Did you ever find a recipe that haunts your mind, periodically re-emerging, wrapped in a cloak of intriguing allure? Such has been my journey with the magic of quintessential ribs. The enigma behind this elusive dish’s name, taste dimensions, and culinary intricacies had long remained an uncharted landscape in my foodie adventures.
However, a family member’s endorsement of the dish – her preferred rib recipe and a crowd-pleaser among her children – served as my golden ticket to unearth the mysteries of this tantalizing creation.
The Quintessential Ribs
The culinary mastermind behind this delightful Chinese rib dish remains anonymous, but one can infer from its name, Quintessential Ribs, a certain promise of straightforward preparation. The Quintessential here pertains to a proportionate blend of five elemental ingredients: Shaoxing wine, light soy sauce, black vinegar, sugar, and water. This combination births a harmonious sweet and sour sauce, the signature highlight of this dish.
While you can calibrate the sweetness or sourness of the sauce by altering the sugar-vinegar balance, it’s advisable to uphold the integrity of the original recipe. My curiosity nudged me to incorporate some dark soy sauce for a richer color, but I chose to stay true to the recipe. And the black vinegar didn’t disappoint in providing the desired color depth! Indeed, the charm of this dish lies in its uncomplicated elegance.
The Quintessential Ribs does call for a generous amount of sugar, so consider it a treat to be savored on special occasions. With this recipe demystified, I’m eager to share the cooking steps.
Cooking Quintessential Ribs: Step-by-Step
Start by selecting meaty ribs and instruct your butcher to cut them into pieces roughly 1.5” to 2” long.
If you have a heavy-duty Chinese cleaver at your disposal, you can chop the ribs yourself, as shown in this handy video guide. However, attempting this with an average chef’s knife isn’t recommended as it can damage your knife.
Position a damp towel beneath your chopping board to keep it steady and to provide some cushioning for your countertop against the chopping force.
After chopping, rinse the ribs thoroughly and pat them dry.
Now, heat a wok until it lightly smokes (refer to my article on preventing food from sticking to a wok). Add two tablespoons of oil and ginger slices to the wok. Fry the ginger for about a minute over medium heat.
Next, add the ribs.
Raise the heat to high and brown both sides for a few minutes.
Lower the heat and add:
1 tablespoon Shaoxing wine…
2 tablespoons light soy sauce…
3 tablespoons Chinese black vinegar…
4 tablespoons sugar…
5 tablespoons water.
6 Stir well to combine all the ingredients. Increase the heat to bring the mixture to a boil.
Upon boiling, cover the wok and reduce the heat to medium-low. Allow the ribs to simmer for about 25 minutes (or 20 minutes if your ribs are less meaty). Ensure halfway through that the liquid isn’t drying up too much. If needed, you can lower the heat and add more water.
After simmering, remove the lid. There should still be plenty of liquid left.
Now it’s time to crank up the heat and reduce the sauce, making the ribs shiny and appetizing. Maintain high heat while stirring and tossing the ribs for a couple of minutes.
Keep reducing the liquid until about ¼ cup remains. The ribs should now be glossy and covered with the sauce! Serve immediately.
A Few Healthy Tips
Although Quintessential Ribs are delicious, it’s good to remember that they’re a bit high in sugar and fat. So, it’s wise to balance your meal with some steamed vegetables or a fresh salad to ensure you’re getting enough vitamins and minerals. Also, Shaoxing wine, which is used in the recipe, is a type of fermented rice wine popular in Chinese cooking. Apart from its unique flavor, it is often associated with certain health benefits. However, these benefits are usually experienced when consumed directly and not when used as a cooking ingredient. So, enjoy this dish responsibly and within the limits of a balanced diet.