My mom taught me how to make this easy as 1-2-3-4-5 recipe. I remember her making this when I was a small child, it was my very favorite, and it is good served hot and fresh, or cold the next day. I don't think my mom invented this recipe, as if you google on the internet there are many 1-2-3-4-5 spare ribs recipes, but hers is different than most of the ones I've seen online. We still have an old elementary school cookbook where this was one of the recipes my mom submitted. I don't make this very often, but every time I make it I wonder why I don't make it more. It's so easy that the hardest part is cutting up the ribs. I don't even keep a written copy (other than the old school cookbook) since this is so easy to remember.
I hope one day to pass this recipe on to my own children, as it is fall off the bone delicious!
Step 1: Gather Your Ingredients
For this recipe there are 5 ingredients other than pork spare ribs.
In this picture I have about 6 lbs of pork spare ribs, but I only cooked up 3 lbs. This recipe is quite easy to alter, you can make one person's worth or 6, depending on the size of your pot. You can also use baby back ribs, but you can use spare ribs and save yourself some $, since these come out nice and tender, even with the less expensive spare rib cut.
Other than that remember the ingredients in this order, it is also the ratio of the ingredients:
2 Black Vinegar
3 Xiao Xing Cooking Wine (or other alcohol if you can't find xiao xing cooking wine)
4 Soy Sauce
See even in the photo they're in order. I didn't do that on purpose, that's how ingrained this ratio is in my memory!
Step 2: Cut Up the Ribs
First cut all of the ribs apart. This is the hardest part and it's not even that hard. I like to keep a paper towel around in case my fingers get greasy from picking up the meat. This way I can dry my hand and not have greasy hands around my knife...safety first!
Once you have a pile of ribs, put them in your pan, with the sides down.
Step 3: 1. Sugar's So Sweet!
Add 1 "spoon" of sugar. My mom always refers to this recipe with spoons, however it's just basic ratios. Here I used a 1/4 cup measure in my wok. Now a 1/4 is probably too much so I didn't fill it all the way. I think about 1/8 cup would have been fine, but this step really depends on how deep your pot is. Just make sure to stay consistent with the ratio. I'm sure my mom has somewhere, a scoop from a country time lemonade that she is referring to as a "spoon".
Just make sure to measure everything in the same "spoon"
Step 4: 2. Black Vinegar
Black Vinegar can be found at any Chinese market. I have not tried to substitute this, but if I did I'd try something dark like balsamic...but that has a really distinctive taste. IMHO you should go for the real thing, no substitutions here. Also a tip, if you go to an authentic Chinese grocer, make sure you pick a nice sturdy bottle or even a plastic one if you can. I remember one of the first times I made this after moving away from home, I put both a soy sauce and a black vinegar in my shopping cart, the black vinegar toppled over and shattered all over the aisle. Of course I did not speak Chinese and the people who worked in the market didn't speak English...although as soon as I pointed, they knew exactly what happened. I still remember my embarrassment every time I smell that acrid black vinegar smell...some of the glass can be flimsy, choose wisely.
Add 2 "Spoons"
Step 5: 3. XiaoXing Cooking Wine
This cooking wine can be found at any Chinese market. If I had to substitute I'd guess that you can use brandy or even beer, but again if you can get the real thing, it's probably the cheapest and you will have the most authentic flavor.
Use 3 "Spoons"
Step 6: 4. Soy Sauce
Add 4 "Spoons" of Soy Sauce, I'm pretty confident you can get this in any grocery store these days. I remember back in the day though, my parents would take us into Boston and my mom would navigate through all of the streets of Chinatown to find a Chinese market. The strong smells of Asian herbs and medicines would permeate the air and people would be talking rapidly in Chinese. I would often get to pick out a favorite candy before we headed home. Now you can get this without the 45 minute drive but you can probably still go for the authentic experience when you go to find the Black Vinegar and the XiaoXing Cooking Wine!
Step 7: 5. Water
Add 5 "Spoons"
Step 8: Bring to a Low Boil
Turn the burner on medium/low and bring to a low boil, this may take about 10 minutes. I find that instead of baby sitting here I can safely leave for 10 minutes and come back. Once it's bubbling ever so slightly, turn the flame to low, cover and set your timer to 30 minutes. Now you can go catch an episode of family guy. I don't have a cover for my wok so I just use heavy duty aluminum foil. It works just as good.
Step 9: Rotate Your Ribs
Now they're starting to smell good and they are still pale where they aren't covered in liquid. Rotate these ribs so that the other side gets just as cooked. Cover and set your timer for another 20 minutes.
Step 10: Make the Sauce
Take off the cover and crank the heat up to high. Keep rotating your ribs around so they stay nice and moist. In about 10-15 minutes you should have a bubbly brown sauce. Once it looks nice and shiny, they're done!
Step 11: Garnish and Serve
Put the ribs on a plate, optionally you can garnish these with some scallions/green onions. Or you can serve these over a bed of rice. Just make sure to let these cool for about 5 minutes before serving, because these will be HOT and they will fall right off the bone...no one wants to burn themselves on delicious ribs!
Wasn't that easy?