Chinatown Char Siu Ribs Or Pork Taste Great Cooked Indoors Or Out
Not everyone loves Chinese Ribs
Now here's a multicultural experience: This recipe appeared in a cookbook from France "A Table Avec la Mafia" by Claire Dixsaut. It accompanied the article about the film "Year of the Dragon" with Mickey Rourke. Here's Dixsaut's intro: "In the movie Rourke is captain Stanley White, a former Vietnam vet of Polish origins, working the streets of Brooklyn. Early in his crusade against the Chinese mob, he invites journalist Tracy Tzu for dinner at the Shanghai Palace. White suggests the ribs, a dish he clearly enjoys. A few seconds later, the place is ablaze with the shooting that made the film famous. Later, in another Chinese restaurant, White recommends the ribs to his wife. But she'll leave without touching her plate and will throw White out of the house and his belongings through the window. Mickey Rourke should really try salad..."
Click here to order the book from Amazon in Great Britain (it's not in the US yet).
A Dissertation Upon Roast Pig
Everyone has a theory of where barbecue originated. Well here's an explanation that I find irresistible. It was written by Charles Lamb (1775-1834), an English writer whose essays often ran to the fanciful and humorous. His version of the discovery of roast pork was first published in 1822. It is believed to be the source of the common idiom "burn the house to roast the pig", meaning, essentially, overkill. It is probably also the source of the name cracklings for cooked pork skins, and explains why so many barbecue cooks are called Bubba. Clearly Mr. Lamb was a pork lover. Click here to read his tale.
Barbecue pork at Sun Wah
Sun Wah Bar-B-Q Restaurant (5039 N. Broadway St., Chicago, IL 60640, phone 773-769-1254) has been an Uptown Chicago destination since 1987. Owner Eric Cheng learned Chinese barbecue, in Guangdong Province in Southern China, home of Cantonese cuisine. He fled Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution in China in 1972 by swimming eight hours to Hong Kong where he apprenticed and became a Barbecue Master. He emigrated to New York in 1976 and Chicago in 1986. Here's how he makes barbecue pork (the photos were taken at his previous location):
Strips of pork loin marinate for 20-30 minutes in red bean curd paste, soy bean paste, sugar, salt, monosodium glutamate, oyster sauce, ginger, and dried shallots.
The marinated pork loin strips are skewered and hung in the oven to roast for about 50 minutes. Some ovens use charcoal, but most use gas. The burners go around the bottom of this well-insulated cabinet. There is no smoke.
"You eat first with your eyes" Ancient Chinese Proverb
I love the "barbecued" pork and ribs in Chinatown. They have a distinct pork flavor, a glossy sheen that implies the sweet glaze beneath, and a glowing red-pink color that penetrates the surface.
Unlike traditional Southern American low and slow smoke roasted barbecue ribs, there is no smoke flavor, even though there is a pink ring beneath the surface of the meat. How do they do it?
Well, it turns out that Char Siu, even though it sounds like charcoal, is not grilled or smoked. It is roasted in a special oven, usually gas fired. And most of the time it gets its ruddy tone from red food coloring (some chefs use a red bean paste, or beets, but that's not common).
But it still tastes great. You can buy Char Siu sauce in Chinese specialty stores, but it is thick and gooey. It makes a fine glaze, but it doesn't make ribs that taste like Chinese restaurant ribs. That's because you need to marinate the meat first. I've worked on this recipe for a while and I think I've really nailed the technique for making Chinatown Char Siu Ribs at home in the oven or on the grill. Here's how to do this dizzingly delicious favorite.
This marinade is especially good on pork, but I used it on chicken, turkey, and duck with great success.
Preparation time: 20 minutes to make the marinade, 1 to 12 hours to marinate
Cooking time. About 3 hours
Ribs: 2 slabs of baby back ribs, cut into individual bones
Pork: 4 pounds pork loin cut into strips across the grain, about 1" wide, 2" tall
1/2 cup hoisin sauce
1/2 cup brandy (or rum or bourbon)
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons hot sauce such as Tabasco
2 tablespoons powdered ginger
2 tablespoons powdered onion
1 tablespoon powdered garlic
1 tablespoon five spice powder
1 teaspoon red food coloring
About the ribs. Many Chinese restaurants use spareribs that are chopped into 3-4" riblets with a cleaver. If you want, your butcher can make you riblets with her band saw. If not, you can do them whole. I like baby backs for this recipe because they are a bit meathier.
About the Chinese ingredients. There are no substitutes for hoisin sauce, five spice powder, or sesame oil. They are responsible for most of what we think of as the flavor of Chinese food. Five spice powder is easy to make at home (click the link above for my recipe), but the others are not easily made. Click on the links for more info on these ingredients. If you have trouble finding them in your grocery store, try Amazon.com.
About the hot sauce. If you have an Asian-style chili sauce you can use it, but any old hot sauce will work fine in this marinade since it provides more heat than flavor. The recipe above produces mild heat. Add more if you love pain.
About the food coloring. Food coloring is necessary for the authentic color. I am told by readers that you can substitute beet root powder for the red food coloring or fermented bean red curd, but I've never tried them. There is very little used in this recipe and most is discarded with the unused marinade. There are natural food colorings made from achiote and its seeds annato, or cochineal (a.k.a. carmine), an insect. If you want to leave it out, the food will still be great, but it won't have the traditional festive color.
Serve with. The classic accompaniments are Chinese beer or jasmine tea. If you can find it, try hibiscus tea or Pinot Grigio from Oregon (most of the California Pinot Grigios are borrrrring).
Optional. After about 2 1/2 hours, paint the meat with a glaze of honey and roast an additional 30 minutes. Then garnish with sesame seeds or chopped chives or chopped green onions.
1) Mix the marinade thoroughly in a bowl. Don't skip the booze. It helps penetrate, and even if you're a teetotaler, don't worry, there isn't any measurable alcohol in the meat. Yes, I know alcohol can dry meat out, but I just think it works well in this case. If you must skip it, use apple juice or water, but booze is better. You can substitute fresh ginger and garlic for powdered ginger and garlic if you wish.
2) Marinate the meat for at least 1 hour in a metal bowl or zipper bags. Overnight is better. Discard the used marinade. It is contaminated with meat juice. Don't marinate in a plastic bowl. The coloring might stain it.
3) As much as I am a fan of outdoor cooking, this meat also tastes great cooked in an indoor oven. Either way, heat your grill or oven to about 225°F. If you are grilling, set up in a 2-Zone or Indirect system. Make sure the meat is not directly over the flame on a grill. If necessary, put a pan of water with a rack on top of it under the meat. Indoors, this is important or drippings will burn in the pan. Roast ribs for about 3 hours, loin strips for about 1 1/2 hours. Garnish with sesame seeds or chopped chives or chopped green onions.
This page was revised 2/17/2010
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