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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!

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14 Responses to “Stewed Garlicky Black Bean Spare Ribs”

  1. Tanna says:

    Umm…I have stew meat in the fridge not ribs…do I need to go to the grocery store?
    Gosh I’ll say I’d be sucking those bones clean and licking my fingers too!

  2. Yvo says:

    Wow, I am totally making short ribs this weekend. Wait, no, I can’t. I’m busy. Damn! You tease :)

    PS If I didn’t already email, which I don’t think I did, sorry! I’m coming on Sunday. Thanks!

  3. mr.ed says:

    Try smoking them for a few hours first. I’ve seen people whose eyes have disappeared completely into their skulls at first bite. Or sniff. I have an electric water smoker that always gives an even heat and never needs fiddling with starter or coals. Only $60 at wallyworld in season.

  4. Brilynn says:

    How are your pictures always so amazing?

    I love ribs.

  5. It’s official–after 15 years as a vegetarian, I have seriously reconsidered meat after looking at your photos.

  6. Traca says:

    Oh my….those photos are great! And meat melting into sauce…I can’t wait to try this recipe. I even have the book and have never managed to make anything from it…guess it’s time to break out Barbara! Thanks for the inspiration.

  7. tw says:

    Well, we traditionally add a pinch of baking soda as a tenderizer…

    Also, note that this dish in a lot of restaurants comes out a bit chewy, which might be achievable in 45 minutes. Some people like it that way (I can go either way).

  8. Beautiful pictures (were they shot with your new gear?)dish. I love eating meat so well-cooked they fall off the bones. Wicked!

  9. Danielle says:

    Tanna – I’m sorry I didn’t get a chance to reply sooner! You could use stew meat instead of ribs, but I don’t think it would work as well. My understanding is that the bones actually add a lot of flavor to the sauce.

    Yvo – I’m looking forward to seeing you tomorrow! It’s been, oh, almost a decade…

    mr. ed – Smoking ribs is absolutely fantastic, but also totally different. We actually have a smoker out back that we still haven’t really used. Maybe when spring comes.

    Brilynn – I’ll put together a list of resources I’ve used in trying to learn food photography, if you like.

    Susan – Bwaha. Come visit, and I will make the meat for you!

    Traca – Let me know how it turns out!

    tw – Ah, okay, that makes sense. Thank you for explaining! I prefer tender to chewy, personally, though, so I’ll keep slow-cooking mine.

    RM – Thank you! Yes, they were. A few of my posts so far have been, actually.

  10. peabody says:

    That screams comfort to me…yummy.

  11. MeltingWok says:

    oh my, silly me I thought they were cinnamon sticks (the 1st one), would really like to have some of that 2nd bowl though hehe :)

  12. [...] These are my favorite all-purpose braising vessels. I have made bone-suckingly unctuous Chinese spare ribs in mine, and a Greek lamb stew. I will probably use one to make my grandmother’s Hungarian stuffed cabbage next time, too. Not to mention many soups. [...]

  13. Elaine Towler says:

    Amazing Photo’s. Looking thru the internet after collecting Clams, cockles and Mussels after a “Grand Maree” here in Brittany France yesterday and wondering what to do with them. Found your Clam recipe which I will be trying tonight. You are DEFINATELY on my Favourites from now on. and I have passed you on to my friends.
    Many Thanks

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