Stewed Garlicky Black Bean Spare Ribs
I’m sorry, we ate the stewed spare ribs up so fast, all I have left to show you are the bones.
Okay, okay, fine.
I saved a bowl for you.
The ribs were lusciously tender, the meat quite literally falling off the bones in the pot. That’s what hours of slow braising in a sand pot will do for you. The sauce thickened until it practically merged with the meat, and it was hard to tell where pig ended and bean sauce began. I want to say that they had a smoky quality, but they didn’t, really. It’s just the only way I can think to express how hearty and toothsome and sweetly meaty they were.
Eating them was an exercise in pure tomfoolery. This would be a great dish to serve to kids right before bathtime, or, well, to people like me. To manage these ribs, you have to just dive in and eat with your hands, sucking each rib clean of meat and sauce before plunking the bone into the bone bowl and picking up the next. Nothing says fine dining like licking your fingers clean before heading to the bathroom to pick shreds of fermented black bean out from under your nails.
Stewed Garlicky Black Bean Spare Ribs
(adapted, with only tiny changes, from The Modern Art of Chinese Cooking by Barbara Tropp)
2 – 2 1/4 lbs lean, meaty spare ribs (weighed after removing extraneous fat and bone), cut into 1-2″ nuggets
2 tbsp corn oil
1 dried facing heaven chili, seeds removed, crushed
4 tbsp thinly sliced scallions
3 1/2 tbsp fermented black beans, lightly rinsed and coarsely chopped
6 large cloves of garlic, stem end (and any inner green bits) removed, peeled and lightly smashed
2 tbsp dark soy sauce
2 tsp granulated sugar
1 C water
This recipe is best made in advance, seeing as how it involves slow braising, followed by a chilling period in order to degrease before eating. It reheats beautifully, the flavors just melding together even moreso by the next day.
I made this in a Chinese sand pot, but you can use any heavy bottomed pot you like.
Try to convince your butcher to saw the ribs into shorter nuggets for you. You can do it at home with a heavy meat cleaver, but it will be loud, difficult, and result in terrifying bone shards. I used 2″ long pieces because that’s what I found at the store, and it just wasn’t worth the bother to cut them down further than that. Divide the rack into individual ribs by slicing the meat between the bones.
Heat up your wok until it is just starting to steam, then swirl enough oil in to coat the bottom and partially up the sides. Add the scallions and crushed chili and stir-fry for just a moment, until fragrant. Then add the ribs and just brown them on all sides before removing them to a bowl to set a side. Work in batches if necessary (with a typical home kitchen sized wok, it will be).
Pour a bit of the water into the wok and scrape up any tasty browned bits that have stuck to the bottom, then pour it into the sand pot, along with all the other seasonings and the ribs themselves. Stir the contents of the pot to mix things up properly.
A sand pot, like any other clay pot, must be treated gently. Never heat or cool it down too quickly, or it will break. Put it on a cold stove and make sure it has some liquid in it before you turn the heat on under it. Turn the heat on to the lowest setting, and heat the pot gently. You can raise the heat further later on, but this must be done slowly. You will probably find that after a certain point, you have to keep reducing the heat to keep the stew at a simmer rather than a boil. Once the pot is hot, don’t put it on a cold trivet without letting it cool down slowly first.
Note: If you are not using a sand pot, brown the ribs in the pot you intend to use and just throw everything else in after them once they are browned.
Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until the ribs are tender and done. This should take about 3-5 hours. (Tropp says 45 minutes. This contradicts all experience I have with braising. It is, in a word, bullshit. Braising to true tenderness takes hours. Unless there’s a secret trick I don’t know, in which case, please clue me in!)
Once the ribs are done, separate the ribs into one bowl and the sauce to another. If you have a nifty degreaser, use it. If, like me, you do not, put everything in the fridge for a few hours (or overnight) until the fat has risen to the top and solidified such that it is easy to remove. Degrease and recombine the sauce and ribs to reheat before serving.
Remember to suck the bones clean as you eat!