This is a slow dish, making it best as a weekend project, but it's not actually difficult to make. I prepare it using sous vide technique, but will present it here with a standard methodology that should work about as well, with the proviso that the final product will not be quite as moist. The black vinegar I use is the Koon Chun brand, and it contains a proprietary blend of spices. I don't know exactly what's in it, but judging by the aroma it's probably something pretty close to Chinese 5-spice powder. If you can't get black vinegar or don't want to keep a specialized ingredient, you probably can get close by mixing a judicious sprinkle of 5-spice powder into some common balsamic vinegar.
As pictured, this was served with roasted green beans and apricots. I don't think a recipe is necessary for those; I set them all on the same baking sheet, spritzed them with oil, sprinkled on a little salt, and then added rolled a little minced garlic on the beans and rolled them around a little. After that, just bake until tender, at about 450° F.
- 1/2 cup Chinese black vinegar
- 1/4 cup soy sauce
- 2 cloves garlic, finely minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- red pepper flakes to taste
- One full rack of pork spareribs or baby back ribs (conventional)
- Two full racks of pork spareribs or baby back ribs (sous vide)
Cut the spareribs into manageable portions, roughly 4 to 5 ribs apiece, and place into a ziptop freezer bag.
In a small bowl, combine the ingredients for the brine. Add to the ribs, close the bag, and allow to rest, refrigerated, at least overnight. Longer is better, up to 24 full hours in advance of cooking. Two or three times during this period, shift the ribs around to ensure that they marinate evenly.
Preheat an oven to ~300° F. Transfer the rib portions to a nonreactive, oven-safe container, and then pour the brine over the ribs. Cover the container with a tight-fitting lid or foil, and place in the oven. For best results, use the smallest container that will fit the ribs. It's desirable for them to be as close to fully immersed as you can manage. After about 20 to 30 minutes, turn your oven to the lowest setting it has (usually about 170° F). Cook for 8 to 12 hours, checking about once every 2 hours to ensure that the brine has not boiled off (top it off with a little water if it gets low), and then remove from oven and allow to rest, covered, until cool enough to handle comfortably with your bare hand. If you're making the roasted vegetables described above, this is a good time to preheat for that; set the oven to about 450° F. The ribs should not be browned or crispy on the outside at this stage. Drain off about a cup of the liquid in the baking dish into a saucepan, and begin cooking it over low heat to reduce it to a thick sauce. You want to bfing it to a slow simmer, and then cook it, stirring occasionally, until it coats the back of a spoon. Err on the side of not cooking it hot enough, so that you don't have to watch your sauce too closely to keep it from burning.
While the ribs cool, light a grill, and finish the ribs over a moderately hot fire, preferably charcoal. Sear the ribs for about 5 minutes on each side in order to caramelize the outside and produce a crispy texture. Just before serving, brush lightly with the reduced pan juices.
Technique (Sous Vide)
Make the brine by combining the ingredients in a small bowl. Pour into an ice cube tray, and freeze it solid. Preheat a sous vide bath to 60° C (about 140 degrees in freedom units). Proceed only once the brine is frozen and the sous vide bath is heated.
Portion the ribs as described above, and place them into vacuum bags, doing your best to ensure that they lie flat. Take care that the bags' overall dimensions are small enough to fit inside the pot. Add the frozen brine to the bags, and apply vacuum to seal them. Place the bags into the preheated water bath, cook for 36 to 48 hours, and remove from the bath. Allow to cool until the ribs are comfortable to handle, and then remove from the bags, reserving one cup of the liquid inside.
As described above, reduce the reserved cooking liquid into a sauce, then finish the ribs on a grill over a moderately hot fire to produce a crispy, pleasantly caramelized exterior texture.