Simplicity and complexity pop their wicked little heads up when I try to find ways to use up the mystery ingredients I find in my freezer. Yesterday my hand rummaged around and found some pork baby back ribs. Since Monday I have been craving those flavors that are uniquely Southeast Asian. Fish Sauce, sambol olek, tamari, ginger, lemongrass, Thai chilies, and basil called my name. There is something, when the food is made fresh, that is amazing about Asian-inspired foods.
When my hand found that rib rack I knew what I was going to make: Vietnamese Caramelized Pork Ribs.
My introduction to these finger-licking gems was through David Lebovitz, he of the ice cream, I-am-living-the-sweet-life-in-Paris, fame. He discovered the recipe via The Chubby Hubby Blog. Aun credits Molly Stevens and her James Beard Award winning book, All About Braising, for the inspiration. I tell you, this is why I love recipes, they share so well. This one is 100% a keeper and one you will want to share with lots of friends.
These ribs are beautifully sweet and sour with that wonderful caramel flavor accompanying every bite. This is a truly more-ish dish. You will want to eat every rib. You might wake up in the middle of the night, pad down to the kitchen, and, as you stand in front of the open fridge in your slippers, you will gnaw on a rib or two, gorging upon those magnificent flavors of caramel and fish sauce. Try not to put the chewed bones back into the container or the jig is up.
Now, as is my way, I did find some problems when I read the recipe. I like caramel, but not burnt caramel. My first major change was to increase the amount of water in the recipe. The second biggest substitution was the use of onions instead of shallots. Shallots are fragile and work best raw or lightly cooked. This dish is too long in the oven for the shallots to taste any good. I also added ginger, garlic, fresh Thai chilies, and a bit of diced carrot. The last major change was I reduced the sauce down at the end to make it almost syrupy, then dredged the cooked ribs in the sauce, plus ladling a bit over the cabbage and rice.
Figure one pound of ribs per person. Really, this recipe serves two comfortably. Now, I’m just waiting for a friend to share in this remarkably tasty dish. Then again, midnight may be coming around soon….
Vietnamese Spicy Caramelized Pork Baby Back Ribs served over a bed of Cabbage and Lemon Infused Black Rice with Spring Onions and Chive Flowers
- 1 cup sugar
- ¼ cup water
- juice from 1/2 lemon (save the zest and the other half for the black rice)
- ⅓ cup gluten-free fish sauce
- ¾ cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 very large yellow onion, peeled, halved, and sliced lengthways
- 1 slab of pork baby back ribs or 2 pounds cut into individual ribs
- 1-inch piece of ginger, peeled and shredded
- 4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
- 4 Thai chilies, washed, stems removed and sliced (becareful. Wear gloves for safety.)
- 1-inch piece of carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 cup black rice
- 1 ¾ cup water
- pinch of salt
- juice from ½ lemon plus the zest
- 2 Thai chilies minced
- 1 bunch spring onions, washed, heads removed, chopped
- small bunch of chives flowers, washed
- peanuts, chopped
- ¼ head of cabbage, shredded
- Turn oven on to 300ºF.
- Spread sugar in bottom of wide heavy-based skillet.
- Pour over ¼ cup of water and lemon juice.
- Let it sit for minute.
- Then heat over medium heat until sugar begins to liquefy.
- Reduce heat to medium low and let caramel boil until it turns medium-dark brown.
- Remove it from heat and slowly and carefully (because this will steam and you could burn yourself) pour ¾ cup water and fish sauce into caramel.
- Return to heat and stir.
- Let boil for a few minutes, until sauce is smooth.
- Add onions and remove from the heat.
- Add ribs to caramel sauce, stir to coat, and bring to simmer over low heat.
- Braise, turning the ribs every 30 minutes with tongs, for 2 hours.
- For last half hour add, ginger, garlic, Thai chilies, and diced carrot.
- Return ribs to oven.
- Go ahead and make the black rice.
- Put rice, water, lemon juice, and salt into pot.
- Bring to a boil.
- Reduce to a simmer and cover.
- Cook for 30 minutes.
- Stir in zest, spring onions and chive flowers.
- Garnish with some peanuts.
- Ribs should be ready to come out of oven.
- Ribs are done when they have become tender enough to pull easily away from bone and are a medium-deep mahogany color.
- Remove pan from oven.
- Place ribs on plate then heat sauce to a boil.
- Reduce sauce down by half.
- At this point, you can serve ribs or store them
- To serve ribs place rice and cabbage on plate.
- Coats ribs with some of sauce then layer them over top of rice and cabbage.
- Ladle a good spoonful of sauce over the top.
- If you want to store them, let them cool and then store in fridge for 1 to 3 days. To reheat, pop them in an oven preheated to 300ºF for 20 minutes.