Wuxi ribs recipe

Posted on October 19, 2012

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In my humble opinion, everyone needs a good ribs recipe. It’s like a staple, like how you should know how to make a good roast chicken. Why? Because ribs are always a crowd favorite. It must be something to do with our primal desire to gnaw on bones. Don’t fight it.

The most conventionally Aussie way of doing ribs is probably on a barbie. Slow cooked in a sweet and sticky sauce first and finished off on the barbeque for that irresistible smoky flavour. No doubt a great way to make ribs, but in case you were looking for an alternative to try, the Chinese also do a fabulous version.

The first time I came across Wuxi ribs was in the form of a giant braised ham hock. At the time I didn’t realise that it was the restaurant’s own twist to use ham hock instead of the more commonly utilised cut of pork ribs, all I knew was that the meat was beautifully cooked and the sauce…oh the sauce. It was an absolutely beguiling mixture of sweet and savory. There was such a depth of flavour and you could actually tell that the sauce has been simmering away for hours because none of the individual elements were distinguishable, it’s as if the ingredients had melted into each other to become its own intensely rich flavour.

Fast forward to many years later, to a time when I finally had some skills in the kitchen, and that particular eating experience was still pertinent in my mind. It was a recipe I must acquire and master.

A quick search online will reveal many versions of this famous dish. Originating in a little city by the name of Wuxi, these thus named ribs are what this city is known for. Accordingly to legend/folklore, traditional Wuxi ribs were first cooked by a poor peasant. His sick wife was craving for some pork but all they could afford was the bones. It is said that he cooked the bones in such a delicious and fulfilling way that the ribs cured her illness. Another legend also suggests that the ribs were originally cooked by the living Buddha, Jigong, who begged a butcher for his bones. If you taste these ribs, you just might be convinced it was cooked by a god or had miraculous curing properties!

And out of all the different recipes that could be found, I settled on this one from eatingclub vancouver. While my memory doesn’t serve me well enough to compare this recipe with the first Wuxi ham hock I tasted, I have always been very satisfied with the results from this recipe. It’s a relatively simple recipe, but it really delivers. I love the fact that the sauce becomes a thick sticky glaze that clings to the ribs all on its own accord, you don’t even have to do anything extra. All the flavours are in harmony and you’re left with this lovely tender meat and lingering sweet and saltiness.

I’ve served this dish to many family members and friends and at the risk of sounding a bit vain, it has always been a hit. In fact, funnily enough a couple of days after serving this to a friend and her partner, her father made another version of this for their family dinner. Both her and her partner said they preferred my version. So there you have it, this is one of the better Wuxi ribs recipes out there!

The crucial ingredient is the juice from red fermented tofu (also called red bean curd). It’s a slightly funky ingredient, but it should be easy enough to find in most Asian grocers. Try to look for the 2 Chinese characters instead of the English name (see picture below), because as always there’s about a thousand and one different translations! I’ve used red fermented tofu in my roast pork to great effect. This may be an obscure ingredient to have in your fridge but it imparts a great savory element to pork dishes. If you’re still iffy about it, there are other recipes for Wuxi ribs that omit it. I can’t vouch for their tastiness though.

RECIPE – Wuxi ribs (served as a multi course meal)

(Original recipe from eatingclub vancouver)

Ingredients:

  • 2 racks of pork ribs cut into pieces (approximately 1.5kg)
  • 2-3 stalks of spring onion cut into large pieces
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons shaoxing rice wine
  • 3 tablespoons red fermented tofu juice (just the juice, not the tofu pieces itself)
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or cassia bark will also be fine)
  • 1 star anise
  • 2 cloves
  • ~2.5 inch piece of ginger thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons of crushed yellow rock sugar
  • ~2 tablespoons cracked black and white pepper or to taste
  • water for braising

Method

  1. In a large pot or wok of boiling water, blanch ribs and spring onion together for approximately 5 mins or until ribs are cooked on the exterior. Drain and rinse ribs of any scum and grit.
  2. In a clean wok, dissolve 2 tablespoons of sugar in 2 tablespoons of oil on medium to high heat.  To do this, place sugar in the centre of wok first, then add oil. Do not stir or touch the sugar after this step as this will encourage sugar crystals to form. Leave to caramalise on its own accord. You will need to watch it carefully and may need to adjust the heat lower if the sugar is getting too hot, you don’t want the caramel to burn.
  3. After about 5-7 minutes the sugar should have caramalised and started to bubble. At this stage toss in all the ribs and coat them with the caramel. There will be quite a lot of spitting at this stage, so wear oven mitts and be careful.
  4. Once ribs are evenly covered in caramel, add in all remaining ingredients and enough water to cover the ribs. Bring to a boil then reduce to simmer on low heat while covered until ribs are tender and the sauce has reduced to a thick glaze (at least 2 hours). You may need to monitor the water levels at the 90 minute mark and add a bit more if the sauce is getting too dry – fret not, the water will evaporate as it cooks down.

In a typically Chinese fashion, I usually serve this as part of a multi course meal with rice. It is always satisfying and delicious. I challenge you to not lick your fingers after eating these! The sauce is so good that after all the ribs are gone, I happily devour plain rice just with it drizzled over the top. Waste not want not hey ^_~.

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