl, mash the fermented bean curd with 10ml of liquid from the jar, then mix in the soy sauce and rice wine. Finely mince the garlic cloves. Slice the chilli(es) in half lengthwise and remove and discard the seeds. Finely mince the chillies, then stir them and the garlic and sugar into the fermented-bean-curd mixture. Pour this marinade over the spare ribs and mix thoroughly. Leave at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
2 Add about 50 grams of water chestnut flour, cornstarch, plain flour or cornmeal into the bowl with the ribs and mix well. The ribs should have a matte, sticky coating, without any excess liquid; if needed, mix in more of the starch.
3 Pour oil to the depth of about 6cm into a wok or skillet and heat over a medium flame to 170 degrees Celsius. Fry the ribs in batches – do not crowd the pan – until they are cooked through, then drain them on paper towels.
4 If needed, add more oil to the wok or skillet so the depth remains at 6cm, then heat to between 170 degrees and 180 degrees. Briefly fry the ribs a second time, cooking them for about 30 seconds until they are hot and the coating becomes medium brown. Drain on paper towels and serve.