Steamed Chinese Spare Ribs recipe with fermented black beans that is quick and easy to make and big on flavour – this no longer has to be a dim sum only dish! 🙂
When anyone talks about ribs, I bet the word ‘steaming’ never comes up. Ribs are usually grilled, baked, smoked, deep fried, etc. However, if you ever had dim sum, you’ll know steamed meats are very common, super flavorful and delicious.
I actually had steamed Chinese spare ribs a lot growing up, because this was pretty much one of the only things my mom cooked, whenever she made dinner. So trust me when I say she’s a pro at this dish, she’s has easily made this over a couple hundred times haha! This recipe is something she has passed down to me, so I may share and enjoy this now that I no longer live at home. Thanks mom! 🙂
One of the greatest things about steamed Chinese spare ribs is that it’s quick and easy to make and it’s big on flavours. If you don’t have a steamer it’s not really a big deal either because you can put together a makeshift one on the fly in seconds.
For this steamed Chinese spare ribs recipe, most of these ingredients can be found at a local grocery store with the exception of maybe sesame oil and fermented black beans.
Sesame oil and fermented black beans are available at Asian grocery stores or online.
For this dish, we use side ribs (aka spare ribs). If you can, ask your butcher to cut them length wise across the ribs into 1 inch strips. Then when you get home you cut these up into small 1 inch bite sized pieces. This makes it easier to eat and quicker to cook.
Fermented black beans are dried salty black beans that have been fermented in salt and ginger. They are quite strong and salty so a little goes a long long way. I like to give them quick rinse to remove any excess salt – the bonus is it reconstitutes this a bit as well.
Maple syrup? What kind of shenanigans is going on here, this is not a traditional Chinese ingredient! I like to use maple syrup and honey in place of sugar when I cook. I find the sweetness is milder and it works more evenly than sugar crystals. You can use sugar in its place but put in half the amount.
PUTTING IT TOGETHER
So what if you don’t have a steamer? Now what? Honestly, it’s not a big deal, we can make one! Here are a few other options you can use to steam foods at home:
BAMBOO STEAMER – You will only need a pan or wok for this, preferably curved at the bottom so you can put water on the bottom without touching the bottom of the steamers. No pot lid required, the steamer has a lid. Because I am paranoid, I would recommend running the bamboo under water for a few seconds to give it a bit of moisture so it doesn’t catch on fire.
STEAMING TRIVET (aka METAL DOOHICKEYS) – If you don’t have a bamboo steamer you might have one of these metal doohickeys? (the proper name for this is a steaming trivet, thank you Jada for letting me know!) You can usually find these in an Asian kitchen store or sometimes a grocery store. They just sit in a pot with a bit of water on the bottom while the plate of food is placed on top of it. You will need a pot with a lid for this to work and you will need to make sure you don’t fill the water past it as well so the plate isn’t sitting in the water.
MAKESHIFT CHOPSTICK STEAMER – Don’t have any of those things? Let’s make one! You will need a pan or wok with a curved bottom and a pair of wooden chopsticks criss-crossed along the bottom. Add enough water to fill the bottom but not touch the chopsticks, then rest the plate of food on top of the chopsticks. You will need to be careful when resting the plate on this as it might be slightly wobbly. You will need a lid for this method.
Yes, my pan is filthy. Yes, I am aware I suck at washing dishes. hahaha!! Don’t judge!
MARINATING THE MEAT IN ORDER
If you’re lazy like me, you can throw all the ingredients together and marinate the meat for 15 minutes and away we go! There’s nothing wrong with that.
However, if you want to maximize your flavours, I strongly believe you should marinate the meat with just the salty sauces first and mix in the corn starch at the very end right before it goes into the steamer. This prevents the corn starch from being a barrier during the marination and absorption stage because the meats have direct contact with the salt and water to do a mini brine – so to speak.
If you’re wondering why I add a bit of water to the marinade, it’s because during the marination process, the water helps with the mini-brining process and the meat will actually absorb some of the water!
After 20 minutes of marinating, add in the corn starch and mix well. You want the marinade and corn starch slurry to coat every single piece of meat.When you are ready to put the Chinese spare ribs into the steamer, mix in the corn starch evenly over the meat and place it in a dish and then give it a drizzle of 1 tablespoon of oil and you’re good to go.
KEY TO NON-RUBBERY MEAT – DON’T OVERCOOK IT
It is very easy to overcook Chinese spare ribs, and when I tell you how long I cook mine I’m sure you’re going to freak out but hear me out before you do! 😛
A steamer can get really hot, you will be putting the meat into the steamer only when the steamer has had a chance to build up the heat and steam. Since we will be cutting the meat up into small pieces (for maximum steaming surface area) and spreading out the meat on your dish into a single layer, it will ensure a more even cooking process 🙂 Do not pile it up into a mountain, or else the centre of your mountain will not get cooked. 😛
When you overcook the spare ribs you lose some of the flavourful meat juices – this stuff is gold and it will just ooze right out and what you will be left with is tough, rubbery pieces of meat sitting in its meat juices. (Don’t get me wrong, the meat juices are fantastic as sauce on rice! but you want juicy meat as well. 🙂 )
I cut my meat into pretty big chunks and 9 minutes was enough to cook them all the way through. So I recommend it be steamed between 8 to 10 minutes only. No more than 10 minutes unless your stove settings are very low – then maybe add 1-2 more min. You know your stove best. 🙂
This steamed Chinese spare ribs is brought to you by my awesome mom! 🙂
Steamed Chinese Spare Ribs with Black Beans
- 1 1/2 lbs pork side ribs (spare ribs)
- 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup (or 1 teaspoon of sugar)
- 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil (optional)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fermented black beans
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
- 1/2 teaspoon dark soy (optional)
- 2-3 cloves garlic (minced very finely)
- 1 tablespoon corn starch
- 1 tablespoon oil (to drizzle right before steaming)
Marinate the Pork
- Cut the pork into 1 inch bite-sized pieces and place it in a bowl
- Rinse the fermented black beans (Optional)
- On a cutting board, use the sides of your knife to smush the fermented black beans gently to break their skins. Add it to the bowl
- Finely chop up the garlic and add it to the bowl (make sure you mince this really finely so they can cook quicker during the short steaming process)
- Add maple syrup (or sugar), soy sauce, dark soy, sesame oil and water to the bowl and mix the marinade well with the pork. Set it aside to marinate for 15-20 minutes in room temperature.
- Once 15-20 minutes have passed, add the corn starch into the meat and mix well with the marinade to form a slurry to coat all the meat. (If there is not enough marinade to create a slurry, add 1 tablespoon of water to the meat and mix well until the meat is well coated with the marinade slurry, there shouldn't be any dry clumps of corn starch.)
Steaming the Pork
- Using a wok or high walled pan set the bamboo steamer/metal doohickey/criss-crossed wooden chopsticks to the bottom of the pan or wok
- Add in water til it reaches just below the bottom of the steamer/metal doohickey/criss-crossed wooden chopsticks. You don't want the water to touch the bottom of your plate during the steaming process.
- Set the stove to medium-high to high heat, cover your wok or pan with a lid (unless you are using a bamboo steamer - use the bamboo lid instead) and wait approximately 10 minutes for it to get hot and for the steam to build up in the pan.
- Place the meat on a plate or shallow bowl and try to layer it into a single layer
- Drizzle 1 tablespoon of oil on top of the meat evenly and put it in the steamer when it is hot
- Steam for 8-10 minutes (depending on how big the chunks of meat are)
- Once cooked, remove from steamer and add garnishes and serve hot with rice! 🙂
- You can substitute sugar in place of the maple syrup if you don't have maple syrup or honey. Cut the amount by half if you are using sugar
- Ask your butcher to cut the side ribs into 1 inch strips length wise. You can chop the ribs up into smaller bite sized pieces at home.
- If you don't have a steamer, you can create a makeshift one with a pair of chopsticks set on the bottom of the wok criss-crossed. You will need a lid for the pan for this method
- We add water to the marinade to create a mini brine for the marination. The pork will absorb this water.
- If you are using bamboo steamers, quickly run them under water to give them a bit of a soak before steaming
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