Let me tell you about a dark time in my life. A time when I didn't eat pork. Why? For no other reason than because I didn't like the texture. What texture, meat texture? No. Dry meat texture. I assumed that pork was always dry. It's not because my father wasn't good at cooking pork. I have no idea, actually, where or when my dislike of it started, but I do know that it ended once and for all when I moved to China.
China, you see, is rife with pork. This is because 1) Beef didn't arrive for a long time. And once it did, it was a liiiiittle late to become the dominant and preferred meat 2) Pigs are much cheaper to raise (chickens are even cheaper) than cows and need less space and 3) China, though large, doesn't have the same amount of available farming space that the US does, thus making what space it has prioritized for vegetable crops. These are the same reasons that pork, chicken and seafood are more popular in places like South America and other Southeast Asian countries. Beef isn't very common. Even now, it is very unusual for me to see any beef in stores here in China. Lamb and mutton are far more common, in fact.
I never bought pork when I lived in the US because I didn't know how to cook it, but necessity is the mother of invention, and scarcity is the mother of adaptation. This recipe is a favorite around here. Since I first stumbled upon the original recipe a few weeks ago at my holy grail of food blogs, Smitten Kitchen, it's been eaten almost once a week. I have made it each time with a tweak here or there, and have used both full sized ribs and riblets. The recipe below delivers ribs with crispy bits, lots of saucy flavor and tender, flavorful meat. The two step process sounds involved, but really is one of those 'set it and forget it' sort of things. You can prep everything else during the wait, and have everything on the table at the same time easily in just over an hour and a half.
I always serve this with buttered corn on the cob, which I really enjoy. Other sides I've paired it with are pasta salad, coleslaw, green salads, baked potatoes, roasted carrots and onions, and mashed potatoes. To take this meal further East, I like to pair this with ganbian si ji dou, a classic Sichuanese dish that translates to 'dry fried green beans'. A good recipe is here.
Orange Hoisin Pork Ribs
originally adapted from Smitten Kitchen's Hoisin-Honey Riblets
serves 2 for dinner
4 lbs of your choice of ribs or riblets, (aim for good marbling) cut into individual ribs
2 large oranges or tangerines
1 medium, red onion
2-3 green onions
salt & pepper
Sauce: (make 2 batches if using full sized ribs)
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp hoisin sauce
1/2 tsp dark soy sauce
1/2 tsp spicy fermented chili bean paste (辣豆瓣酱 la doubanjjiang) (optional)
1 tbsp + 1/4tsp dijon mustard
1 tbsp white rice vinegar
2 tsp garlic, minced or made into a paste
1/2 tsp ginger, minced or made into a paste
1 tbsp orange juice
1. Preheat your oven to 375F~190C. Line a roasting pan with foil for easy clean up later. Slice your onion into rings. place the rings on the bottom of the roasting pan in an even layer. Lay your ribs on top of the onions ring. Lightly salt and pepper the ribs. Cut your oranges, skin on, into slices about 1/4 thick. Lay these slices on top of the ribs spaced approximately evenly apart.
2. Add 1-2 cups of water to the pan. You really just want the water to to go about 1/4 of the way up the side of the ribs. We're not boiling them, but we don't really want to crisp them right now either. Tightly cover the pan with aluminum foil. Put into the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.
3. Make the sauce in the largest bowl you have. Use a spoon to peel the ginger. Also, I usually use the grater with the smallest holes (not the parmesan one, I hate that one!) to turn my garlic and ginger into an easy mince. You could use a special ginger grater if you've got one, but graters are easier to clean. You're welcome to taste the sauce to adjust flavors. If you're looking for a sweeter sauce, try about 1 tsp of brown sugar and a little more orange juice. If you want a spicier rib, add 1/2 tsp of dried ground chili flakes or powder. Be warned, this will taste kind of spicy and sharp due to the raw garlic and ginger. This will definitely mellow in the cooking process, so keep that in mind as you're adjusting flavors.
4. Once the ribs are done, pull them out of the oven (keep the oven on!) and remove the aluminum foil cover. Be careful! Steam is hot! Using tongs, discard the orange slices. Your meat should be slightly browned and cooked through. You should also see some fat and other juices in with the water. Move the ribs to your big bowl with the sauce and use your tongs to toss and coat.
5. Lightly grease a roasting rack that fits in the roasting pan you used. I use the 'oven rack' that came with my toaster oven and it works just fine. You just want to elevate the meat out of any possible moisture. Dump out most of the water from the roasting pan and discard the onions. Arrange the ribs on the rack above the roasting pan or cookie sheet. Pour 1 cup of water into the roasting pan. This will help the ribs retain some moisture, and also help with clean up later!
6. Bake the ribs again at 375F~190C for about 15-20 minutes. You're looking for the sauce to be absorbed and lightly caramelized. Once this happens, pull the ribs out and, with a brush, baste the ribs one last time with your left over sauce (..or another batch of the sauce). I like to really lay it on thick! Pop those suckers under the broiler for another 10 minutes, just to cook the sauce through and zap some moisture out.
7. Cut up your green onion. Arrange your finished ribs on a large plate or bowl and add the green onions on top. Enjoy!