Family recipes pass down from mother to daughter, from father to son. These recipes have been tweaked to perfection by parents through the many times that have made the dish. They subtly hold the cooking knowledge and wisdom that have been accumulated through years of experience in the kitchen. These family recipes are like a treasure box of knowledge, carefully bestowed to us children. It is a gift.
Unfortunately, many times, they also lack key details that is a necessity for one that is novel to the kitchen. This was what happened to me.
My mom makes these amazing, finger-lickin’ good barbecue ribs. I wanted to re-make them at home, and so I asked her for the recipe. To my horror, her recipe had no measurements. It was composed of: “add a bit of this, add a bit of that, and bake in the oven until cooked through.” It had no specific quantities, temperature, and timing.
After several clumsy attempts, including putting on too little marinade (so that it was tasteless), over-cooking (because I kept it in the oven for too long without covering it), and experimenting with different cuts of ribs, I finally perfected it. I even made some small changes to make it juicier. My significant other and I just couldn’t get enough of them. We polished off our plates. At the end of the meal, all that’s left were a pile of clean bones, our sticky fingers, and cheeks speckled with sauce from the messy devouring of these smokey, sweet ribs.
Chinese Barbecue Ribs (2-3 servings)
- Make sure you know if you are cooking with back ribs or side ribs, because the cooking time varies a lot depending on the cut of meat. (Refer to my post about the difference between back ribs and side ribs). Cooking time for 2lbs of baby back ribs is about 45 – 50 minutes.
- You can alter the quantity of marinade depending on the size of the ribs. Make sure that the marinade is enough to thoroughly cover both sides of the ribs.
- After many tries and a LOT of pot scrubbing, I finally found out that lining the baking tray with parchment paper will prevent the sugar and juices from the marinade to bake on to the pan, and it makes for easy clean up. You just have to make sure when you broil the ribs at the end, that the corners of the parchment paper are folded down so they don’t touch the heat elements to avoid catching fire.
- Put hot water in the baking tray (you can pour it on top of the parchment paper. It won’t soak through), and cover the tray with foil and seal it around the edge. The steam from the hot water will circulate, thus moisten so the meat as it cooks in the oven, making the meat moist and juicy.
- I used 3 heaping tablespoons of Lee Kam Kee’s Char Siu Sauce
- Baby back ribs – 2 lbs
- Shao Xing cooking wine – 3 tablespoons
- Sugar – 2 teaspoons
- Ground white pepper – 2 teaspoons
- Soy sauce – 2 tablespoons
- Chinese Barbecue Sauce (I like to use Lee Kum Kee’s Char Siu Sauce) – 3 heaping tablespoons
- A kettle of hot water
- Honey – 3 tablespoons
1. Add the Shao Xing cooking wine, sugar, ground white pepper, soy sauce, and Chinese Barbecue Sauce to the back ribs and rub into the meat. (Make sure you add the Chinese Barbecue Sauce last, because it is very sticky and if added first, it will prevent the other marinating ingredients from penetrating the meat.) Rub the marinade all over the ribs, making sure to cover both sides and the crevices between the bones so the flavours can be thoroughly absorbed. Cover and let marinate for at least 30 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, while the ribs are marinating, pre-heat the oven (convection setting, if available), to 350 degrees fahrenheit.
3. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, make sure you fold down the corners so it doesn’t stick up from the baking tray. Put a cooking rack inside the baking tray (to raise the ribs when the bake), and add hot water on top of the parchment paper inside the tray.
4. Once the ribs are finished marinating, lay the marinating ribs on the cooking rack that is now inside the baking tray. Cover the baking tray with aluminum foil. Fold the foil tightly around the baking tray so it seals tightly.
5. Place the baking tray in the middle rack of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes (1 1/2 to 2 hours for side ribs). Check at half-time to make sure that it is cooking appropriately (not burnt)
6. Remove the baking tray from the oven, and preheat the oven to the broil setting at a high temperature. (My broiler settings are from 1-5. I set mine to 4 or 5).
7. Remove the aluminum foil from the baking tray to reveal the ribs. At this time, the colour of the meat is a bit pale, but don’t worry, the colour will come back after we broil it in Steps 8 and 9. Make sure that the ribs are well done by checking the rib bones and making sure the middle of the meat is no longer pink (You can tell that it’s cooked if the ends of the rib bones are protruding significantly from the meat. Alternatively, you could use a fork and knife to pull apart the meat. If the middle is no longer pink, then it is cooked.)
8. With a brush, generously brush the ribs with honey on the side that is facing upwards. Return the ribs to the oven and place it on the top rack. Broil the ribs for 1 to 1 1/2 minutes, whilst keeping a close eye to make sure they don’t over-char. It is ready to be removed when the honey is blistering and the meat is slightly charred.
9. Remove the ribs from the oven. Using a pair of tongs, flip the ribs to the other side, and repeat Step 8 on this side.
10. When done, remove the ribs from the oven, and let the ribs rest for 10 minutes before separating each rib with a pair of kitchen shears.