Yunnan Barbecue Pork Spare Ribs with Black Vinegar Sauce

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With summer winding down, it’s the season of to savour the last of picnics and cold luncheons, barbecues and flame-roasted delicacies. If you’ve already staged a few barbecue parties, then you’ll be excited to serve these tasty spare ribs as part of a festive, delicious spread. They’re meant to be finished up on the grill, but are miles away from your usual grilled fare. Replete with the essence of the Orient, they’re certain to bring everyone at the party back for second helpings.

This treatment calls for a Master stock, which can be made in advance and stored in an airtight container in your refrigerator until you’re ready to prepare the short ribs. We’ll outline how to make it, with preparation tips to ensure a perfect finish. The split treatment of gentle simmering and grilling is common in many Asian dishes. This produces tender meats, brimming with flavourful juices, with a hint of toasted sugars and umami overtones. Paired with the tart, caramelised notes of the black vinegar sauce, these ribs are addictive, to say the least.

Master Stock Ingredients & Preparation:

1 bottle of Shaoxing wine
1 orange peel
2 c soy sauce
12 cloves fresh garlic, peeled and diced or smashed
6 star anise
300 g rock sugar
1 quill of cassia bark
½ c fresh ginger, sliced thinly

Prior to combining your ingredients, use a paring knife to remove the white pith from your peel. It leeches a bitter flavour into the stock. Pulverize your rock sugar in a mortar and pestle, to ensure that it dissolves evenly. In a large saucepan, combine your ingredients with 6 litres of water and bring to a rolling boil. Reduce the heat and simmer the mixture for thirty minutes, straining and allowing to cool completely before refrigeration. Makes about 8 litres.

Spare Ribs Ingredients:

3 kg Butcherman Pork Spare Ribs (You can cut these racks in half to fit your cook pot)
1.5 c Chinkiang black vinegar
2.5 c caster sugar
4 tbsp soy sauce
6 red chillies, sliced on a bias
1/3 c fresh coriander leaves
4 litres master stock


In a large pot, bring your master stock to a boil and carefully add your ribs. They should be completely immersed. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 1 – 1.5 hours, so the meat is still firmly attached to the bone.

To prepare the sauce, dissolve sugar in ¾ cup of water over medium heat. Do not stir. Gently agitate the pan and swirl the liquid until the sugar water is a deep golden tone. This means the sugar has caramelised, imparting the sought after notes of toasted sugar. Add your vinegar and bring it to a boil.

It’s advised that you prepare the ribs at least the night before to allow the collagen to completely dissolve within the meat. This imparts a buttery, tender texture to the ribs. However, you can also prepare them and allow them to rest for half an hour prior to grilling. Remove them from the stock, covering gently and resting the meat. Then, separate the ribs with a chef’s knife. On a clean, oiled grill—preheated to medium, for gas grills—brown the ribs on each side for one minute. Arrange, drizzle with vinegar sauce, and garnish with torn coriander leaves and your chilli slices.

In the Cantonese culinary tradition, these twice-cooked ribs are often called char sui. Metropolitan areas, such as Hong Kong, offer these delicious, bite-sized pieces of pork in a variety of forms—from on the bone to de-boned and encapsulated in a delicately steamed bun. But it isn’t the form that means so much to culinary appreciators around the world. It’s the flavour.

The Asian world offers many takes on char sui. You’re sure to find both ancient recipes and modern fusion dishes with this as a central feature, no matter how many borders you cross. The secret is in the marinade—your Master Stock. Many traditional recipes base this on hoisin—a fish sauce—garlic, soy sauce, and rice wine. Asia is also a continent of cultures that developed “street food” many centuries ago. The char sui short rib is a food vendor’s best friend—amenable to a seemingly infinite variety of recipe treatments and condiments. Now, it can be yours, too.

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