Friday, August 15, 2008

Chinese braised beef back ribs

Jeez Louise, I’ve got to try to write down what I did today before I forget. I had a package (just under 2 pounds) of beef back ribs which I bought for a song from the clearance bin at Safeway. These are not baby back ribs by any stretch of the imagination. The bones are large, they are fatty and have some gristly material too.

I’ve been having so much fun with Fuchsia Dunlop’s “Revolutionary Chinese Cookbook,” that I thought and thought about how I could make up a Chinese inspired way to braise the ribs. It took some doing and involved improvising from beginning to end. There were 4 ribs in the package. Therefore they are nearly ½ pound each, though most of the weight is bone.

The one new ingredient I opened a can of today is sweet bean paste. Fuchsia says it’s reminiscent of Hoisin sauce. It is in a way, but it is sweeter and less salty I think. Ideally I would have used beef broth, but what I had on hand was about 2 ½ cups of fresh chicken stock from pressure cooking a chicken for the dogs day before yesterday.

Bear in mind that, as usual, I didn’t measure anything. As you doctor the liquid and turn it into a quasi barbeque sauce, taste it. It should have the earthy saltiness of the fermented beans, the right (according to your palate) hint of sweet bean paste, and just a little sweetness from the sugar.

I had no idea how long to cook the ribs for, or at what temperature. So yours truly just made it up. I wish I had some Sichuan pepper but didn’t have time to make a special trip for it. Hence the black pepper corns. Here’s how it went.

Chinese braised beef back ribs

4 large back ribs
2 tbsp peanut oil
chicken stock
8 salted red chiles
10 whole black peppercorns
1 ½ tbsp fermented black beans
2 tsp sweet bean paste
1 tbsp sugar

Preheat the oven to 275°.

In a cast iron or other heavy pot, heat the oil until a flick of water into it pops. Brown the ribs on all sides until well colored, about 2-3 minutes per side. Slice the chiles open on one side. Add 1 cup chicken stock, the chiles, peppercorns and 1 tbsp fermented beans to the pot. Bring to a boil.

Transfer the pot to the oven and braise for 3 hours, turning the ribs every 45 minutes or so. If the stock disappears too quickly, add more.

Put the pot back on a burner. Add another cup of stock and bring to a boil. Remove the ribs to a baking dish and set aside. Increase the oven temperature to 350°.

Strain the braising liquid and discard the solids. Put the liquid into a saucepan. Mash ½ tbsp fermented beans and add them along with the bean paste and the sugar. Dissolve 2 tbsp cornstarch in enough cold water to make a slurry. Stir in ½ of it and wait to see how much it thickens. You want this sauce to be thick enough to stick to the ribs. Add more cornstarch as needed.

Brush the ribs all over with the sauce. Put them in the oven uncovered for 30 minutes, turning and rebasting them after 15 minutes. Let the ribs stand until cool enough to pick up with your fingers.

Save the remaining sauce for another special treat coming soon to a blog near you.

The meat was ready to fall off the bones and the flavor was distinct and delicious and about as far from an American style barbecue as you can get. But then that was the idea after all.

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