I have never met a cuisine that I didn't like, it's true. However, if I had to pick one to take with me to a desert island, it would be the food of my people, Chinese food. Of course, I don't mean General Tso's Chicken and Beef Lo Mein (although I do love me some greasy fake Chinese food); I'm talking about the authentic flavors you can only find in China or the American Chinatown joints that have two menus, one in English and one in Chinese. The kind of place where half the items on the menu feature animals and animal parts you've never heard of. (True story: I worked at a restaurant whose authentic menu featured "crispy bunghole." Pretty sure whoever translated the menu wasn't a native English speaker, or maybe it was Beavis ❤️️.)
Luckily, this isn't one of those dishes. This is my favorite Asian rib recipe, and probably my favorite Shanghainese dish — Shanghai cuisine is notorious for being too sweet and often bland. These ribs are a little sweet, but definitely not bland. The secret is in the sauce, a rich, pungent reduction of sugar and black vinegar, which is commonly used in Chinese cooking and is more earthy and savory than white vinegar, that redefines "sweet and sour."
That weird bright red sweet and sour sauce you usually get with Chinese takeout is made of all kinds of unnatural substances and is loaded with food coloring. This sweet and sour sauce is all natural, made with just a handful of ingredients, and tastes infinitely better. The only hitch with this dish is that the traditional preparation is a bit complex, as it involves deep-frying, so I found a simplified version for you (and myself). I sincerely believe you're going to love this taste of Shanghai. Recipe below.
1 1/2 pounds pork spareribs, cut into 1" to 1 1/2" pieces
1/4 cup cornstarch
About 4 cups vegetable oil for frying (or however much is enough to completely cover the ribs)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons ginger, peeled and sliced into thin matchsticks
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons Chinese Shaoxing wine or medium-dry Sherry
1/3 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup Chinese black vinegar
1/3 cup soy sauce
Chopped scallions for garnishing
- Blanch ribs in a large pot of boiling water for 4 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
- Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and cornstarch to a large bowl, add ribs and toss to coat.
- Heat oil to 400°F in a heavy pot and fry ribs (in batches if necessary), about 5 minutes per batch. Transfer to a bowl or plate using a slotted spoon.
- Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat until it shimmers, then add garlic, shallot, and ginger and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add brown sugar and stir until dissolved, about 1 minute. Add wine and boil 1 minute.
- Add ribs, broth, vinegar, and soy sauce and simmer, covered, for about an hour, stirring and turning ribs occasionally.
- Transfer ribs to a platter. Bring the sauce back to a boil, stirring constantly, until thickened and reduced, about 2 minutes.
- Pour sauce over ribs and garnish with scallions.
Adapted from Epicurious.