Tony writes: Every couple of months, I get the urge to try a Chinese restaurant favorite in my home kitchen. My efforts usually veer towards the authentic, if not the exotic. (I’m particularly proud of my recent adventures with ma po tofu). Lately, I’ve gotten the bug for Chinese spare ribs. I know, kinda gauche (being part of a pu-pu platter will do that to a dish). But barbecued spare ribs have true Cantonese origins. And, in a minor culinary miracle, you can produce them in your very own oven, even now in the butt crack of winter. Yes, you may miss some summery smoke, but the oven’s slow even heat ensure ribs (any ribs!) will be moist and exceedingly tender. Coupled with the intense flavors of Chinese bbq (hoisin, honey, garlic… red food coloring) and these ribs are easy home cooking. Here’s how:
-Go whole rack: You should see two options for spare ribs at the supermarket: trimmed (also known as the St. Louis cut) or the whole rack which will include the ribs as well as a gnarly (but tasty) marbled piece (which is actually the brisket) running along the top of the ribs. I usually purchase the whole thing; it’s easy enough to separate the ribs from this chain of meat and cartilage. And by doing the butchering yourself, you save some cash, get some extra meat, and also avoid the weird briny solutions that accompany many cryovacked bundles of trimmed St. Louis ribs. Though you can use the chain for another purpose, I like to cut it up into large pieces and roast along with the ribs.
– Asian spice: As with Southern ribs, these get flavor boosts in 2 stages: an introductory rub and a finishing glaze. Salt, brown sugar, soy sauce and 5-spice powder lead the way in the rub; apply it up to 2 days ahead for best results. And honey-and hoisin form the base for the glaze. Though it’s completely unnecessary, I like to add in a splash of red food coloring so these ribs sport their iconic blush.
THE RECIPE: Serves 3 to 4
1. Season the ribs (up to 2 days ahead): Set 1 rack of spareribs (about 4 lb.) on a cutting board. Trim off any excess fat and separate the ribs from the upper cartilage (creating the St. Louis cut). Cut off and discard any large fatty patches. In a small bowl, mix 2 Tbs. soy sauce, 2 Tbs. shaoxing wine (or dry sherry), 1 Tbs. brown sugar, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. 5-spice powder, and 1 garlic clove (minced). Rub all over the ribs (and the chain of meat), transfer to the fridge, and marinate for at least 8 hr. and up to 2 days ahead.
2. Roast the ribs: Heat the oven to 325F and remove the ribs from the fridge while the oven heats. Position a rack in the center of the oven. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil and place a cooking rack on top of the foil. Arrange the ribs meaty side up on the rack and cook, rotating the pan front to back ever 20 minutes or so, until the ribs brown and become tender (a paring knife should easily slice into the meat and the ribs should sag if you hold the center up with a pair of tongs), about 2 hr.
3. Make the glaze and baste the ribs: In a medium bowl, mix 1/4 cup honey, 2 Tbs. hoisin sauce, 1 tsp. sesame oil, and 1/4 tsp. red food coloring. Brush the ribs with the glaze, raise the heat to 425F and cook, brushing every couple of minutes, until the glaze browns and caramelizes on the ribs, 10 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool for 5 minutes, then cut into individual ribs, and serve with any remaining glaze for dipping.